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John Grisham talks basketball – and books | |

John Grisham’s latest book, “Sooley,” is his 36th novel – and his 45th book in all – but it’s his first about basketball.

The novel tells the story of Samuel Sooleymon, a South Sudanese teenager who comes to the United States to play college ball and hopes to make it to the NBA so he can help the family he left behind. The book is not a thriller, but it shows Grisham’s passion for a sport he’s loved since his days playing on his high school team in Mississippi. In a phone interview, Grisham, a season ticket-holder for the Virginia men’s and North Carolina women’s basketball teams, was happy to gush about the Cavaliers’ 2019 national championship but reluctant to talk about the previous year, when the team became the first – and only – No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed in NCAA tournament history. He was, however, happy to discuss other matters: “Sooley,” why he loves basketball and more.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: Where did the idea for “Sooley” come from?

A: Last March, when there was no NCAA tournament because of the pandemic, it was like a kick in the gut. I knew I wanted to write a basketball book. I needed to write one to make up for missing the tournament. I wanted to have it out for March Madness this year, but it took me longer than I expected. My other sports books have been about 50,000 words. It took me closer to 100,000 to tell this story.

Q: How did you come up with the plot?

A: There were three things involved. I read a magazine story about a team that came over here from South Sudan to play in a summer showcase tournament a few years back. They were from

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