Ray Floriani of College Chalktalk is a contributing writer for Rush The Court. In his spare time, he officiates basketball at various levels and recently had the occasion to share the floor with a referee from the Big East.
Last summer Pat Devaney, who coordinates the Hamilton Park (high school) Summer League, asked if Brian O’Connell might be interested in officiating. Brian is an outstanding official who works a good portion of his schedule in the Big East. Brian and Pat are friends from their days growing up in Bayonne (NJ), so there was a realistic shot at getting him. The one problem would be if his conferences (which happen to be the Big East and the MAAC) would permit Brian to work summer ball on a prep level. As it turned out there was no problem and Brian accepted a schedule in the Hamilton Park circuit. Just as a high school or lower division coach might be thrilled to be in a huddle with Roy Williams or Coach K, I was fortunate to have the chance to work three games with a major-conference official in Brian last Tuesday.
We had three games at School #7 (air-conditioned, thank God) in the Heights section of Jersey City. Our first game was Long Branch and Newark Tech. Brian lives in the Jersey Shore area not far from Long Branch so he knew the coaches rather well. An advantage of Summer ball is the opportunity to speak with coaches in an informal setting before or after a game. From the outset it’s all Newark. I get a good look at Brian’s people skills. Many officials can make calls or have no calls but people skills, dealing with coaches and players, allow you to rise through the ranks. Brian talks to one player who fouled, not adhering to verticality. “You know why you fouled,” he said, “this is what you did… .” As we move on, Brian has a great no-call on a defender flopping on a possible block/charge. “If the shot didn’t go in I had a block,” he explains during a time out. The game ends with Newark Tech a one sided victor. “Wish I had at least one call back,” I said. “The slap,” Brian answers, remembering the play perfectly. It was third quarter with Newark up twenty-something and penetrating. There is a slap on the arm but the Newark player finishes it. Given the time, score and play I could have passed.” The slap had me jump the gun,” I said. “Just wait on a play like that,” Brian advises.
The second game is between St. Peter’s Prep and Union High School. It is a well-contested one possession game. Late in the first half the Prep head coach Mike Kelly, who was quietly watching at the end of the bench while his assistant ran the team, disagrees with Brian over a no-call. Kelly jumps off the bench shouting, is well out onto the floor, and Brian gives him a technical. Kelly persists and is thrown out. Leaving, the coach makes a remark about being ‘big timed’. We move on. Prep spurts early in the second half and goes on to a well earned 44-32 victory. “Can you believe that?” Pat Devaney says about the flare up. “Maybe Kelly wanted a mention in the column,” I replied to interject a little humor. Brian is one of the easygoing guys on the college circuit and is slow to ‘T’ people. “That’s my second tech all year,” he says. “Who got the other one?” I ask. “John Thompson III, but he wanted it (to fire up his team).”
Game three is a full court track meet between High Tech and the Jersey Jayhawks AAU team. The Jayhawks have only five players. At the quarter Brian tells me # 15 of the Jayhawks has two fouls. “I know, I called them,” I said. As far as game management, Brian is very aware of the entire situation. As officials in that spot, when someone is in foul trouble, we work hard to ensure further infractions are severely warranted. As (revered former collegiate official and supervisor) Edgar Cartotto says, “Forget the misdemeanors, grab the felonies.” At one point, we have a jump ball. I have the arrow wrong. Brian corrects me. During a timeout I said, “I’m honored to be in the same situation as Jim Burr, in reference to a game at the Garden when Brian had to correct the veteran Burr on an arrow. Brian had to leave the fourth quarter in our game; it was cleared with Devaney ahead of time and I finished up with long time officiating friend Dennis Nuber. On the way out Brian notes he was very pleased with my work but suggests getting in closer on an opening tap. “Jump balls are tough,” he said, “that’s why I try not to toss too much.”
The second half is all Jayhawks as they post a convincing win over a good club. On the way out, Pat Devaney tells me, “Brian said you did an excellent job.” I have covered games Brian has worked at the RAC, the Garden, Prudential Center, et al. I have watched NCAA tournament games he has worked. Tonight we were partners on the same floor. An unforgettable honor for yours truly.