The way baseball umpire Jim Joyce and the Detroit Tigers reacted to the blown call that prevented a perfect game last week surely reminded basketball referees of the wisdom of admitting mistakes.
"Yes, absolutely," said John Clougherty, who called Southeastern Conference games for decades and now is supervisor of officials for the Atlantic Coast Conference. "Oh, absolutely because if you don't, you lose all credibility."
As Clougherty put it, "There are no perfect referees."
John Adams, who supervises officials nationwide, agreed.
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"Human beings making decisions in a split second, it's not a perfect science," Adams said. "Every referee in the course of a game might have one or two plays he knows he got wrong right after he calls it. If that becomes confrontational, one way to defuse it is to say, 'You know, Coach, you're right. I missed it.' "
As Joyce's mistake on what should have been the last out of a perfect game showed, such admissions can ease tensions.
Clougherty recalled a bad call he made at a crucial time that went against Thad Matta's Xavier team. A Xavier player contests a driving layup.
"He didn't touch him," Clougherty said of the Xavier player. "I anticipated the play and blew my whistle and called the foul.
"(The Xavier coaches) looked at me like, 'John, you've got to be better than that.' "
After the game, Clougherty admitted the mistake to Matta. "He said, 'OK, I understand,' " Clougherty said. "He wasn't going to give me a hug and say, 'Don't worry. I know you're a good ref.' "
The controversy with the Joyce call took Clougherty back to the 1989 NCAA Tournament championship game. Three seconds to go in overtime, he called a foul on Seton Hall. Michigan's Rumeal Robinson made both free throws to win the game.
"I was going to get crucified because my foul call basically determined the national championship game," he said.
Seton Hall Coach P.J. Carlesimo did not publicly blame the loss on the one call.
As Clougherty and Adams saw it, referees or umpires that do not admit mistakes are their own worst enemies.
"Ones that are stubborn or have too big a ego to admit mistakes, they lose their credibility, not only with coaches, but with the media and your supervisor," Clougherty said.
When it comes to these confessions, there can be too much of a good thing.
"If you do that too often, then they question, 'Am I going to listen to this every night? Sorry, I missed the call. Sorry, I missed the call,'" Clougherty said. "The coach will say, 'Well, I'm sorry because I might get fired, too.' "
Adams advised not admitting more than one mistake per game.
"You don't want to go over there five times in the same game and say, 'I missed another one, I missed another one,'" he said. "It probably decreases the level of acceptance each time."
Goodbye, Coach Wooden
The inaugural Wooden Classic served as a fitting tribute to its namesake, John Wooden. Four top 10 teams — No. 1 UMass, No. 3 Kentucky, No. 5 UCLA and No. 7 Kansas — playing high-level basketball on Dec. 3, 1994, in honor of the man who built the unparalleled UCLA dynasty.
I don't remember the two games — Kansas beat UMass by six and UCLA nipped UK by one — as well as two other moments that weekend in Anaheim.
At a news conference the day before the games, the four coaches dressed the part of well-coiffed sharpies on the make. If you missed the point, you only had to notice the shiny sweat suits with the prominent shoe company logos worn by up-and-comers Roy Williams, John Calipari, Jim Harrick and Rick Pitino.
By contrast, the bespectacled Wooden exuded old-fashioned values as he took his turn at the microphone in a tweedy sports coat and tie. He poked good-natured fun at how Pitino's New York accent turned "Iowa" and "Indiana" into "Iower" and "Indianer."
Afterward, the retired gentleman in the midst of salesmen quietly shook hands and, at reporters' request, went down memory lane.
Then the second memorable moment occurred.
Finally, the questions slowed and the reporters scattered. The four participating coaches had long since gone their million-dollar ways. And Wooden could be seen slowly walking away down the arena concourse alone. He bounced a basketball with his right hand.
Coach Adam Williams
Former UK player Adam Williams made news last week when West Virginia Tech announced it had hired him as an assistant coach. A telephone call found Williams driving to Newport News, Va., to see a prospect.
A career in coaching seemed inevitable for Williams, whose father, Tex Williams, was a longtime coaching icon in West Virginia on the high school, college and professional level. The younger Williams was always around basketball. "Ever since I was born," he said.
Besides his father, Williams said the other basketball man who made a lasting impression was former UK coach Tubby Smith.
"I see likeness of him in my father," he said. "How you can be at the highest level and still run a program with discipline, be a great person and do the right thing all the time."
Williams, who will be 25 in September, only played one season for Smith. Then he transferred from UK to Marshall, which was about 35 miles west of his hometown of St. Albans, W.Va. Despite the move, Williams did not find the major on-court role he sought.
"My basketball career as a player didn't go as I wanted it to," he said. "But it allowed me to make a lot of contacts."
Earlier this year, Williams wrote Smith a letter. The player wanted to let the coach know of his admiration.
"He wrote back, said it was great to hear from me and he hoped I'd stay in touch," Williams said. "It was exactly the letter I thought I'd get."
In a news release announcing the hire, Tech Coach Bob Williams (no relation) noted how Williams had been around successful coaches like Donnie Jones (Marshall), Smith (UK) and Tex Williams (St. Albans High).
When asked why he believed his playing career in college did not come close to his high school production (22.5 points, 11.5 rebounds as a senior), Williams said, "I've had that conversation with so many different people. I can't figure it out. I know it's not for a lack of hard work. ... It was frustrating at times. It's still frustrating because it's something I wanted so badly."
Then Williams turned philosophical. "I'm content," he said. "A few years ago, I would have been upset. But there's a lot worse things that could have happened."
Williams, who remains close to UK teammate Preston LeMaster, has coaching ambitions. "My dream job is University of Kentucky head coach," he said. "I think it's the best job in college sports."
But what about the ceaseless scrutiny that can turn the public charmer into a private grump?
"In my opinion, that's what makes it the best job," Williams said. "People care so much. People live and die Kentucky basketball. It gives me goose bumps to even think of it."
Williams saw John Calipari as an ideal UK coach. "You couldn't go to a lab and build a better guy for that job," he said.
NCAA and UK
UK Coach John Calipari told ESPN's Andy Katz last week that the NCAA was not investigating Kentucky.
At this early stage, it's irrelevant if the NCAA has launched a formal investigation of Kentucky or not. Several people in Alabama have said that NCAA investigators have asked questions about former UK player Eric Bledsoe's high school academic record and the circumstances of his recruitment. If the NCAA were to rule Bledsoe academically ineligible, the fallout could hurt the college program that played him.
As Memphis learned with Derrick Rose, the NCAA holds the school responsible for the actions of athletes, coaches and boosters.
Last week Tennessee Coach Bruce Pearl tried unsuccessfully to persuade his colleagues to change the format of the SEC Tournament. During the SEC Spring Meeting in Destin, Fla., he lobbied the coaches to have the tournament seeded one through 12 regardless of division finish. Not-so-coincidentally, Tennessee did not get one of the four first-round byes in this year's league tournament despite having the third-best record in the regular-season race.
Pearl hinted at the SEC Tournament in Nashville that he would lobby for such a change at the proper time.
For the 2010 SEC Tournament, Kentucky (14-2) and Vanderbilt (12-4) got the first-round byes for finishing first and second in the Eastern Division. Ole Miss (9-7) and Mississippi State (9-7) got the first-round byes from the Western Division. Tennessee (11-5 despite playing in the far superior Eastern Division) had to play in the first round.
Pearl suggested the four byes go to the teams with the four best regular-season records regardless of divisional standing. The coaches listened. But there was no momentum to change the format.
It would seem the only way there might be such a change is if the league returns to a fairer double round-robin format for the regular season, and the coaches aren't going to support 22 league games (or more if the SEC expands).
In a blog from the SEC meetings in Destin, Jeremy Fowler of the Orlando Sentinel wrote about reporters trying to talk to UK Coach John Calipari about the NCAA investigation into the eligibility of Eric Bledsoe, the subject of a New York Times story Saturday.
Apparently, former UK Athletics Director C.M. Newton, a consultant to the SEC, steered Calipari away from the media on Tuesday, according to Fowler's blog. Until a brief no-comment on Wednesday, Calipari had not spoken publicly about the story and NCAA investigation.
Here's Fowler's blog:
"Kentucky Coach John Calipari has yet to break silence on the New York Times report on the NCAA's probe into the past of former UK guard Eric Bledsoe.
Today's session of the Southeastern Conference annual meetings in Sandestin will be the last chance to catch Calipari before he hops on a jet back to Lexington. Let's hope today's attempts are a little less strange and amusing.
As the SEC basketball coaches broke from last night's meetings, Calipari headed toward the elevator with his cell phone glued to his ear, appearing to be checking his voice-mails after the occasional tap of his numbers pad. Alongside Calipari were Florida's Billy Donovan, Mississippi State's Rick Stansbury and C.M. Newton, the former Kentucky A.D. and Alabama/Vanderbilt basketball coach.
"I'll get you guys later. I've got to make calls," Calipari said to about two-dozen reporters in the lobby. Before heading into the elevator for good, Calipari started to change his mind and walked toward us.
"Do you want to do it now?" Calipari asked.
Then a stern voice projected from the elevator.
It appeared to be Newton, who was probably protecting his old school with this move."
K on Wooden
As John Wooden lay gravely ill in a hospital bed last week, Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski saluted the legendary UCLA coach.
"For a century we have been blessed, just as a human race but especially in the basketball community, with someone who has defined excellence at the highest level," Krzyzewski said on SIRIUS XM's Mad Dog Radio channel. "No one will ever match what he accomplished with his teams. But also, he took the time to share. Since the mid-'70s — I think '75 is when he retired — over the last 35 years he has never stopped giving back and teaching, which I think is remarkable, with books and appearances, and always with great class. When he spoke, you listened."
The Mad Dog show airs on SIRIUS channel 123 and XM channel 144.
To Hall of Famer Dick Vitale. The Ebullient One turns 71 on Wednesday.