05/14/2015 2:56 PM
DALLAS — It was next to impossible to complain about bad calls during the EYB Classic in North Dallas.
Three age groups on the grassroots circuit had a chance to showcase their game against one another at the PrimeTime Sports event — but unique to the tournament was that the contests were played in front of some of the top referees in the country.
An NBA Officials Evaluation Program was run on-site by former NBA referee George Toliver and his colleagues. The group was grading potential candidates to determine if they were up to the task of officiating at the highest level.
“Dallas has a good group of basketball players which we can have assemble for our referees to work the games,” Toliver said. “It is also geographically good that we can bring in referees from all over the country.”
Toliver has worked in the NBA Basketball Operations department since 2004. He has officiated multiple World Championship games as well as NCAA basketball tournaments to go with more than his fair share of NBA games throughout his career.
With the recent grassroots basketball talent that has come out of Texas it was a natural fit to bring Evaluation Program to Dallas.
PrimeTime Sports founder and CEO David Stephens said that the opportunity to have referees of that level at his event was something his team could not turn away.
“There is no single component of a basketball tournament more critical than quality officiating,” Stephens said. “Elite competition held in great facilities will be a disappointment without quality officiating.
“The NBA Officials Evaluation Program at the EYB Classic provided the perfect complement to the outstanding talent in the tournament.”
Hopeful NBA officials were graded on more than just their performances with the 15U-through 17U groups on the court.
A baseline of simply loving of the game is a must and many of the potential whistle blowers had played the game first then found a niche in officiating. Additionally, simple things like being in shape, having thick skin, and making the right decisions is also weighed.
“There were three major components in what we look for from the guys here,” Toliver said. “Their fitness level, their court presence, and the final piece is their play calling.”
No officiating job is easy, which means evaluating the ambitious referees is done with a microscope – similar to how NBA scouts their athletes.
After the evaluations there is also a tiered ranking system that plots their path to the future.
“Essentially what we have is a program based sort of like pyramid,” Toliver said. “This is the starting point — we call grassroots level program – and the referees we evaluate here move on to upper levels.
“A mid-level, then an elite group, and ultimately they are hired to the Development League for training before the NBA.”
For the ones that get their number called they have access to more technical know-how to help hone their skills. Something as simple as working bigger games to provide video to other NBA referees for feedback is invaluable.
Those that have already made it are helping to pave the way for the next generation.
It is a formula that 6-year NBA ref and prospect evaluator Margat Kogut thinks is working well for everyone.
“You’re learning behind NBA referees,” Kogut said. “We were in the same seats as the officials here before. Learning and improving is the biggest thing to take away from the tournament.”
Another function of the event it to start to separate those that can last and those that may be met with the reality that they may need to find another career path.
“You weed people out here that aren’t able to adjust and adapt quickly,” Kogut said. “There are so many talented officials that the little things separate you to make the advance to the next level.”
For those that make the grade they spend time watching officials, perhaps more than the players, when they tune in to televised games.
Mitchell Ervin is a D-League referee that has been tabbed to call a handful of NBA games. He said that seeing who has made the next step is important to him.
“I watch so many guys,” Ervin said. “Some of the top guys like Monty McCutchen, Danny Crawford, Scott Foster, and a lot of the guys who were in the D-League that are now in the NBA.
“Learning from them has helped me.”
For camp directors like Toliver and Joe Borgia, who came through the ranks in a less polished method, there were not the camps like there are now.
Hopefuls like Ervin said he is appreciative for opportunities that referees are getting today to polish their skills as well as for events like the EYB Classic so that outsiders can learn what people in his profession go through to make it to the NBA.
“I think it is wonderful for people to get an idea of what we do,” Ervin said. “And how we do it and how hard we work to be one of the best.”
The camp provides a pathway to not only find talent but teach these referees before receiving the achievement to officiate on the next level.
“For us, it’s very difficult which a good thing,” Toliver said. “Because we have assembled a very good product of 48 referees and the selection process becomes a bit difficult to separate. Overall the referees are doing a very good job.”
The ability to say that his tournament was a hosting event for the NBA officials is also invaluable for Stephens.
“We pride ourselves in doing so much more than just running basketball tournaments and having NBA level officials is something that helps to further separate PrimeTime events,” he said. “It is an experience that goes beyond what anyone expects.
“We had the best young talent in our area being officiated by some up-and-coming professionals, for me that is a sure fire formula for success and it is a relationship we certainly plan to maintain into 2016.”
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