Close calls, and missed calls, are part of basketball.
In a fast-paced game that gets even faster every year, the basketball official has to be the most uninspiring job. That someone would put themselves into such a difficult situation willingly for the game is a testament of love for the sport.
But in the case of Thursday’s game between Chickasha and Newcastle girls, a hard-fought playoff matchup where every point counted, there was a situation that didn’t require better officials or video replay. It just needed a more clear interpretation of the rules.
Specifically, it required a better understanding of how to handle an injured player.
Chickasha had surged back to a lead in the fourth quarter. The Lady Racers had some issues getting shots to fall, and Chickasha was trying to use one of these instances for a quick bucket at the other end.
Flash back a few seconds to the Lady Chicks’ last possession, when immediately following a made basket, senior Dominique Golightly was asking for a sub. Her asthma, something she fights strongly against and usually beats every time on the floor, was getting to her.
She stood hunched over, exhausted in front of the scorers’ table at Stillwater High School as Newcastle raced down the floor. Chickasha could not call a timeout; Golightly would have to wait.
Following the Lady Chicks’ rebound, Head Coach Kirk Reimers screamed twice for a timeout that was never given. He stopped, though, when junior Karissa Duke beat a half-court trap and moved the ball to fellow classmate Jaycie Brown.
Brown had a clear path to the basket, a situation that would have resulted in one of two-things: an easy layup or a pair of foul shots.
She got neither, because the referee blew his whistle as a Newcastle player laid on the floor in the opposite corner of the gym.
Let’s get any notion of nefariousness on Newcastle’s part out of our heads right now. The player, Aaliyah Endsley, was clearly injured and needed assistance. Anyone can sympathize with this, and any team would have asked the referee to stop the game if they were in their shoes.
I never saw how she got injured. It was likely on the scrum for the rebound. Regardless, there was never a question of feigning injury to stop the play.
Part of any referee’s job, especially in youth sports, is player safety and wellbeing.
But to what extent? That is the question posed in situation’s like this.
Basketball rules allow for referees to exercise discretion in this area. If there is an injured player that is also at risk of further injury due to the play going on around them, they can stop the game.
They can also allow play to continue until the injured player’s team gains back possession. So in this case, had the referee allowed Brown to continue going for a layup, he would have been in the right.
But Newcastle will argue they were at a disadvantage. Five-on-four at this level is a near impossible situation for a team defensively.
In this case, the whistle should have been blown earlier because Golightly was clearly struggling. No, she was not down on the ground, and she was away from the play.
That situation was similar to Endsley’s, and I’m sure Newcastle would have preferred to see that play keep going.
What clearly needs to be addressed more is how referees should handle injuries on the floor. When should play be stopped, and when should it be continued? When is an injured player simply an unfortunate circumstance for the team on defense?
We don’t know how crucial Brown’s layup or points would have been in the grand scheme of the game. But in contests like the one on Thursday night, what a referee does or does not do in that situation can certainly impact the outcome.