Darnellia Russell is the star basketball player in a true underdog story from documentary filmmaker Ward Serrill. Besides dodging opponents on the court, this stubborn teen must navigate issues of class, gender and race on a path to the Washington State championships. It's unfortunate that Serrill can't keep up with the action off the court - relying heavily on interviews and narration by Ludacris to fill in the gaps - but the story still keeps you hanging on for more.
Initially the focus is on barmy tax professor-turned-high-school-coach Bill Resler, whose methods include wolf worship… But it's not until he poaches Russell from the other side of the proverbial tracks that things get really interesting. Naturally, the path to glory is littered with pitfalls; Russell feels self-conscious about being one of the school's few black students and later, pregnancy leads to a court battle threatening her right to play.
"THERE'S INHERENT DRAMA TO RUSSELL'S STORY"
Russell has all the sass and grit of a classic movie heroine so she's easy to root for. Unfortunately she's reticent and, unlike director Steve James did with the brilliant Hoop Dreams (1994), Serrill fails to get in amongst friends and family to capture an intimate portrait. Instead it's left to Resler and voiceover man Ludacris to try and explain what drives her. Thankfully, there's inherent drama to Russell's story. It's packed with left-field twists and turns and culminates in a genuinely nail-biting match where old rivalries come to a head. In the end, it's all you can do not to stand up and cheer.