- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 24, 2018

GILLETTE, Wyo. (AP) - There were two minutes left before tipoff and the referees were nowhere to be found.

It was two minutes before 9 p.m. on a Monday night. The Regulators were facing off against MDH/ANB Bank in the new auxiliary gymnasium at Thunder Basin High School.

It was a D League matchup for Campbell County Parks and Recreation adult basketball. When the clock dipped to less than a minute, Abdul Mohamed and Trent Williams walked out of a door near the entrance to the gym.

The two Gillette College Pronghorns men’s basketball players were wearing black jogging pants and Pronghorns shirts.

At the scorer’s table, they peeled off their shirts and put on the black and white stripes of referees with 9 seconds left until tipoff.



Three fans sat in the bleachers to watch the game.

The Regulators wore white T-shirts with numbers drawn on their backs in permanent marker. The opposition had navy blue jerseys that read “MDH” on the front.

Before throwing the jump ball, Mohamed poked fun at one of The Regulators, pointing at his makeshift jersey and making a “T” sign with his hands, jokingly signaling for a technical foul.

After some laughs at center court, the ball was tossed in the air and the game was on.

LAYING DOWN THE LAW

Being the referee, or the zebra, at basketball games is a lot harder than it looks. You get blamed for making calls and not making calls.

Players get on your case along with angry parents and fed-up coaches.

This season, some of Gillette’s most talented basketball players are learning that harsh reality behind the whistle for the community rec leagues.

Four of the Pronghorns players started refereeing earlier this season at junior high school games for Twin Spruce and Sage Valley.

Mohamed and Williams were joined by teammates Amir Johnson and Richard Brown. The four took a sports officiating class at Gillette College taught by Jess Fortner.

Brown was a late transfer to Gillette from Alabama. When he was filling out his class schedule, Fortner’s class was one of the only ones available that fit his schedule.

Williams never thought to take the class and become a ref until Mohamed convinced him to.

Now with the class under his belt, he’s enjoying a part-time gig that pays $25 a game.

“It took me a while to get really comfortable,” Brown said. “As a player, I’m used to watching the ball at all times, but as a ref you have to focus more on the players and how they’re moving.”

Once they got the hang of refereeing at the junior high level, Doug Meade, the adult coordinator with the Campbell County Parks and Recreation Department, told the guys to sign up and start refereeing the adult rec leagues, too.

It’s a strange feeling at first when the guys put on the pinstripes to ref their first game.

“It was difficult,” Brown said. “But after a few middle school games I started to get a lot more comfortable.”

“Man, my first game was bad,” Williams said. “I was not confident at all.”

“The toughest part about it is being confident in your calls,” Mohamed said. “There’s some attitude out on the court, especially in the men’s league. So if you’re not confident in your call they feel like they can push you around a little bit.”

The guys have seen their fair share of temper tantrums from players. They’ve been yelled at and cussed at, but luckily so far nothing has ever gotten physical.

Mohamed has never thrown anyone out of a game, but Brown has dished out some technical fouls for language when things got too heated on the court.

“These older men get agitated very easily,” Brown said.

“I’ve heard some cursing and have gotten some looks here and there, but I haven’t had to deal with anything too bad,” Williams added.

The toughest part for Brown has been adjusting from the style of basketball that he’s used to. Where he comes from, basketball is by all means a physical sport.

He said the decision-making has been the most difficult part about transitioning from player to ref.

“I come from a more physical and more athletic style of play where someone on offense could drop a shoulder and get physical down low,” he said. “They want to keep it less physical in men’s league, so we call more fouls. It helps speed up the game if guys are getting angry.”

Brown was refereeing with longtime ref and community legend Nello Williams when the older, more experienced ref threw someone out of the game in the second half.

What did the player say to get himself kicked out?

“Jesus Christ,” after a suspected bad call.

“We let the older guys make those kinds of calls,” Mohamed said. “I try to stay as calm as I can.”

Brown said it’s important to be confident in your calls, but also to show composure if a player gets angry.

“If they see you getting angry, that’s when you can lose control of the game,” he said. “You have to know it’s your game and call it how you see it. The whistle is a very powerful weapon.”

LESSONS LEARNED

Mohamed said that he’s picked up on things on the court that he’s never noticed as a player.

For instance, each ref, depending on where they are on the court, is responsible for certain calls.

A baseline official makes different calls than the trailing ref. When there are three refs during one game, there are two baselines and one trailing. The trailer will take care of top-of-the-key fouls or violations.

The baseline refs will most likely call fouls underneath the hoop.

“It’s been really cool to pick up on things and know why a ref didn’t make a certain call when I’m on the court,” Mohamed said. “I’ve learned how to get certain calls if I’m in the right position.”

Both Williams and Brown said one of the biggest lessons they’ve learned is that a defender can have one hand on a ball handler for a couple seconds, but as soon as the second is put on, it’s an automatic foul.

“That’s one of the main things we learned in class is noticing those contact points,” Brown said.

Williams also learned that a shooter’s hands are part of the ball, something he never realized in his more than 15 years of playing hoops.

Knowing that, he takes advantage when an opposing player puts up a shot on him.

Mohamed also said that refereeing has minimized the arguments he has with referees on the court when he’s playing. Instead of arguing, he has small discussions with the refs on the court and makes sure he understands why he did or didn’t get a call.

Same goes for the defensive side of the ball.

“I’ve been defending guys differently,” he said. “I know most of the time the ref watches the ball, so if I’m off the ball I can get away with a hold just by knowing what area I’m in and what area the ref is in.”

“It’s taught me how to accept a call and have a conversation with a ref rather than getting into a debate,” Brown added. “It gives us another perspective.”

FOR THE EXPERIENCE

On a recent Thursday night, all three guys were referees together for a women’s league team at the Rec Center.

During timeouts and breaks, the trio would huddle together at a hoop and pull off fancy layups to impress each other.

The speed of the game at the middle school level can be a little slow. Parents and coaches can be harsh at times, and they see some pretty sloppy play in the men’s league.

But as long they’re hanging together and making a little extra money in the meantime, it’s a solid gig.

“It’s been a lot of fun, especially when we all get to work together,” Williams said. “Not everyone gets to do something like this, so it’s great to have this opportunity.”

“Seeing the game at all these different levels has been my favorite part,” Brown said. “Especially when you notice young boys and girls who really love playing the game.”

“It feels great to have something to do while helping out the community,” Mohamed said.

___

Information from: The Gillette (Wyo.) News Record, http://www.gillettenewsrecord.com

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