BY RAY FLORIANI
Freshman girls: North Bergen 39, Garfield 22
North Bergen, NJ - Eventually UConn would enter the Pink Whistle conversation. My partner for this game was Iris Garcia. I enjoy officiating with Iris, who works hard and has a good ‘feel’ for the game. That latter point should be of no surprise, as Iris was an all-state player for Ferris (Jersey City) during their powerhouse days two decades ago.
Iris was so talented, that at 5-6, she could get in the lane, handle and bury the three with equal expertise, that UConn was on her trail. It got to the point that assistant Chris Dailey drove to Jersey City to watch Ferris in a two-and-a-half-hour practice. In the days that followed, then-Ferris coach Bill Millevoi called, left messages, and wrote letters to Geno Auriemma. Remember, when technology was still in its infancy, people really wrote letters. A week or so later, Millevoi was contacted by Auriemma by mail. It seemed the UConn staff was very impressed with Iris, but found a player who could do the same and was 6-2. Iris still wound up in the Nutmeg State, playing at Western Connecticut with no regrets.
On this afternoon, we had Garfield, with a small squad of six, against a deep North Bergen group. The home-standing Bruins like to press. Given that and their numbers, it is no surprise that they come out in a man-to-man full court defense. Garfield presses as well, but is having difficulty containing North Bergen.
Early on, the Garfield coach is complaining. We try to have a dialogue. In camp, Brian O’Connell always told us you can have a dialogue with a coach. The minute he or she ‘crosses the line,’ it is over. The Garfield coach does that and gets a warning. About a minute later Iris, in front of his bench, gets another verbal disagreement and administers a technical. From that point, the coach does not bother with us. In effect there was enough to worry about on his end, as North Bergen jumped out to a 28-3 lead. At the half, it is 30-9 North Bergen.
At the half, Iris and I discuss game management. If a call is close, give it to the weaker team. It turns out we were doing that much of the initial half, this was just a reminder.
In the second half, North Bergen pulled the press off. In a halfcourt game against the Bruin 2-3, Garfield played much better. The point guard, number 3, was respectable. She did have an attitude giving us looks on every call. It’s interesting, as Garfield plays in a different county and this was an independent matchup. When teams take to the road in these games, they feel the officials are out to get them. After the game, I checked the scorebook. The foul total was North Bergen 14, Garfield 13. So much for the visitors’ claims of not getting a fair shake.
Afterward, when talking a few minutes with the North Bergen coach, I commended her number 41, a wing with some higher level potential. Coach Ashley (first name) reiterates what she said before the game, “see the difference in halves. One half they can play well and then the next play like I never taught them a thing.” Welcome to freshman basketball.
On the way out, some of the North Bergen girls say ‘good game,’ and ask my name. I told them I officiated their coach in high school. No surprise to their reaction of surprise. Ashley played for North Bergen only seven years ago. To these girls, it seems likes a decade or more.
Friday: Trinity Academy 17 Fairfield 15
Fairfield, NJ -- Assignor Rich Mattesky said, “I have a real easy one.” This was Friday afternoon, for a game to tip off a few hours later. It is 5-6 recreation, with no press and a running clock for three quarters.
From the outset, the majority of fouls were illegal screens and hand checking. The screens got better, but guard to guard defense did not. At halftime, it is 8-6 Fairfield.
Officiating clinicians always tell you, blow early, blow often. If the kids know you are calling hand checking, they will adjust. Unfortunately, that holds mainly with better and experienced players. On this level they still commit the same infractions, not versed in another method of defending.
Trinity makes a run, setting a screen at halfcourt and freeing a ballhandler for penetration. Fairfield goes in a scoring drought during Trinity’s fourth quarter run. The home five have several attempts to equalize, but nothing falls as Trinity emerges victorious. A few observations of note:
1. The college game is very fast. But this is not college. The kids are too often getting the ball, putting their heads down and running. Transition with no rhyme or reason. The kids must be taught to play at a pace that is under control.
2. Practice time is at a premium. Can’t blame the coaches entirely, as they often face a situation where they get a gym once a week for an hour to 90 minutes. Not a great situation.
3. Forget intricate offenses. Teach kids basics, as ‘white ball’ by the officials means the team in white gets it. Another would be how to line up for a free throw. Getting both teams organized on foul shots proved to be an adventure.
4. This ‘easy one’ might have been my toughest assignment thus far this season.