By Charles Hallman
Last weekend at Tubby Smith’s team camp at Minnesota’s Williams Arena, we got five perspectives on what makes a good basketball official from a former championship head coach, a longtime assistant coach who played as a professional for over a decade, a current college player, present officials, and a supervisor of officials.
Officiating “is the toughest job on the court,” notes Minnesota Head Coach Tubby Smith. “You make one mistake and it’s magnified.”
He also points out that officials must keep up with today’s athletes and their skills: “Things happen a lot quicker and a lot faster — you got to be in the right spot and anticipating,” says the coach.
“The number-one thing for me is being consistent,” says Vince Taylor, who just completed his fifth season as a Minnesota assistant coach. “Set the tone from the beginning [of the game]. I think once you set the parameters, the guys can respect that.”
Taylor played in two NCAAs as a collegiate at Duke, then 15 seasons as a professional player, including two NBA campaigns. He also was a Minnesota Timberwolves assistant coach for two seasons. Taylor likes officials who listen to coaches and players when they are simply asking questions on a particular call.
“They [officials] let us play a little bit” in college as compared to high school, U of M junior guard Maverick Ahanmisi points out. Also, another difference is playing at home vs. on the road. “You won’t get as many calls [on the road] as you would when you play here at home.”
“You have to have a love for the game, and a love for people, especially young people,” says James Patterson of St. Paul, who adds that “wanting to give back to the game and the community” was a key reason why he became an official eight years ago.
“Passion for the game and trusting the partner you work with, whether it’s two-man or three-man” are what 11-year veteran Steve Brinson of St. Paul believes to also be necessary ingredients for a good official. “To be a good official these days, you have to be in shape. The kids nowadays are fast and stronger. I love officiating.”
Says Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) Supervisor of Officials Jim Robinson of indispensable requirements for officiating, “Number one is integrity. Two, keep yourself in good physical condition in order to work the kind of basketball that we have today. And, you have to be willing to take criticism — be willing to go to camps and clinics in order to become a better official.”
A good official must be committed to becoming the best they can be, continues Robinson, who especially wants more Blacks to become officials. “You’ve got to put your time in. It’s a commitment, and it’s a commitment all the way around in order to become a good official, a veteran official, or even to start officiating.”
Robinson wants this generation of officials “to work at the craft of [being] an official.” Therefore, he is deeply committed to inviting as many local officials as possible to work Smith’s annual boys’ team camps each June at the U of M. At least 70 officials, including 15 Black officials, worked three days’ worth of games last weekend and got feedback from several veteran observers during and after games.
Robinson also gave each participant the same officials’ guides that were given out to the assigned officials for this year’s state tournament games. It covers pre-game responsibilities, game situations, and other points of emphasis, as well as an official’s checklist.
“We wanted to get enough officials of color to come and take part,” he explains. “We decided to offer an F-R-E-E clinic for those officials who wanted to participate, become better and get instruction. This has been extremely good for the officials, and good for the people who give their time as clinicians and observers.”
Finally, he thanked MSHSL’s Kevin Merkle and Coach Smith for their generosity and cooperation. “I can’t say enough about these two men. They’ve done a lot for high school basketball [in Minnesota].”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.