Officiating basketball games can be as thankless a way to work part-time as any profession that exists. Despite that, it’s a job sought after and enjoyed by many, but not without putting in hard work in season and offseason.
This past weekend served as an opportunity for offseason work at the Nikki Caldwell basketball team camp held at the LSU practice facility. Teams and players from around the state participated, as did a contingent of officials who were also there to learn.
The basketball camp served a dual purpose as a “sanctioned officials’’ camp, one where referees have their in-game performances evaluated with film study and critiques. There was also classroom instruction to cover additional areas of officiating.
“Refereeing, like any vocation, is not for everybody,” said Harry Jenkins, a longtime local official who recently completed a two-year stint as president of the Baton Rouge Area Basketball Officials Association.
“When we find somebody that wants to do it and wants to learn, then we’re going to work with them. And, if they’re not that good in training camp then we’re going to shadow them. Step by step, we’ll be with somebody that requires that kind of attention.”
Officials are required to attend sanctioned camps at least once every two years, although the BRABOA encourages its members to go to one every year. The LSU camp had about 80 campers from all areas of the state.
While working games for the camp, officials are filmed, evaluated and given a written copy of their evaluation. After the first day, the written evaluation is available for clinicians, veteran referees who oversee the games, to use while watching the official in action.
“Some of the things we look for are the mechanics,” Jenkins said. “Every time you blow the whistle you have to have something, and your mechanics tell the story. If you see a referee (arm raised) with a closed fist, he has a foul. If he has an open palm, he has a violation.
“We want to make sure he’s mechanically sound because that’s the way we communicate among officials. We don’t scream across the court.”
There are times when players or coaches can become unruly, but knowing how to handle each situation is one of the most important aspects of teaching. Game management skills can be as important as knowing the difference between a charging foul and a blocking foul.
Mike Parrish, a longtime official who has worked all of the Top 24 tournaments in recent years, was at the camp as a clinician. Parrish talked about the importance of keeping control of a game.
“Sometimes it’s not about the call you make, it’s about the game,” he said. “Maybe a team is up by 30 points. Now you’re managing the game. With a team that far behind, you’ve got to make sure you don’t have rough play or have a fight break out.”
Another important part of officiating is consistency, a point brought home during classroom discussion; an officiating crew is only as good as its weakest official. If all three game officials aren’t calling a game the same way, it can result in a poorly officiated game or even an impression of bias.
A game called evenly on both ends of the court is the goal.
“Coaches aren’t concerned with what is called as much as they are with consistency,” said Larry Foster, a clinician and official with 35 years of collegiate and high school experience.
Classroom topics also included correct positioning and floor rotation. Officials need to know there area of coverage, where to look and what to look for.
“If we’re refereeing a big game, and we’ve got three veteran officials, we know where we’re supposed to be and it’s going to be easy to officiate,” Jenkins said. “Hopefully, the kids will put the ball in the basket so we can stay out of the way.”
Staying out of the way of the game is probably a best-case scenario for officials. Camp instruction helps officials achieve that and it also helps them avoid one of the worst things that can happen.
“Sometimes a veteran official has to tighten things up in the middle of a game,” Jenkins said. “The last thing we want is for a coach to tell something is wrong, and they are right.”