Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

I could start this review of the Robby Benson basketball classic ‘One on One’ by mentioning that I was quite the hoopster myself back in the day.  ‘One on One’ being yet another film from my childhood that I have fond remembrances of, watching it on regular TV, commercials and all, so many years ago.  I could mention that I was the leading scorer on my high school squad, microscopic school though it was, and that my game could be described as ‘Jordanesque’, minus the jumping, dribbling, passing and shooting ability.  Otherwise our games are identical.  In the one year of college ball I did play I believe I was the greatest shooter in division NAIA history.  Not scorer mind you as I didn’t make a lot of the shots I took, but I did take an inordinate amount of shots for the two to three minutes a game I played.  No, I won’t mention all of that but will instead focus on ‘One on One’ to see how well this movie holds up some whopping thirty years plus later after its initial release.

The story is simplicity itself.  Benson is hot shot high school basketball star Henry Steele who we see even as a child that he is shoehorned into a life of basketball.  Henry’s a hot recruit and when legendary coach Moreland Smith (G.D. Spradlin) of the mythical powerhouse Western University comes a calling, and Henry is introduced to the world of big time college athletics.  Women, cars, drugs, fake high paying jobs, academic fraud, you name it, Henry is up in it.  One class Henry can’t B.S. his way through is history and as such is assigned a tutor in pretty grad student Janet Hays (Annette O’Toole).  As you may imagine, Janet is none too impressed with the cocky freshman, but soon she sees something in the boy and he soon wins her over.

Things on the court aren’t going so well for Henry however as Coach Smith got both more than he bargained for and less than he wanted.  Henry just isn’t catching on to

the Western University style of play and Henry’s flair for the flamboyant just doesn’t sit well at all with the rigidly traditional Coach Smith, so much so that he requests that Henry renounce his basketball scholarship.  Henry refuses to do this and soon finds that all of the good things that he thought was cool about big time college sports ain’t so cool anymore when it turns against you.  So without the support of his coach, his team and even the university, the only ally Henry has is his new girlfriend Janet and his determination to prove to the coach that Henry Steele indeed can play big time college basketball.

Things I remember about ‘One on One’ as a thirteen year old watching this movie made in 1977, but viewing it on TV sometime in the early eighties:  I thought Robbie Benson could really play basketball, and is it turns out, he could.  I remember Annette O’Toole being really, really good looking.  Nothing false about that memory.  I also remember G.D. Spradlin’s Coach Smith a complete insufferable asshole.  Upon further review, no, he wasn’t actually.  Also, I believe they cut out most of that college party scene in the edited TV version I saw as a kid as there was a whole lot of drug usage going on, and I don’t recall the scene when Henry was driving in the car with a drunk Miss Rudolph (Gail Strickland) and he asks her “Why do they call you B.J?” and her head drops into Henry’s lap.  Yep, I think they cut that out too.  I also don’t remember ‘One on One’ being that much of a sappy love story with all of that irritating seventies style folk music they played throughout. 

I mentioned G.D. Spradlin’s Coach not being the asshole that I thought he was and his portrayal of the coach was probably the highlight of the film, despite the ridiculousness of any coach in any sport declaring his team will go undefeated.  Yes he wanted Henry off the team but Henry deserved to be off the team because Henry had trouble with even the simplest coaching instruction.  Coach also hates a hot dog and Henry Steele was certainly that with his unnecessary behind the back passes, reverse layups when a regular lay up would do, over the shoulder passes and worthless dribbles between his legs.  Who is he, Allen Iverson?  The big confrontation between Henry and Coach Smith in the hallway, after being particularly abused by the coach, was very well done after Henry accuses the coach of being a terrible molder of character, and Coach Smith points out correctly that while Henry was eating his steaks, driving his cars and taking his money, he didn’t one time seemed concern about having his character molded.

Oddly, ‘One on One’ was both better in some instances than I remember and not as good in others.  And of course there was Henry having the greatest final four minutes in the history of college basketball with a line that reads like 14 points 2 steals 2 assists and three rebounds.  Yeah coach, with game like that… with a red hot poker.  Henry can play for anybody he wants to.

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