Weekly Feature

2014-07-10 / Sports

The life of a Division I men’s basketball referee

Depew native Kevin Ferguson will be featured each week throughout the summer
Sports Reporter

Kevin Ferguson Kevin Ferguson Kevin Ferguson has made a living and many lifelong memories on a basketball court.

Not by playing, but by refereeing.

The native of Depew currently referees under NCAA Division I contracts with the Mid-American Conference, Metro Atlantic Athletic

Conference, Atlantic 10 Conference and America East Conference.

He refs close to 60 games each year from November to March, and during that time his life is a whirlwind traveling around the country.

Ferguson has refereed games that included Dwight Howard and Glen “Big Baby” Davis in high school, North Carolina and Marquette at the EA Sports Maui Invitational on ESPN, and the University of Kentucky three years ago during their national championship run.

He has tons of interesting stories, and this is the third installment that will be published this summer featuring his life as a referee.

The interview was conducted on Tuesday and this week’s topic includes his trip to Hawaii for the EA Sports Maui Invitational.

The tournament is the nation’s premier competition to start the season each year. Chaminade University of Honolulu hosts the tournament each season.

Ferguson refereed at the Maui Invitational in 2012 which was the 30th anniversary of Chaminade’s legendary 1982 upset of then top ranked University of Virginia.

The following is to be read as a narrative by Ferguson.

Goodbye Buffalo, aloha Maui

Hank Nichols, who is the supervisor of officials for the whole NCAA, called me up in July and asked me if I wanted to go to Maui. Of course I accepted the date and was excited.

When the phone rang at first I thought it was a joke, I thought it was my buddy Benji calling me. And I’m like ready to say, Benji come on! But he was really serious on this call and I said okay.

Hank said I’ll have your plane ticket shipped FedEx to your house, just get there. You call the travel agents and they’ll set everything else up for you. When you get in, people will pick you up at the airport, you don’t have to do anything. They’ll take you right to your hotel and we have a meeting the next day.

I had to ref the first three days, I refereed three games in a row, and then I had three days off. It’s not a bad deal, they flew me in and put me up for six days, and I only had to ref three days and got paid on top of it.

The first game I had is Texas vs. the home-team Chaminade (in the quarterfinals). It was 30 years of history where Chaminade upset [No. 1 ranked] Virginia. My buddy texted me saying “30 years in the making.” So it was a big thing.

It was on ESPN and such a classic because

I refereed with Tim Higgins, a legendary referee, a Final Four referee. And this was the year he was retiring. It was a great game, Chaminade had them beat by 15 the whole game, and I got to give [Texas head coach] Rick Barnes credit. He sat there and didn’t complain too much. He got up because he was getting frustrated, started barking at a couple calls, but then he realized with about 10 minutes left he’s down 17 or 18.

He tried to make a run and couldn’t and the next thing you know it was over and the people stormed the court. It was a great thrill to have that be my opening day there.

The second day I had Marquette and Mississippi State (consolation second round).

And I had [former Marquette head coach] Buzz Williams. It was a pretty close game but Marquette was pretty good so they started pulling away. But he is just non-stop, every single play up and down non-stop.

I’ll never forget this, Buzz Williams is like the Energizer Bunny, he’s full of sweat and doesn’t stop the whole time. He keeps going and is all over you, all over his players, but mostly all over you. They beat Mississippi State by 27, I shower and go back to the hotel. I think I might have been watching a football game, next thing I know Buzz Williams sits next to me.

Hey Kevin how are you doing, great job!

And here I am, the guy yelled at me for two hours, but it’s just the nature of the beast. That’s how they are, they are so wound tight.

The third game was a legendary game, it was kind of neat for me. It was North Carolina against Chaminade (third place game) and it was neat to have North Carolina with Roy Williams on the sideline.

It was funny because when I was ready to throw the ball up it was such a thing for me because, the center at that time [for North Carolina] was [James] McAdoo. So I looked at him right in the face before I’m throwing the ball up.

Okay, tell me who you are, what relation are you to Bob McAdoo?

That’s my uncle.

I’ll tell you what, you tell him the guy that refereed your game is from Buffalo, New York and used to go watch him play for the Buffalo Braves.


Yeah I’m not kidding you. I was 11 or 12 years old I used to go down to the Aud and watch him play. And guess what, he’s one of the best shooters we ever saw.

Oh yeah, he can still shoot.

After I threw the ball up, it started off as a pretty even game but North Carolina was pretty good and there was a play I’ll never forget. I was in the center position, or the slot position, I’m looking at the foul line and the paint.

There was a play where the guard for North Carolina got in good position and I thought he took a pretty good charge on the Chaminade kid and I raised my fist to make the foul call.

My partner came from the baseline about 15 to 18 feet away and called a blocking foul. So I sat there and all of a sudden he reported the foul. Next thing I know before the kid is getting ready to shoot, I hear Kevin! Kevin! I turned around and it was Roy Williams waiting for me at half court.

Can I talk to you?

And of course what am I going to say to Roy Williams? No? So of course I walk over.

Yes, Mr Williams?

Kevin, that kid is trying to make my top seven. I think that was a pretty good play and I think that was a charge. And by the look on your face, I think you had a charge too.

And I looked at him right in the face and I said, you know what Mr. Williams, you’re probably right.

I’ll never forget it, he looked at me and tapped me on the rear end and said okay and let me go on with the game.

We had time off and then at night time you could go off. It was weird because it was a five or six hour time change. My friends were calling me at 3:00 in the morning and I’m going, hey I’m sleeping! But it was nice, I went around and saw some sights.

The one guy he was a referee from Honolulu.

Hey Kevin, did you bring your girlfriend or your wife?


Come on, we are going to have some fun. Get in the car.

He drives me down and we pull into this back little thing off the ocean, and I got my flip flops on and my T-shirt. So we are walking through the water and I look at him and ask, John where are you taking me man? And he’s just laughing.

So I look up above and I see this big hut. We keep walking and all of a sudden he flips this door back. We walk in and there’s long tables and a bar and restaurant, and all these old type grills, like the cast iron grills.

The guys were catching mahi-mahi and bringing it in and giving us plates of fish. It was just a unique thing, just to have a paper plate and eating fresh mahi-mahi off the grill.

Then I went to a luau. Let me tell you something, the luau was about four hours. It was more like a story than it is anything. I couldn’t wait until it was over with. I mean it was neat to go see the culture. It was really neat to go see the islands. We had one of the guys take us on a sight tour around to the islands.

He said, see that island over there? There’s about 300 people that live on it. All they do is hunt and they live in the holes in the caves. They catch fish and it’s full of wild boar.

The story is you get the wild boar before the boar gets you.

On that island some of the boars are 300 pounds, and if they get you first it’s over. That’s their food for a week.

Just the thing of refereeing those teams with Rick Barnes, Roy Williams and Buzz Williams. Seeing those teams and how good those players really are was phenomenal. It was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.

Hank Nichols

He’s retired, he was probably the best official of all time. Hank Nichols was one of the officials that was part of every conference in the country. Hank Nichols could referee any game he wanted in the United States, that’s how good he was.

When Hank Nichols retired he became the supervisor of officials.

He has one thing he does, he’s the supervisor for the Maui Classic and that’s not a bad job.

Believe it or not, Hank Nichols is from Niagara Falls originally. He made some phone calls and somebody mentioned my name, and he gave me a shot [for the Maui Invitational].

He got his claim to fame in Philadelphia, he did every finals game there was in the NCAA Tournament and Final Four.

He gave you his critique after the game, and of course a guy that’s in every conference in the country and greatest official of all time, you sit there like a student and just listen to him. I mean it was priceless the stuff he told you

Those three games he said Kevin, good job. He told me about two calls in the three games that he didn’t like. And I said, well you know what, two calls in three games ain’t bad you know. I guess I must have passed the test.

He said, Kevin lets talk about the North Carolina charge. What about it?

I said it was a charge.

You’re right, the only good thing is I’m glad you didn’t come out and say, no, it was a charge. Because then you’d have a ‘blarge’.

A ‘blarge’ is when the guy on the bottom calls a block and then I come out and put my hand behind my head to call a charge. Now you’ve got two different calls by the officials and you’re in bad shape.

Jay Bilas, the ESPN analyst, would eat the officials alive for something like that.

I just had my fist in the air. I didn’t signal, which was a great move on my part. I just called a foul, I didn’t signal which one.

Hank said, Kevin that was the best thing you did. Because the game was on ESPN and Jay Bilas would have ripped you guys apart. I knew exactly right when Roy Williams called you over, I knew exactly what was going to happen.

Let me ask you Kevin, what happened? What did you tell him?

I told him he was probably right.

Good, I saw him pat you on the rear end and just walked back to sit down. That’s exactly what you have to do.

email: brandonk@beenews.com

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