Wiedmer: Summer-league basketbrawl a sickening incident

Wiedmer: Summer-league basketbrawl a sickening incident

July 10th, 2018 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns
Mark Wiedmer

Mark Wiedmer

Photo by Staff File Photo/Times Free Press

Maybe you've seen the video. It shows a summer-league boys' basketball team brawling with officials near the close of a tournament semifinal game Sunday in Emerson, Georgia.

To borrow a suitably descriptive word from the event's organizer, Josh Miley, the scene was "sickening."

To borrow a few more words from Chattanooga native Curtis Shaw — the coordinator of men's officials for the Big 12, Conference USA, Ohio Valley, Missouri Valley and Southland conferences — when asked Monday to assess such a mess: "The kids have no respect (for the officials), the coaches have no respect and the parents at these events are a disaster."

Exactly what happened to start this worrisome brawl is unclear. The video doesn't begin until the incident is already underway. But there's no doubt that players were making physical contact with officials and officials were fighting back and none of it did anything to alleviate the concern many have about the lessons taught in these summer basketball events, which are all lumped under the AAU umbrella, though one AAU official was adamant Sunday night that his organization had no ties to this particular tournament.

In fact, Amateur Athletic Union president Roger J. Goudy said in a released statement: "AAU is regularly and wrongly used to describe all non-scholastic travel basketball. Not all basketball events in the summer are run by the AAU organization. Such behavior (as this in Georgia) is never tolerated at licensed AAU events and, for those groups who fraudulently represent themselves as AAU, we will pursue all legal remedies."

That may be true in this instance, but these types of tournaments are one reason why the NCAA asked former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to chair a committee this past winter that would find a better way for high school kids to display their talents to college coaches than through the summer leagues.

And this ugly incident comes on the heels of a similar fight that took place a week ago between an Atlanta-area girls' team and a team from Texas.

"In many cases you don't have certified coaches and you may not have certified officials," said Shaw, who has worked NCAA men's Final Fours. "And sometimes you've got these inexperienced officials working five and six games a day. We are seeing problems regarding (respect for) officials in every sport, but summer-league basketball is by far the worst."

Also, because state high school athletic associations and the NCAA have little or no power regarding these summer leagues, penalties are unlikely unless the law steps in with assault charges.

Otherwise, summer ball gets another somewhat deserved black eye and the players on the Chicago-based R.A.W. Athletics team that started this brawl get a lesson in bad behavior gone viral.

Or as their coach, Howard Martin, told ESPN late Sunday evening: "Now it's all over social media, news outlets, that my kids are a bunch of thugs and a bunch of gangbangers."

If the $150 sneaker fits, so be it.

Not that it's only the kids' fault. Martin clearly didn't do his job as a leader of young men, since the team that R.A.W. was playing, the Houston Raptors, and other bystanders all agreed that the incident began after one of the Chicago players threw a shoulder into an official when the player was called for a technical foul.

Beyond that, according to the Houston coach, there already was much discontent on the R.A.W. team before the actual fight began.

"Their players started fighting amongst each other, and they were arguing with their coach," Bobby Benjamin told ESPN. "That's when I knew it was about to get bad. I figured if they're going to fight with each other, they might be willing to fight anybody."

It would be nice to say such nastiness is limited to poorly coached and officiated summerleague ball. But right here in Chattanooga last winter we witnessed a brawl during an Austin-East boys' game at Brainerd High School, that fight ultimately delivering TSSAA playoff bans for both schools. And unlike this past weekend's ugliness, lots of fans came out of the stands at Brainerd.

"I think the (high school) coaches, for the most part, are OK," said Joe Scruggs, who'll begin his 47th year of officiating high school basketball this winter. "I think the players, for the most part, are OK. The biggest change I've seen from 10 or 15 years ago is the fans, and it's not always the parents."

The fans have clearly embarrassed themselves at times, such as when University of Kentucky supporters sent death threats to official John Higgins because of the calls he made in UK's 2017 NCAA tourney South Regional final loss to North Carolina.

But Scruggs also noted the apparent desire of certain high-profile officials to become more than background noise as possibly contributing to the problem.

"I'm part of the game, but I'm not part of the show," he said. "I've noticed that if I'm calm, the players are calm. And if the players are calm, the coaches are calm. And when the coaches are calm, the fans tend to be calm."

There was no calm at the close of that summer-league game north of Atlanta on Sunday. There was, instead, the sickening sight of players, coaches and officials having all lost control of their emotions.

Said Shaw of the whole landscape of youth sports, especially nonscholastic sports: "We have totally lost our priorities and our focus of what this is supposed to be about."

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com

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