NEW ORLEANS — Even the refs get told to stay off Bourbon Street.
And that’s not all. As the crews for Saturday’s semifinals met at lunchtime for the their first get-together in anticipation of two big battles, they and NCAA Final Four higher-ups went over just about everything they could encounter — from a serious injury on the court to a brawl between the teams to even what to do if the lights went out.
As it turned out for the three officials in the first game, Kentucky’s 69-61 victory against Louisville, things could not have gone smoother. And in their postgame interviews, it was remarkable how much like athletes or coaches they sounded.
“It was outstanding,” said Doug Shows, who was working his second consecutive Final Four. “I really enjoyed the ballgame, we had a great crew that worked very well together and I’m just excited to be here with three other great guys.”
Joe DeRosa, who came back to the college game last year after 21 years in the NBA, obviously was pleased after a game in which it seemed neither coach had much to quibble about with the refs.
“It was a good experience,” DeRosa said. “It was everything I expected it to be. There was a lot of intensity, the kids really played well. There was respect amongst the players towards each other and they played hard till the end.”
That’s been a point of emphasis for the NCAA this season and especially in this tournament. In their Saturday meeting, John Adams, the NCAA’s national officiating coordinator, reminded all seven refs of just that. That included Shows, DeRosa and the third official in the game, Les Jones; the standby for all three games this weekend, Roger Ayers; and the three who called Saturday’s nightcap, Tom Eades, Jamie Luckie and Pat Adams.
“I would expect all of you, at the stages of your career and with all the expertise you have, that you would understand the value of a warning, getting between two kids before it escalates, taking that extra necessary step to keep the game focused on the play and not on the officiating,” John Adams said.
Accordingly, he reminded them that through about 5,500 games this season that “nobody in this game, player or coach, will be surprised at the emphasis we’re placing on sportsmanship. They’ve received memos, they’ve had the pregame meeting.”
The three calling the first game weren’t worried.
“This is an elite group of guys,” Shows said. “We’re all professionals and we’re all prepared for the unexpected, too. As the third team out there, we’re going to be prepared, excited, and also have some fun as well.”
Before the game, as the seven sat around a big table, they were asked about their worst fears.
“A fight,” said one. “Yeah, a fight,” another chimed in.
They talked about the Xavier-Cincinnati game that ended earlier this season with an ugly fight. None of them worked that game, but Pat Adams said, “The first thing I thought about was the refs.”
Added DeRosa, “Those kind of things can happen to anybody. That’s why you watch games so hopefully you can prevent those kinds of things from happening when you’re in that situation. Your worst fear is something like that happening, but you also have to prepare yourself to be ready for what you can do if you see things starting to get to that point before they happen. And that’s our job.”
DeRosa, 54, last worked in college in the late 1980s. Then he got into the NBA, retiring last year after 21 years.
“The main differences are the rules,” DeRosa said. “A lot of rules differences. The travel, a lot less travel as long as you space your schedule out right. The season’s a lot shorter.”
It was going to be the first game for Shows, Jones and DeRosa to work together.
“Basically, it’s the same game,” said Jones, 54, who was working his fourth consecutive Final Four. “It shouldn’t be hard. We’ll mesh together, the crew we have now. We’re looking at the same game. I think we have a knack for it.”
Shows, a big, confident man on the basketball court, was not only sure, he proved prophetic.
“When you get to this level, you’re dealing with professional guys who have been doing this a long time and our mechanics are pretty much standardized,” Shows said. “So working with Les and Joe is going to be like clockwork out there. We’re going to be a Swiss clock, there’s no question. I feel very comfortable with these guys.”
“At the end of the day, the goal is to get the plays right,” DeRosa said. “If we work our mechanics system the right way and we’re in position that improves our chances to get those plays right.”
The other member of the team was Ayers, who has the unusual job of being basically on call for the semifinals and final. But it was more than that, as Adams said.
“Invariably the role of the standby becomes very important. You are as much a part of this crew as the guys on floor,” Adams told Ayers. “They’re going to come to you with all sorts of chances to help.”
Ayers’ role included tracking fouls, the foulers, technical fouls (of which there were none in the Kentucky-Louisville game) and video review.
“You may ask the truck to look at a replay if you think it’s pertinent, if it’s something that you think can save the day,” Adams told him.
The guys in stripes were ecstatic after the game.
“Good ballgame,” Jones said. “Both teams played very hard and the best team won. Nice crew and it was fun. Just like I was saying earlier [Saturday], ‘It’s just like you’re playing. Your adrenaline gets flowing and you get out there and work.’ ”
Never once did they have to consult the video for any of the usual situations, like whether a shot was or wasn’t a 3-pointer, or to check the clock, despite Adams’ earlier warning, “We’re in no hurry in these games. They take a long time to play. There are a lot timeouts, the timeouts are long, if the video gives us a chance to get it right, let’s get it right. Don’t make up a reason to go there.”
Shows, 43, worked his first Final Four in 2005 and last year called the championship game, UConn’s victory against Butler.
“There were a lot of decisions to be made,” Shows said about last year’s championship. “I wouldn’t call it difficult, but when the ball’s not going in the hole, it puts the onus on us. We try to let them play through a lot of contact, play through a drive to the bucket, but in that game, the ball wouldn’t go in the hole and we had a lot of decisions.”
Shows, Jones and DeRosa were done for the season after the game. Ayers continued with the Kansas-Ohio State game Saturday.
“I’m excited to be here,” Ayers said. “I’ve worked with each one of these guys and I look at it like normally we just have two friends in an arena, this time I’ve got three.
“My job is to watch this game and make sure nothing happens just like when I’m out on the court. I don’t want anything to go wrong in these games. I’m right there with them. We’re a team and now there’s four instead of three.”
Despite all the talk beforehand of the bitter rivalry between them and their schools, neither of the three expected much of a problem from either Kentucky’s John Calipari or Louisville’s Rick Pitino.
“You have to know the characters in the play,” said Shows, who has called countless games with both coaches. “You have to know what they’re going to be doing, we’re going to discuss that later, talk about different scenarios, and we will be prepared.”
DeRosa worked with both when they were coaches in the NBA, Calipari with the New Jersey Nets and Pitino with the New York Knicks and later the Boston Celtics.
DeRosa just laughed before the game when asked if he had run-ins with either in the pros. “We’ll talk about those at another time,” DeRosa said with smile.
Adams, figuring he had covered most everything with his charges, finally brought up the actual end of the game.
“The most important job you have, Roger, is don’t let them leave the court if there’s an issue. Stand up, wave your arms. You and I will both be waving our arms,” Adams said.
“If there are no issues, a quick look at the score, and get out of Dodge. Let’s get off the court, let them celebrate or do whatever else is going on.”
As they finished their meeting, Lynn Hickey of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee told them, “This is an experience to cherish for forever and ever.”
Especially when a game goes almost perfectly.
“It was a very, very fairly officiated game,” a relieved Adams said after. “It gave both teams a chance to win. Officiating didn’t dictate style of play and I thought the defense at both ends of the floor was pretty clean. There weren’t a lot of fouls.”
Louisville was called for 16 and Kentucky 14.
“I’ll tell you one other thing I noticed, the sportsmanship between the two teams was incredibly good,” Adams said. “And that makes referees look good.”
Which is all Jones, Shows and DeRosa could hope for.
“The season is over,” Jones said, “but it starts right over again. We’re right back in the summer trying to tune our skills and try to help young officials and ourselves get better.
“To me that’s what it’s all about, helping others get to our level and have fun.”