If You think about Slovenia right now, it’s obvious – European Champions and spectacular kid, Luka Doncic. But Slovenia can be proud because of on more, great person in the world of basketball. FIBA referee for more than 23 years, World Cup and Final Four Euroleague participant. Currently one of the most experienced referees in the Euroleague, role model and wise man for hi younger colleagues. Please welcome – Sasa Pukl.
Jan Delmanowski: It’s your 7th time at Kuba’s Camp. What makes You coming back?
Sasa Pukl :What makes me coming back? There are couple factors that decide me to coming back. First one is that, this is my preseason preparation. It might sound silly but I’m also listening the lectures, I just refresh everything what I know – because one of the most important things is that, you never stop learning.
The second one – obviously Kuba likes me to come, so probably I’m not the worse guy to wor with young referees and I Like to work with them. So after those 5 days, I’m usually very tired but I really enjoy working with the other people, new people form all of the Europe. Kuba just reminded me that the first I got to the Kuba’s Camp was in 2006. I was together with Ronnie Nunn and for me for example it was very special in the past, that it was one of the bridges we had between European and american officiating. So you could exchange many thoughts about officiating.
JD: I heard from some people, that You are the guy with the biggest sense of humor from all of the instructors.
SP: (laughing) You know, living in the world of basketball, when teams are always looking for winning the game, referees want to do their best and be very professional – I think that keeping a good tense of humor for me is a very important part of the daily routine, which we had in the Euroleague officiating.
JD: Could you tell me how did you start your journey with a whistle?
SP: When I was a player at the age of 12, I guess the coach (who is now around his 90-s – I still see him around the basketball, because he has been a coach of the U12 and U14 teams of 38 years), used to invite the guys from the older team to officiate the practice for the younger team. When I saw that, I just asked him if I can also do this and I realized that I enjoyed it. So I start officiating when I was still an active player. At one of my first game as a referee, I lost my tooth because player threw ball into my face so he broke two of my teeth and on of them was really dead. Obviously I just love that job, that profession. Otherwise I would not continue this path. As I told, I started at a very young age and at the same time I was playing in first Macedonian league and the second Yugoslavian league as a junior player in senior team. At the age of 20, when I got back from the army I just realized that I’m not gonna be a top player, who can plan in the Euroleague or sth like that, so I decided to stop playing and focus on officiating. I was also very lucky that when Slovenia got independent I was a referee at the second Slovenian league which was 4th league practically and I was the best in that league so I got promoted from th 4th to the 1st league during one season. When I started officiating in the first Slovenian league I was just before my 21st birthday, so I was younger than most of the players.
JD: Does it help to be a good referee, if you were a basketball player before?
SP: Yes, I think that then You feel the game better, you know what is going on in the court. Although there are always exceptions – you have very good players who tried to be a referee and some of them are very good referees, but some of them are not. And we have very good referees who never plays basketball before.
JD: When you observe young referees during the games on the Camp, what do you focus on?
SP: I try to find the field where this particular referee can improve somehow. It might be mechanics, play calling or some other technical stuff, body presence. For example the body presence is the thing that nobody talked about in Europe 20 years ago. It’s important part of officiating now – how you look on the court, how you express your calls, how you show fouls, even how you run on the court. I had a referee today and I told him that he must look at himself, because he is running in a stupid, funny way like waving his hand all around, you know like a policeman who is giving the signals on a road. You have to know how you look on the court.
So it actually depends on a referee. I try to give them as much, as I can but of course there is also a difference in their level – we have some international Fiba referees and we have some guys and girls, who just started officiating.
JD: If you look at your careers history, what was the toughest challenge for you so far? The toughest game or tournament?
SP: Of course my career is really quite long, as I am a Fiba referee for 23 years and always during a career there are some challenges that you have to cope with/beat them. If you are smart, you have your own dreams during your career but also you have some certain goals. I think this is a part of career of every referee in this business.
I remember that when I started officiating, my dream was to get to the first Yugoslavian league – what I got being a very young guy. So than I was dreaming that it would be very nice to be an international referee but always you have new goals – when I got the Fiba license, I wanted to officiate in the Euroleague. After being an international referee for a 4 years, at the age of 28-29 I was promoted to the „old Euroleague” which was still under the Fiba mark. You always need to have goals.
What was the toughest one? Probably …. I would say that the toughest tournament for me was ….. maybe my first World Cup in Japan in 2006. I was very young that time and I had to break through the other guys. Also ma first Final Four Euroleague in Athens in 2007 was also tough – but this is a part of our job, to be the best at the certain moment.
But when I’m thinking about that question – I think that the toughest thing for me is to come back from the fully-crowded, loud hall in Euroleague game with 10.000 spectators, to go to the Slovenian game with 200 spectators and they are yelling at you in your local language. It’s probably more difficult for me than to have a tough game at the point. You know, the challenging game is a challange which you are prepared for and you are doing your best at the moment. I have some problems with the games, which are not challenging like blow-outs, etc. It’s very hard for me to keep my concentration, to be focus on game. These are the toughest games for me.
JD: Do you have some special habits, routines during your game day?
SP: In the Euroleague we how some straight game day program, some procedures,, etc so there is no much space for something special. Of course I have my worm up routine, my dressing routine, I’m doing stretching, but nothing special. But there is on interesting thing which changed throughout my career – when I was young international referee I was always sleeping in the afternoon before the game and now I really have to be very tired f.e. after my travel, to get some sleep before the game. I just cannot fall asleep so easily. I’m watching movies but very rarely I can sleep before te game.
JD: Mostly you work as a crew chief during the game. How the crew chief should behave with his less experienced partners?
SP: First of all – when you come on the court, there are 3 equal referees. Of course there are some formal differences but it’s not the point. Actually the crew chief should be a role model for his younger colleagues, show some good ethics but also in the special situations should be a back up for the colleges. That’s it.