Ref University: NBA spending summer seeking new officials
By TIM REYNOLDS
AP Basketball writer
Monday, July 16
LAS VEGAS (AP) — It’s a half-hour after their game ended and the night is just beginning for referees Ashley Gilpin, Natalie Sago and SirAllen Conner. They’ve showered, they’ve changed clothes, but dinner and the bright lights of Las Vegas will have to wait.
A long classroom session is up first.
They walk into a tiny locker room, grab seats on folding chairs and open their notebooks. Everything they did on the court that night — where they stood, where they looked, what call they made, what call they didn’t make— will be scrutinized on video for the next two hours by NBA referees, tasked with teaching the summer refs what they need to know to make it to the league.
Think of it as Referee University.
Summer league is where players can get noticed by the NBA, and the same is true for referees.
“We want them to watch us because we want to grow each and every game,” Sago told The Associated Press, which observed the feedback session with Sago, Gilpin and Conner. “We’re all trying to be NBA referees. So it’s a job interview for us just like it is for the players and the coaches.”
There were 81 referees — mostly from the G League — working games at the NBA summer league in Las Vegas, which ends Tuesday. All 81 have been exposed to multiple classroom sessions with current and retired NBA officials, who are there to essentially groom the people who could one day replace them. Programs like this have been in play for years, although it’s no secret that the NBA wants to increase its pool of referees by 25 percent before 2020.
That’s why this summer might provide more big breaks than usual for those blowing the whistles at games. The overwhelming majority of refs working this summer won’t see the NBA anytime soon, and many never will, but for some the call is closer than ever before.
“What we want to do in our training is give people the opportunity to have the tools to be successful,” said Monty McCutchen, the NBA’s vice president overseeing referee development and training. “It’s about teaching. I think one of the great disappointments of American culture, as I see it, is we don’t appreciate apprenticeship enough. We think that just by going to school you’re suddenly ready instead of having hands-on training that allows you to grow.
“Here, we give that hands-on training.”
Of the 81 summer refs, 19 were women — up from just five at summer league last year and nearly doubling the total of 10 who worked the event over the most recent five years. It is clear that it won’t be long before more women make it to the NBA level.
For now, there’s only one in the NBA: Lauren Holtkamp.
“To me, it’s a bit embarrassing that we only have one working woman in our officiating ranks right now,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said. “There is no physical reason why that’s the case.”
Up-and-comers like Gilpin and Sago could change that.
Gilpin might have an ideal academic makeup for refereeing, with three degrees from Arizona, where she also played basketball — an undergraduate in psychology, master’s in administration and then a law degree. Sago played college softball, but has long had an affinity for basketball. Conner has worked 11 games in the NBA, most of those coming as a replacement ref during the lockout in 2009.
At the game Gilpin, Sago and Conner worked together, at least a half-dozen referees were seated on the baseline and in the stands watching. McCutchen, at one point, saw a technique that Gilpin used and jumped from his chair in delight before going over and asking other refs if they had noticed the same thing.
“If you can’t referee in front of them, you can’t work for them,” Gilpin said. “Sure, sometimes we get nervous because it is an audition. But if we think about every call, every ‘oh my gosh this is a bad call,’ paralysis by analysis, we’ll run ourselves out of this profession.”
During their classroom session with longtime NBA ref Eric Lewis, the three spoke in sync, even finishing each other’s thoughts on a couple occasions. Retired refs Bernie Fryer and Mark Wunderlich were in and out of the room as well, offering their thoughts on whatever play happened to be on the screen at a given time.
For the mentors, it’s serious business.
“It’s my job to get them hired,” Lewis said. “I’m focused on the things I can do to help them improve and get a job.”
They all monitor in different ways — at some games, James Williams took meticulous notes, pulling out a tablet and typing observations during stoppages in play. At other games, Joey Crawford would handwrite his notes, with penmanship that not even fellow ref John Goble could understand.
By any method, legible or not, their input is vital.
“When you tell someone something, and they go out and do it, that gets you excited as someone who is seeking to bring in the next wave, next generation of officials,” McCutchen said.
Lewis’ group needed to spend only a few seconds on some plays, spent several minutes on others. Late in the first half of their game, Gilpin gave Golden State coach Willie Green a technical foul — the first one she handed out in a pro game. Green argued that he wasn’t waving dismissively at her, but rather he was waving to someone behind her.
A few moments later, Gilpin missed a call.
“I was in my head,” Gilpin acknowledged afterward.
Lewis shrugged and told her to believe in her call, believe the tech was warranted, and move on to the next play. And besides, the call that she missed, one of her fellow refs made anyway.
“If we can get them where you need to be, where you need to look and give you an understanding of the guidelines of what’s illegal and legal, then it becomes easy,” Lewis said. “They digest the play, they know the process and that leads to the right decision at the end of the play.”
Fans probably wouldn’t believe that those decisions get honed inside a cramped concrete-block room, one with mustard-colored walls and dingy carpet, and a pile of towels strewn off to the side.
But the tiny room is what gets the refs ready for the big stage.
“The best part after a game is coming in here and re-watching it,” Sago said. “It’s all about getting ready.”
More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball
Young, joyful France beats Croatia 4-2 to win 2nd World Cup
By GRAHAM DUNBAR
AP Sports Writer
Monday, July 16
MOSCOW (AP) — Taking turns sliding across the rain-soaked turf holding the World Cup trophy tight, teenager Kylian Mbappe and the rest of France’s players acted like the youthful bunch they are.
Nothing, not a Pussy Riot protest nor a postgame downpour that soaked Russian President Vladimir Putin, was going to stop the party.
It carried on long after a thrilling 4-2 win over Croatia on Sunday. In the locker room with French President Emmanuel Macron striking poses with players, then a champagne-spraying, water-splashing interruption of the coach Didier Deschamps’ news conference.
“Sorry! They’re young and they’re happy,” said Deschamps, like a proud father.
Deschamps had good reason to indulge them. His team is mostly aged 25 or under and can return almost intact to defend their title in 2022 in Qatar.
“Our children are going to be very proud,” forward Antoine Griezmann said. “The World Cup, it’s a lot.”
The 19-year-old Mbappe became only the second teen after Pele to score in a World Cup final.
Mbappe had just shown his electrifying speed in the 52nd minute when play was held up by four protesters who ran onto the field. Russian punk band Pussy Riot later took credit for the incident — watched from the VIP seats by Putin, whose government once jailed members of the activist group. Charges were filed against the group Sunday, too.
Putin was later on the field to award medals to the players in a ceremony soon drenched in rain and joy. As thunder pealed and lightning cracked, FIFA president Gianni Infantino handed France captain Hugo Lloris the gold World Cup trophy.
Gold confetti stuck to the soaked Les Bleus as they paraded the trophy around the Luzhniki Stadium, a final act of an enthralling tournament in which Croatia reached its first final while powers Brazil, Germany and Argentina went home early.
About 12 minutes after a protester gave Mbappe a double high-five on the field, Mbappe sent a right-footed shot from 25 yards (meters) past goalkeeper Danijel Subasic . The goal put France up 4-1, closing the door on Croatia who had been the better team until Mbappe took control.
The only other teen to score in a World Cup final was Pele, who was 17 when Brazil beat Sweden 5-2 in 1958.
Mbappe, who plays for Paris Saint-Germain in the French league, was born months after France won its only other World Cup title in 1998.
“I have a whole story to write,” Mbappe said. “This is just the beginning.”
Paul Pogba and Griezmann, France’s two other key creative players, also scored. Pogba played a disciplined role in Russia, but his natural joy was evident celebrating his 18-yard (meter) shot, and leading the champagne shower for Deschamps.
But it was Mbappe who put the match out of reach with a furious passage of play in the second half. In the 59th, a run from Mbappe started a play that ended up with Pogba on the edge of the penalty area. With his second attempt, the midfielder curled his shot beyond Subasic.
Griezmann scored from the penalty spot in the 38th minute fully four minutes after his corner kick was knocked out of play by Ivan Perisic’s arm. The referee ruled it handball only after a video review, just as the first thunders claps boomed around the stadium.
“In a World Cup final, you do not give such a penalty,” Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic said.
France took the lead in the 18th when Croatia’s tallest outfield player, 1.90-meter (6-foot-3) forward Mario Mandzukic, rose to meet Griezmann’s free kick with the top of his head. He deflected it past his own goalkeeper.
Perisic and Mandzukic both scored for Croatia, first to equalize in the 28th minute and later as a consolation goal in the 69th, embarrassing Lloris with a flicked shot as the France goalkeeper tried to dribble the ball out of his goalmouth.
But the three-goal lead was too much for the red-and-white-checkered squad that made a habit of coming back at the World Cup — and played three straight 120-minute games before the final.
“We were dominant, we had control,” Dalic said through a translator. “What we’ve had in terms of luck over the tournament, we lacked that today.”
Deschamps became only the third man to win the World Cup as a player and a coach. He joined Mario Zagallo of Brazil and Franz Beckenbauer, who captained West Germany.
France’s captain 20 years ago, Deschamps was lifted up by his players on the field and flung into the air several teams and caught. The normally staid coach did a few skipping dance steps in the rain before stopping and laughing at himself.
It was that kind of unbridled evening for the French who won with an exuberance not often seen in a mostly efficient, controlled title run.
Back home in France, tens of thousands of fans headed to the Eiffel Tower to watch a broadcast on giant screens that Paris police closed the area more than two hours before kickoff.
Two years ago at home, France flopped in a European Championship final it was expected to win against Portugal.
“But maybe if we had been European champions we would not be champions today,” Deschamps said.
Putin watched the game in a VIP section with the presidents of France and Croatia, Emmanuel Macron and Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic.
Macron paced nervously out of his seat during the video review, and kissed his Croatian counterpart on both cheeks to console her after the game. They joined the medal ceremony and both kissed the gold trophy before it got to Lloris.
The two previous finals were 0-0 after 90 minutes before being settled with a single goal deep into extra time.
Three goals in the first half was the most prolific since 1974, when West Germany went into the break up 2-1 against the Netherlands. That was the final score.
The six-goal final was the most since England beat West Germany 4-2 in 1966. It also ensured the 2018 World Cup had only one scoreless game, when France last played at Luzhniki Stadium against Denmark.
More AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/WorldCup
Pussy Riot upstages Putin with protest that halts World Cup
By JAMES ELLINGWORTH
AP Sports Writer
Monday, July 16
MOSCOW (AP) — Protest group Pussy Riot, long a thorn in Vladimir Putin’s side, claimed responsibility Sunday for four people who brought the World Cup final to a brief halt by running onto the field dressed in police uniforms as the Russian president and a global audience watched.
Stewards tackled the three women and one man who charged onto the field simultaneously in the 52nd minute of one of the world’s most viewed sporting events.
Croatia defender Dejan Lovren pushed the man, helping a steward to detain him, and suggested the incident put Croatia off its game. The team was 2-1 down when the protest happened, and eventually lost 4-2.
“I really was mad because we’d been playing at that moment in good shape,” he said. “We’d been playing good football and then some interruption came. I just lost my head and I grabbed the guy and I wished I could throw him away from the stadium.”
Before being hauled away, one of the women reached the center of the field and shared a double high-five with France forward Kylian Mbappe.
“Hello everyone from the Luzhniki field, it’s great here,” the heavily political punk performance group said on Twitter, and released a statement calling for the freeing of political prisoners, an end to “illegal arrests” of protesters and to “allow political competition” in Russia.
The four were charged with violation of spectators’ rights and illegal wearing of law enforcement symbols and could face penalties of up to 11,500 rubles ($185) or 160 hours of community service, the Interfax news agency reported.
Pussy Riot’s statement also referenced the case of Oleg Sentsov, a vocal opponent of Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, who was sentenced in 2015 to 20 years for conspiracy to commit terror acts. He denies the charges and has been on a hunger strike since mid-May.
The group said the police uniforms symbolized how Russian police’s actions fall short of their “heavenly” depiction in literature and called for reforms. It wasn’t clear if they used the uniforms as a ruse to enter Luzhniki Stadium amid tight security, and the group couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
“The citizens in question were taken to the local police station,” the Moscow branch of the Russian Interior Ministry said, without providing further details.
A video circulated on Russian social media after the match appeared to show two of the protesters, still in police uniforms, being harshly interrogated at a police station. The Internet TV channel Dozhd identified one of them as Pyotr Verzilov, one of the group’s most prominent members.
Under barking queries from a man off camera, Verzilov says, “I am for Russia, just like you — if you are for Russia.”
“I sometimes wish it was 1937,” the man off screen says, referring to the year in which Stalinist purges were at their height.
Pussy Riot rose to global prominence after several balaclava-covered female members sang a raucous song denouncing Putin in Moscow’s main cathedral. Two of them, including Verzilov’s wife, served nearly two years in prison for the protest.
Putin was watching the game alongside his French and Croatian counterparts and FIFA President Gianni Infantino, among other dignitaries.
Pussy Riot was previously known for wearing brightly colored balaclavas, though those who protested Sunday did so with their faces uncovered. The group posted a second statement later with three women, one wearing a pink balaclava, reading a statement acknowledging police had relaxed somewhat during the tournament but calling for greater restrictions on their powers.
“The World Cup has shown very well how well Russian policemen can behave,” one of the unmasked women said in the video. “But what will happen when it ends?”
FIFA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The protest was briefly shown on international TV broadcasts, even though FIFA policy is usually to cut away when fans and others run onto the field.
James Ellingworth is at https://twitter.com/jellingworth
More AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/WorldCup
Power Home Solar Teams Up with ‘Military Makeover’ to Bring Solar Power to Military Family
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