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June 02, 1997|LISA DILLMAN

A consumer's guide to the best and worst of sports media and merchandise. Ground rules: If it can be read, played, heard, observed, worn, viewed, dialed or downloaded, it's in play here.

What: "Full Court Press" by Lauren Kessler.

Publisher: Dutton, 1997.

Price: $23.95.

Does anyone remember the "Season on the Brink" feud?

Indiana Coach Bob Knight didn't much like a searingly accurate portrait of himself more than a decade ago by John Feinstein. For Knight, it was a little too close to looking in the mirror and not liking the reflection.

Now, we have Oregon Coach Jody Runge vs. author Lauren Kessler.

The rhetoric has been tamer, but the message is largely the same. After granting full, unconditional access to her women's basketball team during the 1994-95 season, Runge believed she had been betrayed once the book hit the shelves, that Kessler had taken advantage of the team's trust.

In one interview, Runge has spoken about "the negative stuff" in the book and seemed concerned it would hurt recruiting. Not to worry. Jody Runge is no female Bob Knight.

Of course, she gets angry in the book and even is quoted swearing.

"Full Court Press" is at its best when Runge is the focal point. The season after arriving at Oregon, she became embroiled in a prolonged legal battle with university officials for an increase in salary and additional support for the program.

Runge knew she was the lowest-paid coach in the Pacific 10 conference at $42,000, but her fight with the school escalated when rival Coach Aki Hill of Oregon State suggested an informal collaboration. Hill found out the salaries of the other coaches.

Writes Kessler: "She [Runge] learned that she and Aki, who makes $10,000 more than Jody, are together at the bottom of the [Pac-10] heap. The next lowest salary is $20,000 higher than Aki's."

Less compelling are the numerous accounts of game action, which tend to get bogged down in minutiae. Still, many of the off-court insights are more interesting coming from an outsider, a director of the creative nonfiction graduate program at Oregon.

Writes Kessler, observing the players at a buffet in Pasadena: "At a time when so many young women suffer from eating disorders, when 6-year-old girls put themselves on diets . . . there is something wonderful, something transcendent about the unapologetically big appetites of the players. . . . They are proud of their appetites, even boastful."

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