Game three of the NBL semi-final series between the Adelaide 36ers and the Wollongong Hawks was a fantastic game. Two of the league’s best coaches, with their low budget but exciting teams playing off for the right to compete for the ultimate prize.
Rob Beveridge and Joey Wright certainly got the most from their teams this season, sad that one of them had to exit the series. But, no matter what happens from this point on, both the programs were able to attain elite level of play through a style of game that best suited their talent.
The game was full of tough play, changes in momentum and all the elements of elite level play one could hope for. It’s a real shame the refereeing wasn’t also up to that standard.
There has been plenty of criticism about the referees this season and one call in game three highlighted the lack of feel for the game that some of the NBL referees have. It was when Anthony Drmic was called for flopping when he appeared to be fouled while shooting a three-point shot. Drmic had just dropped his first three for the game a play earlier and going to the line for three foul shots was certainly going to do his confidence no harm and momentum was starting to switch the 36ers way. But, to everyone’s surprise, one of the NBL’s full time referee’s, Michael Aylen, judged that Drmic had in fact over exaggerated the contact and “flopped” to magnify the contact in the hope of receiving a call.
Every player around the play expected the foul to be called on Holyfield, you could see from his body language after the whistle he had rightly expected the call to be made on him, but a technical foul was called on Drmic. How any experienced basketball player, coach, spectator or referee could judge that Drmic flopped is bewildering. Aylen, supposedly the best in the game – I beg to differ – saw it the other way. While he is known for believing he has some special powers of judgement and sight this was even odd for him, especially given he usually loves the roar of approval from the home crowd no matter the venue.
Anyway, Drmic lost his head sometime later, receiving another technical foul and was ejected from the game. The impact of that one call is hard to judge but I think it’s fair to say Drmic was rattled and it did the 36ers no good.
The “flop” has been in the game since I played. The art of over reacting to contact was the average player’s way of trying to fool the referees into making the call their way. It was successful only because the referees were easy to fool. The fact some elite level referees were incapable of making a judgement of whether there was insufficient contact to throw a player to the ground was another indicator of the lack of feel for the game that some elite referees had and it seems still have. FIBA introduced a rule to make it illegal to “flop”. This now forces the referees to still make a judgement about whether a flop has occurred or not.
It’s amusing for me to see the same guys who were rewarding flops now calling technical fouls on people who flop!
Conning the referees has always been a fine art and I think there is a way to help ease this problem. The NBL needs more ex-players going into a refereeing pathway. I have made this suggestion several times to the NBL hierarchy over the years. Here is how it could work.
Identify some players who weren’t quite good enough to make it in the NBL. They understand the game because they have played the game, they understand what is real contact and what is incidental. They understand the things that give you an unfair advantage and the things you can let flow. These are the areas where most NBL referees break down. They don’t really understand what is happening out there, they know the rules but often lack the experience of being in similar situations to help influence their judgement.
Identify a group of ex-players located around the Country, fast track them onto the NBL panel – they’re not going to pursue the normal refereeing pathway, they need to be given a head start due to their prior knowledge and understanding of the game. Their experience as a player will give them a huge advantage over someone who has never played at a high level.
There are three referees in charge of a game, I could certainly live with a relatively new referee who is inexperienced in the mechanics of refereeing but experienced in the game of basketball. I believe such a project could help produce a group of referees who would not make some of the highly questionable judgements we have seen in the NBL finals.
While it is not common for ex-players to join the refereeing ranks in basketball, it is quite common in other sports. Those referees or umpires who have transitioned from playing to blowing the whistle have usually turned out to be pretty good.
Bill Mildenhall was the best referee of his era, in my opinion, the fact that he had played AFL to a high level certainly helped him understand the dynamics of elite sport. Ex NBL or SEABL players would also make excellent referees.
The lure of being able to enjoy the lifestyle and travel on being an elite level referee would certainly be tempting to some, especially given they could be given the chance to attend Olympic Games and World Championships, even maybe move into the NBA with the financial rewards offered there. The negative aspect of having to work their way up through the system can be avoided by creating a fast-track pathway that would see them move quickly onto the NBL panel. Get them up to speed on the finer points of the rules, the mechanics of working in the three-man team and let their feel for the game kick in.
I think it would be worth a try, what the worse that could happen? A flop maybe?