ELIZABETH, NJ - Finally.
After several months of boys high school, AAU and (sometimes insufferable) men's leagues, it was back to the girls game. By the curiosity of the draw, the last girls contest I officiated was late February. Too long but great to be on the court working girls basketball.
The schedule called for a single AAU contest at Kean University. A nice facility which happens to be air conditioned. There are three courts going. Officiating coordinator Greg Galati is officiating on court one and during a time out reminds me I am on court two. You always run into a few acquaintances at these events. Here it is no exception. John Wooding, a former Rutgers athletic administrator, who helps out at the Big East Tournament with their telecasts, is here as his daughter entering her senior year at Metuchen (NJ) High School is playing on court one. We chat a few minutes before it is time to get to work.
A team enters the gym for a game on court one. They are the Jersey Shore Thunder (with OKC colors and similar logo design) . Why can I not see the words Jersey Shore without being reminded of Snooki and that show that gives Seaside Heights and New Jersey a bad reputation? As if our state doesn't have enough image problems.
My partner's name is Cedric, "think of Cedric the entertainer," he says, who has a trip coming from near Atlantic City. My commute, an easy 19 miles. We have a 13-year-old girls game between the Northeast Blaze and Lady Crusaders, both with players from the Northern part of the Garden State. We are on the regular college court. Love it because it allows better spacing for the players and sight lines for us.
Impressed with both teams not just running up and down but using transition judiciously. If there is no opportunity on the break, back it up and run half court sets. The Lady Crusaders give up some height so they utilize motion and cutters in a flex style offense. And they show patience. At the half the Crusaders own an 18-15 lead.
The Blaze have relied on two bigs, in this case the 5-11 or 6 foot height - remember they are 13 years old. The Blaze ‘bigs' not only rebound but show an admirable trait of being able to move to the wing and hit a jumper or put it on the floor to penetrate.
Blaze own a late game six point lead. They can't put it away. In fact the points per possession efficiency of both would be a revelation. Both teams have shots, but they come up empty. Late game three pointer by the Crusaders forces OT.
Usually overtime can be a dreaded event for officials. This one is not as both teams and coaches are doing their jobs and simply letting us work and do ours.
In OT I have a crucial charge call on the sideline that went against the Blaze. It looked like the Crusader defender was sliding over near the sideline as the ball was being advanced. Unfortunately (for them) the Blaze ball handler lowered her shoulder and decimated the defender. Turned out to be an easy call 'sold' with conviction and not even the Blaze coach contested.
Tied final seconds, one of those Blaze bigs has a wing jumper. Cedric gets the defender for a foul. The shot was released before the buzzer but the clock shows 0:00. We award the shooter two shots. With no time on the clock we clear the lanes. The shooter hits the first free throw. Game over. The Blaze win 47-46.
A thank you to the girl, a former basketball player from East Brunswick (NJ) High School and Miami Heat fan, who kept the clock. A Crusader parent questioned Cedric's call but no big deal. One of the tournament organizers was watching our game and commended us both and especially Cedric's last second call.
Post game, got a chance to talk with the Crusader coach. Seems virtually all the girls are headed to ninth grade and will attend and play for Morris Catholic. The nickname of Morris Catholic is the Crusaders. Told her I really liked number 31's game. "Thank you," she said, "that's my daughter."
Continued talking about the strong Morris Catholic program and it turns out she knows John Olenowski, the former coach there who is now doing a nice job turning around Manhattan in the MAAC.
Quick notes in a folder is my reliance. After officiating it would not look too good interviewing a coach with pad and pen in plain sight. Thankfully, I get the chance to quickly scribble some notes and remember some details fairly well, like one of the Blaze ‘bigs' playing for Anthony Wayne Middle School in Wayne.
After watching a few minutes of the next contest, tell Greg and Cedric I am on the road. Greg has a tournament in Baltimore next weekend. Crab cakes in Maryland are enticing but gas alone would be a fortune. Looks like any officiating will be closer to home.
On the way out receive my check at the main desk. Next to the young lady who gave me the check is a copy of Seven Shades of Grey, which is being read by her co-worker collecting admission. "I heard that book is selling well," the 'payroll administrator 'says. Simply agree without further details.
Pass a T shirt stand before exiting. One of the shirts available reads ‘First stop AAU, next stop WNBA'. I tell a player on line next to me to look at that slogan, before adding that sadly enough a lot of those playing in AAU think it is that easy.