T.J. is a mixed race high school student. He is African American and Japanese American. T.J. is a senior at Cutter High, which is a sports centered school and the race is predominately white. T.J. is very athletic and built like a football player. However he chooses not to play sports, which causes trouble with coaches and other athletes.
T.J. may not be an athlete, however he is a fantastic swimmer. One day, Coach Simet approaches T.J. and asks him to put together a swim team. Although, the team is made up of very diverse young men, however the people of Cutter High discriminate against those who are "different." One of T.J.'s missions is to allow the swim team members to represent themselves as a honorable athletic team, without being bullied along with the racism of the town.
T.J. loses the 200 yard race at the state championship. T.J. as a last attempt to win the letter jackets, had Chris and Mike Barbour race. Chris ended up beating Barbour and won the letter jackets for the whole team except for T.J. Because the swim team didn't want to stop playing sports, so for Hoopfest T.J, his dad, Andy Mott, and Simet create a basketball team. While the rest of the team cheers them on along with Georgia, Alicia, and Heidi.
At Hoopfest T.J.'s team, The Slam-Dunking Mermen, compete against Rich Marshall and Mike Barbour's team, The Bush-Whackers. The Slam-Dunking Mermen beat Bush-Whackers, and Mike and Rich storm out. While they are celebrating Rich comes back in with his hunting rifle and fires a bullet at Heidi, his biracial step-daughter. However, T.J.'s dad jumps in front and protects Heidi. As he is dying, he tells T.J. not to take revenge and let it hold him back.
T.J.'s dad's dying words were the name of a widow and the name of her baby he accidentally killed. This happened a long time ago and has haunted T.J.'s dad for years, and he wanted T.J. to go and visit them. T.J. went to find the widow but instead finds her son, Kyle, the child that his dad and the widow had. The assumption is that T.J. will get to know is half-brother, and Kyle will get to know what kind of a man his father was from T.J.
T.J. might also join Kyle's whitewater-rafting team upon his return. He will also work towards healing after everything that has happened. While everything back at home changes for the better; Heidi and her mother Alicia are safe from Rich Marshall living at T.J.'s home, Rich is in jail for life. Mike Barbour becomes a better person without Rich, and the members of T.J.'s swim team find a place in the world.