UK Men's Basketball

UK basketball notebook: Summer ball a chance for refs to get noticed

Players were not the only people trying to make a good impression at last week's basketball camps for high school prospects. So were the referees.

John Clougherty, the longtime ref who now serves as coordinator of officials for the Atlantic Coast Conference, noted that these camps need people to call fouls. So the camps become training ground for referees who want to work in more prestigious leagues.

Clougherty was watching 12 referees from most mid-major conferences work the King City Classic in Cleveland. Typically, "very few" move from these camps into the BCS conferences, Clougherty said. "If we get one or two, that's a good camp."

As with the players, a referee with great promise will be obvious to the trained eye.

What does Clougherty look for in appraising officials? He said accuracy in the calls was a top priority. An aspiring referee must also be in good condition and able to keep up with the pace of games.

"They put themselves behind the eight-ball if they're not athletic and in shape," he said.

Not all the qualities a referee needs can be approximated in the camps. How well a ref can handle a naughty coach cannot be determined. Nor can an observer see if a referee can take charge of a game careening out of control.

As with players, Clougherty said that finding stellar referees isn't easy. "We're looking," he said, "but there aren't many Kobes or Le—Brons."

Uncle DJ

The guard drove downcourt with purpose, then flew toward the rim in a seemingly futile scoring attempt against more than one taller defender. The resounding dunk validated his judgment and made for one of the more memorable plays at the King City Classic.

The player was Nick Johnson, a 6-foot-2 guard for Findlay Prep in the Las Vegas area and the nephew of the late Hall of Famer Dennis Johnson.

"I was still young and not serious about basketball when he was around," Johnson said.

The fact Dennis Johnson's NBA career with Seattle, Phoenix and Boston played out before Nick was born limits Johnson's knowledge of Uncle DJ. But he's seen video and thinks of Dennis as a role model.

"I pride myself on defense," he said. "I like to think I play defense like him."

Johnson also listed his father, Joey Johnson, as a basketball role model. Joey played for the College of Southern Idaho and then Arizona State. His father was a 6-5 post player with a 52-inch vertical leap, Johnson said.

Of his own vertical leap, Johnson said, "I don't know about 52 (inches), but I think I can jump."

The dunk over two taller defenders proved that.

Johnson had a telling moment with DJ one holiday family gathering.

"I had just started playing and thought I was pretty good," he said.

Youthful bravado led Johnson to challenge his uncle to a contest to see who could spin a ball on his finger longer.

"I spun it for about 10 seconds," Johnson said. "He spun it for about two minutes."

Dennis Johnson died in 2007 at age 52.

Paulus coaches

Former Duke point guard Greg Paulus was one of the coaches at the King City Classic. He coached with noticeable passion.

"I'm having a blast," he said. "I love coaching and teaching. It's definitely something I'd love to do."

Paulus said he had coaching possibilities. But he declined to give specifics.

Simon says

Former Arizona guard Miles Simon also coached a team at the King City Classic. A former assistant at Arizona, he works for Nike and does TV color commentary.

For UK fans, Simon's most memorable moment as a college player came in the 1997 national championship game. For Simon, too. He scored a game-high 30 points to lead Arizona to an overtime victory over Kentucky.

"The whole Final Four, the NCAA Tournament was a tremendous basketball experience," he said. "We're still the only team to beat three No. 1 seeds. When you're the only one to do something, that's a great thing."

How did Arizona, a No. 4 seed, beat No. 1 seeds Kansas, North Carolina and Kentucky? Simon noted that the Arizona team had five players drafted.

High anxiety

Camps like last week's Adidas Invitational in Indianapolis and the King City Classic in Cleveland give college coaches a chance to watch high school prospects play. One challenge for prospects is to avoid playing to the audience.

"Rick Pitino, Bob Huggins, I see all of them here," Bowling Green's Chane Behanan said in Indy. "I like it."

Shabazz Muhammad, perhaps the best player in the class of 2012, acknowledged the anxiety associated with top coaches in the audience.

"I try not to look at the stands," Muhammad said. "It's definitely not easy. Coach K (Mike Krzyzewski) and Rick Pitino. It's a great experience. I'm blessed."

Then he added, "Sometimes you just have to glance up there. I try not to do that."

Next John Wall?

Rodney Purvis, a sophomore-to-be from Raleigh, N.C., has been called the next John Wall.

But two longtime recruiting analysts disagree. Brick Oettinger (Prep Stars) and Van Coleman (Hoop Masters) say Purvis is a talented player. He can be a top national prospect. But he's not another John Wall.

"He's not as fast," Oettinger said. "But he's already a better shooter."

Added Coleman of Purvis: "A different type of player."

Coleman likened Purvis to NBA star Deron Williams, not a freakish athlete but a cerebral floor leader.

Athletic genes

Wing Shabazz Muhammad, a top-five national prospect in the high school junior class, likes the athletic play used by such programs as Louisville and Memphis. He mentioned his regard for former U of L player Terrence Williams.

UK has also captured his interest.

Muhammad comes from an athletic family. His mother, the former Faye Paige, made the Long Beach State Hall of Fame as a hurdler. His father, Ron Holmes, played basketball for Southern Cal.

As if that wasn't enough of an advantage, Muhammad said it "helps a lot" to be left-handed.

Zollo update

Kentucky's firing of Billy Gillispie served as the first step in one-time UK recruit Vinny Zollo's search for a new basketball direction.

At the Adidas Invitational in Indianapolis last week, Zollo said he had taken visits in June to Dayton, Miami (Ohio), Butler and Tennessee. He expressed hope that his play would attract interest from other schools.

Heady hustle would describe Zollo's play. He even dived on the floor for loose balls, a jarring sight in the summer circuit.

Reflecting on UK's new direction, Zollo said he did not think he was suited for the dribble-drive offense.

"I like to get up and down," he said, "but I like the half-court, high-low, swing motion, (exploit) matchups inside. Play more of a half-court structured game."

Zollo said he stays in touch with Gillispie and former assistants Tracy Webster and Jeremy Cox.

'Big advantage'

Drafting on the experience of older brothers Luke and Tyler, Cody Zeller knows recruiting like few other prospects. He was in the fifth and sixth grades when Luke went through the process and signed with Notre Dame. He was a high school freshman and sophomore when Tyler wound his way toward North Carolina.

"I've got a big advantage," Cody said of that storehouse of knowledge.

One of the lessons Cody learned through his brothers was to not trust coaches.

"One of the toughest things to know is which coaches are telling you the truth and which coaches are just wanting you to come," he said at the Adidas Invitational.

When asked if he was aware of coaches telling falsehoods, Cody said, "Too many to count."


To Ali Kicklighter, the captain of UK's women's golf team as a junior and senior earlier this decade. The LPGA hired her as its communications coordinator.

"It means the world to me," Kicklighter said of her new job. She likes to write and doesn't mind working long hours.

In further noting how the new job thrilled her, she said something rarely heard. "I like dealing with the media," she said.

To pursue a career in communications, Kicklighter had to give up golf.

"It was difficult," she said. "I felt my passion wasn't there anymore. I hated to practice, but loved the competition. ... I felt I'd struggle on the tour. Then after five years, I'd ask myself, what am I going to do?"

A native of Deland, Fla., with relatives in Flemingsburg, Kicklighter decided to start answering that question immediately.


Bowling Green High's Chane Behanan was one of several players who said he was surprised to be a highly coveted prospect.

"I never thought I'd be in this kind of predicament," he said.

LeBron past and present

LeBron James announcing his basketball future on ESPN (in a show with the self-important title The Decision) moved columnist Mitch Albom of the Detroit Free Press to object.

"Only in America could we keep inventing reality TV that fantastically outshames the previous low mark," Albom wrote. "A prime-time event? To announce a free-agent signing? And don't point out that some proceeds go to charity. You want to give to charity, quietly write a check. Don't get a network to do it for you so it gets to pump its shows and you get to shower yourself in international coverage — while calling it philanthropy."

It made me think of a high school basketball camp in the summer before James' senior year of high school. Already a full-blown phenomenon, James was too good to actually play in the camp. He showed up at Teaneck, N.J., to hold a news conference to announce he would accept bids from all shoe companies to be their pitchman.

Confusion in Oregon

Senior-to-be Kyle Wiltjer is a center prospect from Portland, Ore. He's friends with one of UK's incoming freshman, Terrence Jones, also a native of Portland.

Wiltjer said that college recruiters confuse him with Jones when they call.

"There's not a lot of Oregon players," Wiltjer said.

Ring the thing

Marcellus Barksdale, a senior-to-be for Tates Creek High, has one goal for next season.

"I just want to get a ring on my finger," he said at the Adidas Invitational. "To make it to Rupp (Arena for the Sweet Sixteen). We have all the tools. Everybody's coming back."

Happy birthday

To Carlos Toomer. He turned 38 on Friday.