What ever happened to Heather Matarazzo? The bullied leading lady of junior-high hell in Welcome to the Dollhouse? She’s part of the ensemble here in this nostalgia-laced ode to Oklahoma women’s basketball coach Jim Keith, a competently made and nicely textured uplifter that feels more like a specialty film for showing in church basements on a clattery 16mm.
Keith is a living legend in this sport, so it does sort of beg the question why it was felt necessary to change his name and fictionalize events? The celluloid verson here is called Clay Driscoll (Jeffery Donovan), who shows up to accept a high-school history teaching job and the plum position of coaching boys’ basketball on the side in rural Oklahoma oil country in the mid-1960s. Unexpectedly, he find himself instead stuck coaching the girls' team instead. Moreover, the girls, the Middleton High Lady Cyclones, are chronic losers.
Nonetheless, there’s a withering drought, times are hard, and Driscoll and his supportive wife (Samantha Mathis) need the money. Driscoll/Keith trains and drills the girls as hard as he would have an all-male team. All but a handful drop out in the process, but after a few seasons the Lady Cyclones turn into a strong and disciplined bunch of athletes (they also appear to be happily racially integrated; don’t ask me to vouch for historical accuracy). While the team’s popularity soars, Driscoll’s chief nemesis is the oil-baron mayor and area kingfish (Bruce Dern in Disney-villain mode), who withholds money for decent team uniforms and equipment and tries to get Driscoll fired, apparently just because he can.
Additional complications include the coach’s `male trouble' that prevents him having biological offspring. So it’s ironic when Driscoll ends up looking after ab outcast pregnant teen newlywed, complete with a Little House on the Prairie birthing scene in which boiled water is necessary, as ever.
The basketball scenes are nothing spectacular (a chronic problem for the many, many movies that have tried to make money off the phenomenally popular hoops), but the actors hit their marks, and except for one swear word the whole thing could have been rated `G.’ The real-life Jim Keith is trotted out over the closing credits for honors. It’s all very nice and wholesome; too bad none of it will stick in your mind as vividly as Matarazzo cowering under cruel catcalls of “Weiner dog! Weiner dog!” in Dollhouse.