It was an amazing five months in which I wrote the first draft of The Final Four (it usually takes me closer to a year). The idea of bringing together four basketball players from different backgrounds to a single pinpoint moment on a basketball court in front of a national audience was an incredible challenge. But as with all of my novels, I was able to find inspiration in real-life circumstances. I love college basketball and the real Final Four. Most of us see it on TV, read newspaper accounts, and hear the play-by-play as a backdrop to other things we're doing around the house. That's one of the feelings I wanted my readers to experience. So I used all sorts of media, including articles, interviews, and even a play-by-play broadcast team to describe the action. I used the powerhouse Michigan State Spartans and the underdog Trojans of Troy University as the competing teams because small schools such as Butler (IN) and George Mason (VA) have made big impacts at the Final Four in recent years. Those choices also let me play out the mythical Trojan War with the Spartans and Trojans.
Malcolm McBride, a.k.a. One and Done, is definitely a character you start out disliking before the whole picture of him appears. Malcolm was inspired by a lot of One and Done playersfulfilling the mandatory one year of college ball before entering the NBA draft. We rarely know these players personal circumstances. So I gave Malcolm a back-story explaining why he and his family need NBA riches so fast.
My Michael Jordan character was inspired by a real-life college basketball player named Isaiah Thomas (shares the name of an NBA all-time great), who played at the University of Washington and is now in the NBA. I started to wonder how hard it was for him to live up to that name. Then I began to wonder how hard that would be for a player named Michael Jordan, and my character MJ was born.
Lots of European players now fill our college basketball landscape. So I went looking for a counterpart for Malcolm, someone who had come from tough circumstances abroad, equaling Malcolm's tough life in a Detroit housing project. That helped me to create Roko Bacic, the ultimate unselfish team-player. I was able to fill in his life by talking to a friend who grew up around the Serbia/Croatia conflicts. The story of Roko's uncle is inspired by a real-life journalist from the area who was murdered after his news reports angered the mobsters he was trying to expose.
The character Crispin Rice was inspired by a college football player who scored a touchdown and then proposed to his cheerleader girlfriend on the field. The proposal went viral, and I thought that was a lot of pressure for the couple to live up to. That also helped me to develop the character Hope, his girlfriend, named Hope of Troy by the media. Crispin was also partly inspired by a cousin of mine who delivered Chinese food, even though he wasn't Chinese. That led to some interesting exchanges when he showed up a people's doors with their deliveries. Hence, Crispin rides a moped through the streets of Troy, Alabama, delivering for a fictitious restaurant called Flying Sushi.
A major theme in the book is the hundreds of millions of dollars the real Final Four produces in revenues. None of that money goes to the players, without whom there would be no NCAA Basketball Tournament. To that end, The Final Four is dedicated to "the lifeblood of college basketball, the players, who are all too often viewed as the product instead of the source." --Paul