Nov. 23, 2009
13th Blog: Great seat, but courtside officials need to always be on the ball
By Brendan O'Hallarn
They gather around a table in the media dining room for the hour or so before game time, cracking jokes and trading stories.
For the crew that works courtside at every game, men's and women's, ODU basketball is truly a labor of love.
"I just love basketball," said Rick Henn, who keeps the official scorebook at ODU games. "It's great to see the games from right up close."
Henn, who works in economic development for the City of Norfolk, has been working courtside at ODU games for 32 years. But Gary Owens has him beat by a year. I asked Owens why he keeps coming back. He pointed down to the plate of food he was nibbling on. "Free food."
That got a lively exchange of jokes going between the half dozen guys who do the jobs. "Seriously, it's a lot of fun. We've seen a few things happen over the years," said Owens, who works for the commissioner of revenue in Norfolk.
I joined the crew for Saturday's game against Marshall University.
My job was to spot, or call out what players were scoring baskets, committing fouls or substituting into the game, information that Bill Marchand uses to keep the arena's scoreboard accurate.
And I found out right away it's harder than it looks. ODU won the jump ball to start the game, but promptly turned it over, leading to a breakaway layup by Marshall.
"Who scored it?" Marchand asked me.
"Oh. I dunno. That's my job, right?" I said sheepishly.
But I settled in and did my best to keep up with the action, something that isn't a cinch because of the number of players both ODU and Marshall ran in and out of the game.
"It's not hard to get excited. We're all basketball fans," said Marchand, deputy assessor for the City of Norfolk. "When I first started, it was hard not to react when you see a bad call or something. Now, we just make aside comments to each other under our breath."
In fact, Cliff Sayles, an IT worker for the City of Portsmouth who does stats for the home team, said ODU's crew has received compliments as one of the most impartial and professional in the conference. Part of it is the time they've all been doing the jobs.
Jim Duke, who works for Frank Parsons Paper Co. and spots for the scoreboard, has the shortest tenure among the sideline crew, with nine years of doing games. Announcer Jack Ackerson has been there for more than 20 years, clock operator Therian Hall has done his job for 10. Chuck Carpenter, who runs the shot clock, has done women's games for 11 years, men's games for 10.
The game simply flew by from my vantage point courtside.
For one thing, if you've been reading Living Like a Monarch, you also know I'm a bit sneaky. A game as a courtside official afforded me a spectacular view of ODU's fierce 70-62 win.
The Thundering Herd (love that name) matched ODU shot for shot - and blow for blow - for most of the first half. A tiny spurt near the end of the half, after the Monarchs ratcheted up the defensive intensity by switching to an active zone defense, gave the home team a 28-21 lead at the break.
Early in the second stanza, forward Gerald Lee keyed an ODU run with three inside baskets in four possessions.
After a Monarchs blocked shot, fast break, layup and foul on Marshall, the bench exploded with joy when the Herd called timeout.
Coach Blaine Taylor was in the middle of his players, giving chest bumps to anyone in his airspace.
I was so fired up I wanted to go jump around with the pulsing mass of players on the court. But alas, no cheering from the sideline officials.
Division I basketball is beautiful in its passion and aggression, however. Forward Ben Finney and two Marshall players hit the floor after a loose ball about four feet from where I was sitting.
I don't care if you've never seen basketball before -that crackling intensity, that close up would make anyone a fan.
Afterwards, Taylor said he was happy with how his team responded to its first real test of the season.
"It was a game of big, strong, quick athletes. You had to be able to stand in there and take a blow and give a blow," he said.
Taylor was pleased with his team's plus-14 margin in rebounds, and happy to see his star Lee take over the game in the second half, finishing with 22 points.
"I said to him before the game that he needs to be his best when his best is needed, not some 30 point blowout. So he's been sharing the load, but when it was time to ride him a little bit, he was ready to be the horse."
Marshall coach Donnie Jones said his staff knew they were in for a bruising contest.
"We knew as a coaching staff how physical it was going to be. But give credit to Old Dominion," Jones said. "They're well coached, with as good a front court as we've went against since I've been at Marshall. And I think they're going to have a great year."
Brendan's Blog 46