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Outside Shooter Book Review

October 22, 2003 Columns No Comments

Philip Raisor’s Outside Shooter

Review by Adam Shandler

Not everyone can say they were on the winning side of the most enchanting games in basketball history. And for that matter, not many can say they were on the losing side of those games either. But Phil Raisor can, and those losses make his memoir, Outside Shooter, all the more interesting.

Outside Shooter is Raisor’s Forrest Gumpian autobiography of an Indiana boy who, as a player, gets caught up in the mania of high school basketball, witnesses the injustices done to his fellow man in a time of American transition, and manages to fall in love along the way.

Raisor’s bumpy road to adulthood and world awareness begins in 1954 in his hometown of Muncie, Indiana – a place that inhales basketball. Muncie’s Bearcats are taking on tiny Milan for the state championship in Indianapolis. And guess what…tiny Milan wins. Sound familiar? That’s right, the Muncie-Milan game was the very contest upon which the movie Hoosiers was based, only Raisor’s account has a different ending. In film, TV and books, hearing the story from the losing side may not be too popular, but as Raisor puts it “this is just one event in a string of other events that shaped a person’s mind”, so this historic hiccup is not the be-all end all of the story. In fact, the Muncie-Milan game, and later his Wilt Chamberlain-led Jayhawks’ loss to Carolina in ’57, are but mere dings compared to some of the fender benders of Raisor’s young adult life.

A brawl with a neighborhood bully – a fracas that would haunt Raisor and metaphorize itself until his college days – is where this string of events begins. It’s an early turning point that instilled “the fight” in the author. Once that foundation is laid down, Raisor develops an accumulation of the understanding of people that culminates dramatically in his college years. An especially poignant moment occurs during a 1955 postseason game between Raisor’s Muncie Bearcats and the formidable, all-black Crispus Attucks of Indianapolis. It is here that Raisor observes the connection between teammate John Casterlow, one of the few black players on Muncie, and rival Oscar Robertson. The basketball rivalry between the two players is meaningless, because amidst the cacophony of racist catcalls, the two titans recognized how together – and alone – they were in 1950’s America.

It is Casterlow’s tragic course that would later inspire Raisor when the author transfers from Kansas to LSU. Baton Rouge, 1960 – a historical land mine.

As if being an open-minded, book-lovin’ jock among cornfed, good ol’ boys wasn’t enough – not to mention being a new husband and father – Raisor and his cohorts attempt to desegregate the LSU campus through a petition-signing campaign. One can only imagine the resistance these freedom fighters encounter.

Outside Shooter starts and ends at just the right points. With his unapologetic imagery of Muncie’s social and geographic landscape, Raisor offers a good sense of the pre-Milan-Muncie buildup and how the loss shook his fair hometown. And when the book wraps, you do get the feeling that Raisor learned a few things – about himself and other people – along the way.

Raisor, now an English professor at Old Dominion, occasionally speaks in a down-home, aw-shucks Midwestern vernacular, a device that was no doubt used intentionally to reinforce his Indiana roots. But if you stick with the story, you’ll experience a growing maturity in the author’s language that parallels his maturity as a person. More simply put, Raisor shakes out the hayseeds as he shakes out his innocence. And give Raisor a little slack on some of his long, hard emotional purging (hey, this is a memoir, after all) because you’ll see that they simply add to the layering of the many hurdles he must overcome.

Also See: Adam’s Conversation with Philip Raisor.


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