UK Men's Basketball

Don’t act like a ‘butt head.’ Kentucky player shows how to react to referees’ calls.

For the man who coached Reid Travis in high school, a highlight of Kentucky’s season came in the locker room after the loss to Tennessee in the Southeastern Conference Tournament semifinals.

Several calls in the game went against Kentucky. In one memorable sequence, Travis tried to take a charge against UT star Grant Williams. One referee called charging on Williams. Another referee called blocking on Travis.

The game was entering its final act. Kentucky led 69-62. Barely four minutes remained. The referees settled on blocking. Williams made two free throws. Tennessee ultimately won 82-78.

When asked after the game about that block-charge call, Travis said, “I thought I was there. But it was a fast-paced game. I mean, there’s not much you can do. We get calls that go our way, too. By no means was it the refs took the game from us.”

Dave Thorson, who coached Travis at DeLaSalle High School in Minneapolis, scoffed at the blocking call. He also applauded his former player’s reaction to the call.

“I loved his response,” said Thorson, now an assistant coach at Colorado State. “There are coaches that need to have that answer. In a situation where you probably have the right to be upset, he chose a path that’s truly a high road. So, for me, that reveals everything about Reid.”

Barry Mano, the president of the National Association of Sports Officials (NASO), laments that more players, coaches and fans don’t follow Travis’ example. He says the reaction to officiating is trending so badly, it’s dramatically reducing the number of people pursuing work as referees.

In 1976, the average age of a beginning referee was 22, Mano said. In 2016, the average age had risen to 44.

“So we have a very graying industry,” Mano said. “Younger people are not coming into this. And, to me, it’s understandable.”

Just last weekend, a coach allegedly assaulted a referee during a youth basketball event in Paducah, according to the McCracken County sheriff’s office. The referee suffered a broken collar bone, a crack in his sinus cavity and a concussion.

Mano called youth sports “a perfect storm” for abuse of referees.

“You have the least-skilled players, the least-skilled coaches, the least-skilled referees and probably the least-skillful or even present security,” he said. “And on top of that, you have the most rabid fans because they’re generally parents. That’s the perfect storm going on.”

And college coaches “acting like butt heads” in reaction to officiating influences behavior in youth sports, Mano said.

Surely, no UK fan needs to be reminded of the death threats made to referee John Higgins after he worked Kentucky’s loss to North Carolina in the 2017 NCAA Tournament.

The inevitable questioning of calls again hit home for Kentucky at the end of the Feb. 12 game against LSU. A replay showed that basketball interference should have been called on Kavell Bigby-Williams’ winning tip-in in the final second.

A tape of the non-call on the tip-in was sent to the NASO offices.

“We can’t change what happened,” Mano said when referees make incorrect decisions. “But we regret what happened. I think people might go around saying, ‘Well, these guys just go on to their next game. And they don’t care.’ Nothing could be further from the truth. It digs deep into us.”

By rule, referees could not review a judgment call regarding basket interference. After the LSU game, Kentucky Coach John Calipari suggested that such a call would someday be reviewable. He linked the tip-in to the 2015 Final Four when Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes made a shot against UK after the shot clock expired. His score came during a time when a shot clock violation could not be reviewed. That was later amended to allow for a review.

Mano suggested a big-picture view of referees’ decisions.

“This can’t turn on the rightness or wrongness of the calls,” he said. “You have to have some discipline here. We have to turn the volume down a bit. And, yes, there’s going to be calls you don’t like. There’s going to be incorrect calls. It doesn’t mean we should be acting out the way we’re acting out. It’s not good for sports. I don’t think it’s good for our culture.”

Mock drafts

With this year’s NBA Draft on the horizon (June 20), there are plenty of so-called mock drafts. Should we mock these “drafts?” Or can they help a player and his family make the decision to stay in the draft pool or return to college?

Bobby Marks, ESPN’s front office insider for NBA basketball, said this year’s mock drafts deserve a mixed review: surely correct about the top three picks being Zion Williamson, Ja Morant and RJ Barrett, thereafter a “baseline” — at best — for assessing other players.

To show how fluid draft judgments can be, Marks mentioned Pascal Siakam and the 2016 NBA Draft. “I didn’t see him in any of the mock drafts,” Marks said.

Siakam, a power forward for New Mexico State, was taken by the Toronto Raptors with the 27th pick. As a rookie, he split time between the NBA and the G League. This season, which was his third, saw his scoring average increase from 4.2 points as a rookie to 16.9. His three-point shooting percentage improved from 14.3 percent as a rookie to 36.9.

Role model

PJ Washington can serve as a role model for players who need encouragement to play another college season after entering their names in an NBA Draft. After his freshman season of 2017-18, he tested the waters, as they say. He returned to UK. He excelled as a sophomore. He’s widely projected as a first-round pick this year.

“I don’t know if he set out to be a role model,” his father, Paul Washington, said on Tuesday, the day his son announced he’d enter the draft. “I was just talking to him. He said he had to go to class. He’s just a college student.

“I think a lot of this will hit him later on in life. I told him I was proud of him for coming back and accomplishing the things he accomplished.”

Idle thought

PJ Washington, who sprained his left foot in the SEC Tournament semifinals, has not resumed what his father called “basketball-related” activities. His son will probably resume basketball workouts in another 10 or 12 days, the elder Washington said Tuesday.

Watching Virginia beat Texas Tech in the national championship game put a thought in Paul Washington’s mind. He shared that thought with his son.

“I wish you could have kept playing so I could see you against Hunter,” the elder Washington said, meaning Virginia star De’Andre Hunter.

Of course, Kentucky lost to Auburn in the Midwest Region finals. Auburn advanced to play Virginia and Hunter (27 points) in the national semifinals.

“And he told me he thought he would destroy him,” Paul Washington said. “We kind of laughed and chuckled about that.”

‘It’s a pedigree’

Tennessee forward Grant Williams, a two-time SEC Player of the Year, announced Tuesday that he will enter his name in this year’s NBA Draft. He said he would keep open the option of playing for the Vols next season.

He said that one reason he’d consider playing for Tennessee next season was Rick Barnes deciding to stay at UT rather than become UCLA coach.

“It definitely made it easier having Coach Barnes come back,” Williams said at a news conference. “If you think about it, Coach Barnes is a phenomenal guy. He has done a lot for the community, and he’s done so much. I know he was torn because if you told (me) in recruiting that I was going to be offered by a blue blood like Kentucky, UCLA, UNC, you’re going to have to consider it because it’s a pedigree.”

Luke Maye

In the Big Blue Nation, North Carolina forward Luke Maye will be remembered for making the shot that eliminated Kentucky from the 2017 NCAA Tournament.

Perhaps it eases the pain to know it was an exceptional player, even by North Carolina’s exacting standards, that made the game-winning shot. Maye’s 750 rebounds the last two seasons are more than any Tar Heel has ever grabbed in consecutive seasons.

Maye finished his UNC career with 1,392 points and 942 rebounds.

For perspective, only six Kentucky players have scored 1,000 or more points and grabbed 942 or more rebounds: Dan Issel, Frank Ramsey, Cliff Hagan, Johnny Cox, Cotton Nash and Kenny Walker. All six did it in fewer games than Maye’s 141.

Travis signings

Reid Travis will hold two autograph signings on Sunday (today). He will sign at the KSBar & Grille in Lexington from 1-3 p.m. Then he will sign at Barleycorn’s in Cold Spring from 6:30-8:30.

A $20 fee buys an 8-by-10-inch print, a photo of Travis and his autograph on an item of your choice.

Happy birthday

To Isaiah Briscoe. He turned 23 on Saturday. … To Derrick Jasper. He turned 31 on Saturday. … To Mark Soderberg. He turns 69 on Sunday (today). … To Dwane Casey. He turns 62 on Wednesday.

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