„I have a very good relationship with the players and coaches. We are not enemies during the game. However, each of us has his or her own job to do and sometimes there are conflicts” – says Luigi Lamonica, the most famous basketball referee in Europe.
Jan Delmanowski: Welcome in Poland. As I know, it’s Your first time as an instructor at Kuba’s Camp. What decided that You finally come?
Luigi Lamonica: First of all – Kuba invited me several times, but because of my duties in Italy when I was officiating, it’s a time full of tournaments so I had some obligations for the Italian federation. Now I’m not officiating in Italy because of the age limit, so I could come here and I was very happy to do so, because I heard many positive stories about the Camp.
JD: In one of the interviews I’ve read that you said – at the end of Your career You’d like to instruct, coach young referees. Is Your presence here, some kind of work like that?
LL: When I was a young referee, I usually received good feedback and knowledge passed down from older referees and at some point in our lives, we also need to give something back. So now it’s time to give back my experience to the younger referees. This is something that nobody can ‚teach’ you, and to hear some advice only from more experienced referees. Last Year I spoke with Bob Delaney, former NBA referee and when I told him about age limits in Europe he said „What? No, no, no, that’s crazy! We can teach referees everything – the mechanics, rules, interpretations, but the only thing we cannot teach them is the experience, what you can give them every game”. I guess it’s true and I feel that now that I just have to do it. I got a lot of experience and I’ve learned how to behave inside and outside the court and I feel some responsibility on passing on that experience and knowledge to others.
JD: What do you focus on, when do you observe young referees at the Camp?
LL: First of all it’s a kind of exam for them. Even if we tell them, that they are here just for fun and to enjoy the camp, to meet new people and new teammates. You know, they meet 3-4 guys from the Euroleague or last but we can year when they met Jose Carrion former FIBNA referee and now working in the NCAA Division 1 competitions. So, they feel like being under an exam and they can be very nervous. But we are not here to look for the talent or the guy who will be a new Euroleague referee – the most important thing is that we can see something which he or she can correct, and we give some tips from our experience to work on when they get back home. We cannot expect that in 4 days, they’ll change their style, but we can suggest to them how to work at home, to reach some goals or to be better at the next game. It’s like with the players – we also have ‚muscle memory.’ We have to repeat some moves a thousand times, or to see some plays or repeat some calls a thousand times before it comes naturally to us. For me the best situation is that when after the game referees have many questions for me about things they don’t feel comfortable with. Becoming a better referee is a long process and we all need to work hard every day.
JD: When You became an international referee there was still a 2PO mechanics, now we have 3PO mechanics during the game. Was that change a good idea?
LL: Absolutely yes, especially with modern basketball. If you look a couple of years back, you can easily recognise that today players move faster, they are bigger and more powerful. Because of that, on that physical level now it’s impossible to officiate with two persons. They are just too fast. 3PO is a great improvement for the basketball and for the games.
JD: What about the second big change – the IRS system? Was it a good idea to turn it on? And technically – is the view which You have on IRS, the same as we can see on TV?
LL: For sure the IRS system was one of the best deciysions for the referees. It’s very, very useful for us. In some situations you can go and watch it ten times and even then, you may not be sure about the right decision to call. So, using IRS can be very complicated, it’s not so easy at times, but it’s big help for us. For sure there is a bigger and bigger investment in the equipment, then better and better is the result. For example when we started with the IRS in Italy, it was a cooperation between the league and TV broadcaster. The equipment was very, very expensive because all of the cameras need to be connected with each other at the same time and correctly synchronised.
Before the first season of using the IRS, we didn’t even really know how to use it. We had one short meeting, and not everybody was there. I remember that we used in the championship series, in the 5th game. The result was 2-1 for Fortitudo and the game was in Milan. Fortitudo made a basket, we decided that the basket was valid, so Fortitudo won the championship. We were checking that for 3-4 minutes and when we decided that the basket was valid, nobody complained, so you can imagine how big an improvement that is. For sure if we take the some decision but without the IRS system, it might be impossible to go out from the gym! Now in Euroleague we have 8 cameras during every game and all of them we can use for the IRS. The feeds can show us exact situations from all of the 8 views, giving different angles, etc. We have to have an initial decision that we can go and review and if there is not clear and conclusive evidence to change the decision, then we have to stay with our first decision. So we make a call, and then we go and check in some situations. If we are not sure about the video, we stay with our call, even with the last shot of the game.
JD: What was the toughest game, tournament during your whole career?
LL: It depends on the tournament. If it’s World Cup you are under big pressure but it’s not so hard physically because you have a lot of time to recover. On the other hand during the youth tournaments in the summer it used to be much harder – there is less pressure, but you have sometimes 10 games during 12 days which is physically tough.
JD: So maybe from the other side. Which gym in the Euroleague is the hottest for the referees?
LL: Everyone knows about the gym in Serbia or Greece. But there are some others such in Kaunas, but it’s always a little different. Fans and spectators try to support their teams and boost their players to improve. You also have other arenas with very knowledgeable fans like in Tel Aviv which gives another kind of atmosphere. Many EuroLeague and EuroCup clubs have a long and historic traditions. Basketball in Turkey is also great now, especially following the WC in 2010 when their national team won the silver medal. Fenerbahce’s gym is also a great place to play basketball, with almost 15.000 spectators pushing the teams and driving them on, as well as putting the usual pressure on the referees!
JD: How does one week of your life, as an Euroleague referee look like?
LL: The first moment is that when we see the nomination for the games. We can see the nominations in advance so we have to plan everything around the games. We have to plan flights, games, physical practice and of course time for rest. It’s our first duty and mostly we try to arrive in the afternoon the day before the game. The day before is obligatory but to spend time with our colleagues is important. On the game day my routine is like this: I will make a work-out in the morning, usually jogging, then a meeting with the crew where we analyse the teams, check stats and of course we talk about the players, the special situations we have to care, physicality of the players and the match-ups (style of offense/defense etc), we also analyse the style of the teams, benches, the coaches and in the end we look at the last results of their games.
It’s also very important to know if they are in a good shape or not in terms of what to expect. But in the EuroLeague you can see that anyone can win on any given night and the season is very long, meaning it’s a huge challenge for the teams to be in a good shape from the beginning and keep it the whole season, for example look at Real Madrid last year – the most important thing is to be in top form for the Playoffs.
After that we talk about our crew, what we have to do during the game. But you know – we cannot plan everything. When the game starts – it can be completely different. In the playoffs last year and in one of the series we were prepared and we knew that it was going to be a be a very tough game. We arrived more than 2 hours before the game to the arena, to avoid the bust traffic and spectators but they were still waiting for us there – so when we went to check the IRS system (what we have to do 75 minutes before the game starts) spectators were already filling the arena. We thought the game was going to be difficult, but we started and suddenly the score was 14-0! We looked each other and thought ‚What is going here?’ So you can be prepared for the game, but it can sometimes be completely different – and you also have to ready for that!
JD: About the games – during the inbounds, when you give the ball to player, you make a signal of turning on the clock. You also turn on the small box, you’ve got on you. What is it for?
LL: We have the system to stop the clock at every whistle. It’s called Precision Time System (PTS). When we blow the whistle, there is a microphone connected with our whistle so when we blow, the sound stops the time. When we start the game again there is a start button on the belt pack that starts the clock.
The Unified Scorers Crew (USC) at the table is asked to stop the clock anyway, so it’s a double check system.
JD: It says that good game is that one, which there are no discussions about the referees afterwards. So I have to ask you about your style. I guess that you created your own style as a referee and this is not quite linked with that. You are a very energetic referee, you talk a lot with the players and coaches, you are maybe full of yourself or confident during the game. Would you agree about that ‚Lamonica’ style?
LL: I totally agree with you that the best officiating is when after the game nobody remembers who were referees during the game. In my opinion referees are just the part of the game but they are not the most important part. About the style – yes, for sure it’s the special style. But the style depends on the personality. I didn’t create this image on purpose but I think that sometimes I’m a kind of educator for the players – if they come to me and ask something in the correct way, I have a duty or obligation to answer them and the same applies to the coaches. If I can give them the explanation at the right moment, I have to do it. Generally I have a very good relation with the players, coaches. I cannot say that during the game we are enemies, but we are doing our own job and sometimes there is a conflict. But at the end I guess everyone can recognize that we can make mistakes, that we are human beings. When we talk each other and we explain our calls, it’s easier to understand why the decision was like that. Yes, but I never look for the conversation by myself – I don’t need to explain my every call. But if they need some explanation, I think I have to give it.
JD: After such a long career, what goals do you have for the next season?
LL: For sure I cannot say the Olympic Games, because it’s everybody’s dream. My goal is to keep the same physical shape, to be an example for young referees and try to give them as much as possible from my experience at the court. I want to try to help them to reach a better level. I’d also like to catch the moment, when should I quit because I want to leave at the best moment with a great memories – not going out, because I have been told to go out.
JD: As I know – during your travels to the games – you must have your referee’s equipment with you on board. Is that right?
LL: Absolutely yes. You know, sometimes we travel with a very very small planes and then your big luggage is also taken on board. One time one of my colleagues had a story, that his luggage wasn’t taken from the airport at all. And not even from the airport but directly from the runaway! So at least, we must have our uniforms with us. Shoes you can buy everywhere so in case like that, it would not be such a big problem.
JD: Did you personally have some funny (scary) situations with such a problem?
LL: Yes, sure I have. I forgot my trousers twice! The first time was in Italy. It was before the Final Italy Cup game and I had to drive 350 km back home for them. But fortunately I was back on time for the game. The second time was in Israel. You know, everyone has their own routine and even if for some reason I’m in rush, I always know what I put into my bag as first – the shoes. Then my underwear, shirts, trousers and jackets. When I arrived to the airport this time I thought ‚Shit … I missed something’. I opened my bag and – no trousers! I had no time to get back from Rome to my home in Pescara, so I called one of the commissioners who I knew from Israel about my problem. He told me ‚Okay, but we don’t have a guy as tall, as you are!’ Finally they found some trousers which were a little bit too short for me, but I had to live with it. So now, I always do a double check with my uniform!
JD: Mostly, You’re the Crew Chief during the games. How should the Crew Chief cooperate with his younger and less experiences teammates?
LL: When I was young a have a great honor to officiate with probably some of the best referees in Europe ever and what I always noticed from them is that they always let me do my job. They never pushed the pressure onto me, I could officiate being calm, relaxed and self-confident. So now, I try to be the same for other referees. I mean, I give them a chance to make calls and I never try to jump on teammate’s call, or to be arrogant towards them or to put any pressure on them. If I don’t agree with my teammate’s call, I always try to ask them if they were sure about this specific call, if their position was good at that moment and if they were looking on the right spot. I think that we have to let them make their own mistakes because our job it slightly different than other jobs. We improve when we make mistakes and this is quite difficult to understand for the other people but that’s the reality.
Sometimes the Crew Chief is like a father – very protective. But we have to control them in the correct way, we have to assist them, sometimes we have to help but at the beginning, we have to give them the chance. For example, with a difficult call, if I’m not the primary referee I always wait for what’s going to happen. If the call doesn’t come and is very important for the game, then I call it. Spectators, coaches, players – the don’t know and don’t understand the mechanics. The right call is the most important thing, what is right for the game and the mechanics are for us. Sometimes when I’m the guy responsible for some situation, young referees are afraid to make a call to help me. When I ask them later, ‚Hey, if you saw that foul why didn’t make the call?’ and they might tell me, ‚But you where there!’. It really doesn’t matter – maybe someone just blocked me and I couldn’t see anything at the moment, maybe I lost my concentration I was thinking about something unimportant. My point is that we need TEAMWORK with three equal referees. We don’t need a crew chief, a referee and an umpire. We need a referee and a referee and a referee.