In a profession that considers not being noticed as optimal, referee Doug Shows is the liberal wearing the Obama button at Tea Party rallies. He's a belch in church. He stands out.
Shows has linebacker size, a dark mane that could make Mel Kiper Jr., envious and a reputation for being judge, jury and, if necessary, willing executioner.
"We don't want to be the center of attention," he said of himself and his fellow refs. "Sometimes we're driven into the line of fire."
Like any program paying even half attention, Kentucky has learned what should be obvious: Shows fires back.
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He ejected assistant coach John Robic in the middle of the first half of UK's game at Tennessee last season. In the 1990s, coincidentally also in Knoxville, he ejected UK player Scott Padgett.
"I was taught to blow the whistle to maintain order," Shows said. He recalled learning to be a referee in the combustible environment of junior college and small college basketball.
"If you didn't blow the whistle, you were going to be in a fight," he said. "Once you set the guidelines, you stick to the guidelines. When you deviate, it causes uncertainty."
Ironically, for someone who draws so much attention to himself, however reluctantly, Shows is a mystery to most fans. What do we really know about the man?
Shows, 45, works for a bank in Rome, Ga., as an adviser in investment and insurance matters. He's also a registered mediator. He acknowledges the similarities between officiating and mediating. Both professions call for him to provide "a balanced floor for both sides," he said. "No bias or opinion. You try to steer people in the same direction and make sure everybody leaves feeling they got a fair shake."
You could say Shows inherited an officiating gene. His father, Bobby Shows, moonlighted as a referee when he wasn't busy being a Baptist minister. At elementary school age, Doug began accompanying his father and watching him call high school and college games.
"Most laid-back guy you could ever meet," Shows said of his father. "Calm. Good-natured. He loved people. People loved him."
Shows' mother, Jane, taught at a school for the deaf.
Athletics were a big part of a boyhood spent in Arkansas and Missouri. "I played every sport I could get my hands on," Shows said. Tight end in football. Power forward/center in basketball. Baseball. Soccer.
His father helped him get started as a referee, first calling games on Saturday mornings at the YMCA. He worked his way up through high school, junior college and small college games. He joined the Southeastern Conference in 1994 and quickly made an impression.
"I thought he was full of himself," said John Clougherty, a longtime SEC ref who now works as supervisor of officials in the Atlantic Coast Conference. "I thought, 'He needs to be taken down a peg.'"
Clougherty wondered if Shows' size — think Muscle Beach meets screen test for a role in an action movie — would be a detriment. Shows is 6-foot-4 and weighs 245 pounds.
"A good ref is less conspicuous," Clougherty said. "At the end of the game, you say, who refereed that game? Did he stay out of the way?
"It's easier for a smaller guy."
Initially, Clougherty also suspected arrogance.
"He's always had confidence," Clougherty said. "But I'm not sure he always had humility. It helps to learn some humility. You're not always right."
If Shows seems slower on the trigger in recent seasons, he attributes that to experience. This two-way street involves the perspective he's gained from calling SEC games for 20 seasons and how coaches adapted to his low-tolerance style.
"They know how far they can go," he said. The words read like something Dirty Harry might say. You feel lucky, coach? But he said it in a friendly, matter-of-fact tone.
Clougherty credited Shows for being willing to learn and adapt and improve as a referee.
"He's certainly done all the right things and his career has taken off," Clougherty said. "The biggest improvement was in game management skills. I always thought he was a good play-caller. But early on, like all officials, it takes a while to get the big picture and know the game is more important than play calling."
That sounded like Clougherty was saying a good referee puts a higher priority on handling the emotions of coaches, players, fans and himself rather than correctly calling, say, a block or a charge.
"That's exactly what I mean," Clougherty said. "The game can be chaotic.
"That he's worked in the post-season the last five or six years shows how well he's done."
Shows has called games in more than 15 NCAA Tournaments, including three Final Fours: 2005, 2011 and 2012. He worked the Kentucky-Louisville national semifinal in 2012 and the 2011 national championship game between Connecticut and Butler.
Another sign of his professional status came earlier this year when Shows served on the NCAA's Basketball Rules Committee. He was the only referee from across the country on the committee.
"The NCAA values him as an official and a person," said Jake Bell, the supervisor of SEC officials. "He has a lot of credibility with the NCAA."Bell described Shows as thorough, well versed in the rules and blessed with an authoritative presence. "If you're going to draw up the criteria for a great official, he has a lot of them," Bell said.
Ultimately, Shows said, officiating boils down to a matter of respect. Players should respect their teammates, their opponents, the coaches and referees. Coaches and referees — the mongooses and cobras of basketball — should respect each other.
"I like to be diplomatic, if I can," Shows said. "I let everybody plead their case. If they do it in a respectful way, guess what?"
Their point is considered. There's no technical foul.
"If we have mutual respect," he said, "the game is better."
For all the gnashing of teeth regarding UT Arlington outrebounding Kentucky in the first half Tuesday, the Cats have outrebounded each of its five opponents by at least 12.
When was the last time a UK team outrebounded more than five straight opponents by at least 12? Glad you asked.
It happened most recently in the 2001-02 season. Tubby Smith's Cats outrebounded Morehead State (48-30), Kent State (43-26), VMI (50-28), North Carolina (45-33), Kentucky State (51-29) and Duke (51-34) from Nov. 24 through Dec. 18 that season.
UK's leading rebounder that season was — surprise — Tayshaun Prince (6.3 rpg).
Through five games, Kentucky is outrebounding the opposition by an average of 18.6 rebounds (49.2-30.6). You have to go back to 1961-62 to find a UK team that enjoyed a rebound margin of 10-plus for a season (53.8-41.9).
The UK record? A plus 21.5 margin in 1954-55.
To put UK's start on the boards in some perspective, only two Division I teams have averaged a double-digit advantage in each of the last three seasons: Colorado State (plus 11.9) and Quinnipiac (10.4) last season, North Carolina (10.5) and Quinnipiac (10.2) in 2011-12 and Old Dominion (11.7) and Pittsburgh (10.8) in 2010-11.
'Long way to go'
UK fan Larry Stidom did not see the Champions Classic as a big all-end all.
"About the only ones who think this is a really important game is ESPN!" he wrote in an email. "Much too early in season to draw many conclusions from it. 'Cats have a long way to go to be the team they will become. But it will be interesting to see how they rise to this challenge."
It should be noted that ESPN analysts like Jalen Rose and Jay Bilas also downplayed the significance of the games in Chicago.
"Being ranked No. 1 at this point of the season is meaningless," Stidom wrote. "They were high ranked early last season, as I recall."
Good point. UK began last season ranked No. 3. And we all know how that turned out.
"This is a good, soon-to-be-great team," Stidom wrote, "and the next few weeks will help them grow together as a unit."
Stidom, 67, grew up in Morehead.
Kentucky has led the nation in average home attendance 17 of the last 18 seasons. As impressive as UK's streak in leading the nation in attendance might seem, it pales in comparison to another.
The Big Ten has led all conferences in average attendance 37 straight seasons. That's every season the NCAA has kept track since the first season of 1975-76, when the ACC led the nation.
He was fun
To the family of Joe Dean, who died last Sunday at age 83:
Dean impacted SEC basketball as a player, shoe representative, TV commentator, athletic director, elder statesman and, perhaps most importantly, goodwill ambassador.
I don't remember Dean ever being in a foul mood or abrupt with anyone. He was fun to be around.
It's easy to forget Dean was a standout player who scored 1,072 points. He is also one of only three LSU players inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame. Bob Pettit and Pete Maravich are the others.
From 1969 through 1987, Dean was an analyst for telecasts of SEC basketball. "String music," which he said when a player made several outside shots, became his signature catchphrase.
"What he did for basketball in the South, he helped popularize it," longtime partner Tom Hammond said. "Until then, basketball was an afterthought."
As athletic director at LSU beginning in 1987, Dean led an effort in the school making a $50 million improvement in facilities. But that's merely the way any athletic director hopes to make his I-was-there mark.
I do remember calling Dean for a reaction when UK Coach Rick Pitino and LSU Coach Dale Brown were squabbling about some now long-forgotten reason. Dean offered to stage a Pitino-Brown nude wrestling match. Think of the money-making possibilities, he said.
Laughter flooded both ends of the telephone connection.
To Oak Hill Academy Coach Steve Smith. He won his 900th game on Nov. 15.
Smith, a Kentuckian who attended Asbury College, was saluted at a subsequent home game. Several of his former players returned to Oak Hill Academy to help recognize Smith for the milestone.
To Jim Host, whose business acumen in the athletic world led to his induction into the College Basketball Hall of Fame last year. He turned 76 on Saturday. ... To Steve Lochmueller, one of UK's SuperKittens. He turns 61 on Monday.
Cleveland State at Kentucky
When: 7 p.m.
What: Keightley Classic
Records: Cleveland St. 3-2; UK 4-1
TV: FS South