Luke DeCock

In humble setting, aspiring ACC officials get their shot at the big time

ACC basketball official Tim Comer, second from right, debriefs officiating candidates Brian Damasiewicz, right, Ryan Christian, center, Ty Meixsell, second from left, and Chuck McCoy, left, after a summer camp game Friday at N.C. State's Carmichael Gym.
ACC basketball official Tim Comer, second from right, debriefs officiating candidates Brian Damasiewicz, right, Ryan Christian, center, Ty Meixsell, second from left, and Chuck McCoy, left, after a summer camp game Friday at N.C. State's Carmichael Gym. ldecock@newsobserver.com

The kids had no idea who the officials were. All they know is their high-school teams are in Kevin Keatts' basketball camp at N.C. State and they have lost track of which day it is after playing so many games.

They don't know that their games are an essential proving ground to select and identify the next cadre of potential ACC basketball officials, or that the men seated around their courts Friday taking notes weren't watching them but the referees calling their games – and that some of those men have worked Final Fours and national championships.

That includes ACC supervisor Bryan Kersey, who jots occasional notes on a list of 51 names he keeps on a sheet of paper in a manila folder. Several of his veteran ACC officials serve as scouts, with one or two watching each court and coaching the younger officials before, during and after each camp game, then reporting back to Kersey as he wanders from court to court: Tim Comer, Bill Covington Jr., A.J. Desai, Mike Eades, Ron Groover, Jerry Heater, Les Jones, Jamie Luckie, Ted Valentine.

Kersey has seen most of the candidates before and has formed rough opinions about some, fairly precise opinions about others. Some are being closely scrutinized and considered for promotion. Some are just hoping to catch his eye. And all will fall prey to his highlighter before the weekend is over.

“You're either pink or you're green,” Kersey said Friday, while watching a game in N.C. State's Carmichael Gymnasium. “Green is good. Pink is bad.”

Fame accrues under bright lights in winter and spring, but officiating careers are made in the summer, at camps like these, when supervisors pick their new recruits for the next season – and identify potential future candidates.

Keatts wandered through at one point, on his way to see his son play, moving pretty well only 11 weeks removed from major surgery to repair a ruptured patellar tendon. He huddled with Kersey before giving a pep talk to a group of officiating candidates between games.

Kersey rotates this particular evaluation camp through a different ACC school's team camp each year; this summer it just happened to land in Raleigh. Four of the courts were officiated by North Carolina high-school officials, who get to sit in on Kersey's training lectures and film sessions; six of the courts were handled by Kersey's prospects – one at Reynolds Coliseum, one at the Dail Center and four at Carmichael.

This is what Kersey does all summer. All of these team camps and AAU tournaments need officials, and there are all kinds of arrangements to provide them. Many ACC officials run their own officiating camps, for beginning refs – Eades and Roger Ayers host one during Liberty's camp, in Lynchburg, Va. – and smaller conferences have them for intermediate refs, like the MEAC during the Nike EYBL tournament in Hampton, Va., last month.

This week, it's as advanced as it gets. For the lucky, this is the last camp they'll ever have to attend, unless they're invited back to evaluate.

Since camp season started in mid-May, Kersey has spent five days at home in Virginia Beach. He went from the ACC meetings to the Atlantic 10 meetings in Florida, then to a camp in Georgia and hasn't stopped since, attending camps for lower-level Division I officials and below, trying to identify prospects. Because of his NBA connections – his late father Jess spent 30 years as an NBA referee – Kersey also spent a lot of time at camps for potential G League officials working their way up the NBA ladder.

At most of those camps, he's scouting, sorting through hundreds of officials for names to watch during the season and, potentially, invite to this camp next summer. This camp, for officials on the verge of cracking the ACC, Big East and Atlantic 10, is all about evaluation. There are 51 officials here and another 120 at a bigger camp in Atlantic City next month (and another 100 on the waiting list). From that group of 171, maybe a dozen will be offered slots in the consortium managed by the ACC and Big East that also includes the A10, Colonial, Big South, MEAC, Ivy and Patriot.

Many of the referees under consideration already work in one of those lower leagues, but getting under the ACC's umbrella means opportunities to work regularly while jumping up into the A10 or maybe even the ACC in early season nonconference games, getting a look on the big stage. It's the next step on the long road toward the ACC and NCAA tournaments, and watching summer camp games from a folding chair with a notepad in hand instead of officiating them.

While the idea of this camp is to further identify the next generation of potential ACC officials, there's a literal next generation working the courts as well. Campers include Anthony Eades (son of Mike), Kyle Luckie (son of Jamie) and Nick Heater (son of Jerry). As it was for Kersey, this is a family business.

“We put Eades and Luckie and Heater on the last game Sunday, so everyone else can get out of here,” Kersey said.

They'll all be tired by then, after working six or seven games each over a four-day span, hoping this is the summer their winters change forever.

Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock

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