UNION CITY, NJ - The call came from officiating friend and assignor Pat Devaney. “Ray, AAU at Union City. I got Brian O’Connell working and he requested to work with you.” The official alluded to is THE Brian O’Connell, seen in venues as Madison Square Garden and similar venues, regularly working deep into the NCAA and NIT tournaments. The answer on my part, a rapid affirmative. Anticipation and excitement were the order of the day. The games started at 8 a.m. on a Sunday. Yours truly checked in at Union City by 7:20.
Brian is actually a good friend I have known for years. We worked as officiating partners in a basketball officials camp in the early Nineties. Later, I was mentored by Brian working as an instructor at the same camp. We also officiated games in recent seasons at the Jersey City based Hamilton Park Summer League.
Our games were at Union City High School in Northern New Jersey. Two eighth grade and one seventh grade girls AAU contest were on tap. A few notes and observations from an enjoyable three contests with one of the best college officials in America.
Jump ball situations are a fact of life, especially in grade school games. Too many, though, affect the flow. “You can’t have 17 or so jump balls in a game,” Brian said. “To avoid them, call the reach-in as they wrap an arm or hand around to get the ball. They (the players) will adjust and you will have a cleaner game with less jump balls and a better flow.” Brian also added a thought regarding the previous point, “call the hand checking. That will clean the game up.”
Brian came up through the ranks, from grade school to high school, and then college officiating. He’s seen this level, but at times forgets. Today is a reminder, though in general, coaches, players and parents were very good. Regardless, we had a situation with an official scorer keeping the time and score effectively. We handled it, but a coach (from a different group) of one of the teams in the game came out of the stands to question the situation. That was not his place and Brian said “sir if you want, you can help score or keep time.” Needless to say, the coach quietly exited stage left. “It is amazing what officials have to take on this level,” Brian said later. “I will go to a high school game in my (New Jersey) area and watch guys trying to move up. What they have to deal with coaches and fans is too much.” Brian knows well, the pressure of officiating at the Division I level are demanding. Coaches do not want traveling missed, as they play for a six or seven-figure salary. Still, there is a difference. “On our (college) level there are site and arena managers to handle things.”
Translated, the removal of unruly fans. “Also in Division One, there is a much different level of commitment from players and coaches.” It boils down to both groups understanding the game is physical, demanding, and comes with inherent risks.
Calls are easy. Judgment is what is vital to ascertain a no-call. Overall, yours truly received very ’good grades’ from Brian for positioning, hustle and overall judgment. On one particular play, he told me my call of a two-shot foul on a baseline jumper could have been passed on. “Let them play through things,” Brian reminded. “You can always decide it was a foul and make the call late. A late whistle is fine, but try to let them get through the play.”
Late in the second game, a player from a team down 20 or so is reached in by the defense. I call the foul. In frustration, she elbows her opponent. I simply say “relax, you got the call. Don’t do something foolish, just play hard.” I then sought advice, asking Brian if I was correct not assessing a technical on her. “Absolutely,” he replied. “If it’s a really blatant push or elbow, you have no choice but to call a ‘T.’ That push was not blatant, you did the right thing talking to her.” Her coach also did the right thing substituting for her immediately.
A consideration off the court in Brian’s estimation, especially at his level, is social media. Be careful what you say on Facebook and Twitter. “Don’t discuss specific plays especially on Twitter,” he said. “You would be amazed about who is following you and who can get information you thought would not leak out.”
A wealth of good advice with a few of the highlights previously cited. The $105 three game fee was somewhat of a bonus. As was told by me to Regina (one of our Hamilton Park score keepers) at the front desk, “feels like I should be paying for attending a ’clinic’ with Brian as instructor.”
Our three games were one sided, the final one a 41-11 final. Brian worked the games as he does in college, conscientious, but fully mindful the game is for the players. We as officials are in the background.
In one situation, I was waiting to inbound the ball to a Wayne PAL eighth-grader as substitutes were beckoned on the floor. While waiting I ,told the young lady, “my partner is a college official in the Big East,” to which she replied, wow, that is so cool.’
Come to think of it, she’s right.
Ray with Brian O'Connell:
Pat Devaney recording results in the hallway:
The tournament sign outside Union City High School: