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Hewitt Encounters Official Subplots

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff


January 19, 2004 ATLANTA — Nothing, it seems, gets Paul Hewitt's blood boiling quite like officiating. Midway through this season, the buttoned-down coach has grown overheated a few times, largely because of two people — Ted Valentine and Luke Schenscher. Valentine, a referee made famous (infamous?) for his run-ins with Bobby Knight in the Big Ten, a conference he no longer works in, assessed Hewitt his first technical foul in two years during Tech's recent victory against Maryland. It was a long time coming in what has become something of a running feud between the two. This entertaining battle, between an incessantly polite coach and a ridiculously flamboyant official, recently resumed in Tech's loss at Georgia. The Bulldogs upset then-No. 3 Tech 83-80 in double overtime, with the help of 36 free throw attempts. The Yellow Jackets went to the line only 13 times in the game, including just twice in the second half and five times in the two overtime periods. Georgia got to the line 29 times in the second half and overtime. According to Hewitt, Valentine threatened him during the game. Hewitt has refused to discuss the specifics, though sources said Valentine's words centered on having a long memory or remembering that game in the future. There were a number of questionable calls in the Georgia game, and Bulldogs coach Dennis Felton, after an early meeting with officials for his abusive behavior, seemed to get most of them, at least according to the Tech staff and ACC director of officials Fred Barakat. Part of the reason Valentine attracts so much disdain, of course, is the attention he inevitably brings to himself with the way he makes calls. On one charging foul, he ran about 20 feet in winding up to make the signal. In the most bizarre aspect of the refereeing, Valentine actually stepped directly over Tech guard Will Bynum to make a foul call on Bynum. (The same type of posturing might have drawn a flag for taunting in an NFL game.) It's exactly that type of showmanship that has earned Valentine a reputation around the league for having a huge ego and an arrogant approach to his job. After a couple of intermediary calls to Barakat, Hewitt and Valentine spoke in the days after the game to patch things up. But the two had some heated exchanges during Tech's home game with Maryland, and Hewitt earned his third technical foul in his four-plus seasons with the Yellow Jackets for arguing two calls about Schenscher. Hewitt tried to get a meeting with the officials at halftime of the game, but Valentine merely pointed to the locker rooms, telling Hewitt to get off the court. Late in the game, with Tech in control, Hewitt began arguing another call, and Valentine demonstrably told him to keep it down. Valentine is scheduled to do more Tech games this season, so it's a situation that bears watching. Hewitt can ask for certain officials to be removed from Tech games, but he has not done that with Valentine yet. However, the league might want to step in at some point, given the public perception that exists about the two. Surely, Barakat will be kept busy in the coming months. Hewitt, who privately lists officiating as one of the biggest problems in college basketball, has called for the refs to be removed from conference affiliations and supervised instead under the jurisdiction of the NCAA. He suggests having satellite offices for officials spread throughout the country and a main headquarters in Indianapolis, where the national organization could coordinate scheduling and evaluation matters. The appearance of impropriety certainly exists in the current set-up. Officials working for — and paid by — a conference easily can be questioned if games end up with a significant foul disparity, such as the one in the Georgia-Georgia Tech game. Furthermore, when officials work the same teams — and coaches — repeatedly, there exists the potential for bias in either direction. According to some coaches and many other veteran observers of the college game, one reason it has become so difficult to win on the road in the ACC is the perception of a homecourt bias in officiating. Celtics president Danny Ainge said in a television interview at the recent Wake Forest-Duke game that the Cameron Crazies have a bigger impact on officiating then they do on the opposing team. The perception of individual players also can weigh heavily into the equation. As swingman Isma'il Muhammad has gained notoriety around the league — and, thanks to ESPN, the nation — for his high-flying ways, he has gone to the line a lot more often, despite not changing his game to a degree that would suggest such a difference. It works in the opposite direction for Schenscher, a 7-2 junior from Australia whom Hewitt has gone out of his way to defend on many occasions. The coach called an Atlanta-area sports talk radio station earlier this season, after he heard the hosts criticizing Schenscher's play in a manner the coach deemed unacceptable. He gets even more incensed at officials when it comes to protecting his center. “He gets hacked more than anybody in this league, and it doesn't get called,” Hewitt said. “He just gets hacked on his arms, he gets walked under, and if he gets near a guy — he had two tie-ups. Until those calls start coming, I'm going to keep acting like an idiot out there. I'm tired of watching it. I'm tired of it. I'm tired of our guys being disrespected. We don't stand for that around here. When they don't call that play, it's a disrespect, it's a disrespect to Luke.” Hewitt doesn't typically speak in such harsh tones, but he has grown increasingly frustrated by the foul treatment his center gets. Part of Schenscher's problem, no doubt, is his apparent softness. He doesn't move forcefully, or particularly gracefully, most of the time. At his height, he settles for an extraordinary number of layups, and he isn't strong enough to fight through a lot of hacks and still get the ball to the basket, thus forcing a whistle. Still, Hewitt has a point. Fouls do go uncalled on Schenshcer, and he does get called for a number a touch fouls. While he isn't their best player, the Yellow Jackets need Schenscher on the floor to be at their best. He provides solid rebounding and keeps opposing big men honest, which allows Jarrett Jack, Will Bynum and Muhammad to drive to the basket. Moore, Muhammad Provide Lift Tech's lineup, stable through a blistering start, likely will continue to change throughout the rest of the season. Following consecutive losses, Hewitt altered three-fifths of his starting lineup. The moves could have been viewed as over-reacting, especially since they came at the same time the coach closed his practices to the media. However, the changes appeared to be paying off. In essence, the Yellow Jackets replaced Marvin Lewis and Anthony McHenry with Muhammad and Clarence Moore. Muhammad gives the team more athleticism in the starting five and an ability to create things offensively and defensively. Moore is simply a better player than McHenry, and it was only a matter of time before he got the starting nod. Lewis, a senior co-captain, also is better suited to come off the bench. More than anything he is a shooter, and Tech's second unit often lacks scoring punch. With the emergence of Bynum (25 points in the home win over Maryland) and the comeback of center Theodis Tarver, Hewitt is beginning to find his rotation. Meanwhile, shooting guard B.J. Elder remains something of an enigma. Elder, whom Hewitt calls the one of the best players in the ACC, is shooting a career-low field goal percentage and struggling to play as well offensively as he did in his first two seasons. Defenses are paying more attention to Elder, and even with Schenscher in the game, Tech lacks the low-post scoring presence to take defenders away from the perimeter. Elder still is leading the team in scoring, but his energy — offensively and defensively — is not where the Yellow Jackets will need it to be if they are going to make a serious run in March. For his part, Elder recognizes he is lacking a certain something, and he's working hard to find it, but that's often difficult to do in the middle of a challenging ACC schedule.