Original article posted on the Detroit News web site.
Violence in basketball knows no age barriers. It happens in the NBA, on college courts across the county and in high school gyms.
It's become a hot-button topic, so much so that ESPN's "College GameDay" crew of Jay Bilas, Digger Phelps and Hubert Davis addressed the subject Jan. 14 and offered suggestions on how to prevent brawls, melees and fisticuffs. Davis' point was the players are not the only ones at fault and the blame should be placed on coaches and officials, as well as players. Phelps said it's up to the coaches to maintain control.
Coaches Robert Rogers of Pontiac, Greg McMath of Saginaw Arthur Hill and Nate Oats of Romulus all agree violence in the sport is a growing concern and that it's up to the coaches to address it. If there's potential for a disturbance, coaches need to have a meeting of the minds days before the game.
Arthur Hill played its big rival Saginaw High last Friday and McMath increased his emphasis on his players maintaining their poise.
"We teach them to walk away from a confrontation," McMath said. "We talk about sportsmanship during the week. If there are two guys involved, you can control that. We talk about it in the huddle before the game and during. We don't want anyone to leave the bench when something happens on the court. We have a guy on the bench who is responsible for looking at things like that during a game. I can't see everything out there.
"The referees are in control. As coaches you want them to play but sometimes it can get out of control. As a coach you know which players have attitude problems. The coaches and refs must communicate."
That situation occurred Saturday night, when Kalamazoo Central played at Romulus. An official went to Central coach Mike Thomas and persuaded Thomas to remove one of his players, which he did. The player was re-inserted later and a possible confrontation was avoided.
On Jan. 14 the Detroit Consortium game against Bowman Academy (Ind.) was called with 5:34 left in the third quarter because of a fight between players from both teams. Oats talked about the situation with his team.
"It's on our master list of topics," Oats said. "As soon as the Consortium thing happened we had a meeting. We've had issues before with Bowman. We played them at Muskegon Heights (Jan. 7). One of my players threw the ball to a ref as the half was ending and it slipped out of his hands and hit one of their players. They thought my player did it intentionally and they started pushing each other."
Rogers said coaches have to constantly remind their players to remain calm when a situation arises.
"Junk talking is at an all-time high," Rogers said. "Sometimes as coaches you don't hear it. Kids today take that junk talking personal. Just this week one of my players got into a fight during our game. Punches were thrown. People came out of the stands. He's suspended for one game but I'm thinking about suspending him for the season. **End of Article**"
Commentary: While the article focuses on what the coaches are doing to curb what is a growing trend of violence in prep basketball, officials are just as accountable and must do what they can to curb the unnecessary violence.
Officials must be diligent in identifying and recognizing "junk talking" between opponents. In prep basketball, players are doing this discreetly to avoid the unwanted attention of the officials. This is still considered taunting and officials must not turn a deaf ear or blind eye to this kind of talking. Off ball and dead-ball coverage does not just mean observing for physical contact but verbal exchanges between opponents as well.
Obviously if it is not known what is being said other than observing a verbal exchange, the prudent action is to request the player or players to cease immediately and bring that to the attention of the coaches. A continuation of these actions by the player or players shall immediately assess a penalty.
Coaches will often attempt to communicate with officials, albeit not in the best of manners at times, the game is getting out of control. Officials should not necessarily construe those comments as a criticism of the officiating and immediately put up defenses. Coaches know their players and usually have a good idea of their opponent’s players of the limits they can handle. They may be telling you a point of no return is coming if the game is not tighten up and/or situations do not get addressed. Communications is an absolute essential between coaches and officials to ensure violence does not happen during a game.
Officials and coaches will be immediately scrutinized if violence occurs during a prep basketball game. Did they do enough to prevent this from happening. Where there telling points during the game that went largely ignored by the officials and/or coaches. In the end, officials are supposed to have control of the game and are in charge.