Basketball England's Simon Unsworth breaks down last week's NBA Officiating Clinics

After a busy week in London, we chatted to Basketball England’s Delivery Manager Simon Unsworth about his thoughts and takeaways from last week’s NBA Officiating Clinics. There was a lot covered over the two evenings from a range of speakers, providing some valuable nuggets of information for any official, regardless of their level.



Delivered by Monty McCutchen, Vice President, Head of Referee Development & Training for the NBA alongside Mark Wunderlich, Associate Vice President for Referee Operations at the NBA, the Clinic involved excellent content throughout, sharing NBA officiating concepts that could also applied to the game in both England and Europe. To receive such in depth information from those in charge of the development, on court performance and training of the NBA officials was invaluable.

Monty and Mark were extremely engaging when they talked about topics such as the importance of team work, having mental strength, good mechanics, accurate court coverage and play calling, all of which sit behind the overall philosophy of having discipline and trust, both of which must go hand in hand with each other.

The clinic gave Basketball England officials the opportunity to listen and learn from the very best. Both Monty and Mark stressed that the process of working towards becoming an NBA officials revolved around hard work and commitment. This is no different to English officials aspiring to become the best they can be in English and European competitions.

A personal favourite was the NBA’s concept of having ‘no name crews’, essentially a team of officials who delivery such a high performance in a game following the correct philosophies, guidelines and rules that they don’t steal the spotlight from the players on court.

A lot of talk centred around the role of the Crew Chief (lead referee) and how their experience and leadership is an essential tool for the smooth operation of the referee team without them being dominating or undermining. That is a tough balance to strike, but very important.

Finally, it was nice to hear that even NBA referees never had a perfect game and they have things they know they need to work on and address. That development in turn will reduce any errors down the line and was a key in “striving for perfection”.



The session was led by Alan Richardson, long time FIBA referee and technical adviser to FIBA, alongside veteran referee and leading instructor Richard Stokes. Alan opened the session with a presentation about the qualities required to be a top level referee, whether that is the top of a regional programme, national programme or international programme.

He explained that being excellent in all elements of the roll/job of an official is key. Those elements included:

  • Off-court image – You will always be viewed as an official on and off the floor, always be professional and behave appropriately.
  • Participant Behaviours – Deal with the behaviour of all participants at the right time and in the right way. This often requires a lot of courage.
  • Game Management is key to the controlling of a game.
  • Signalling – Always use FIBA signals and not your own interpretation. Be clear and correct.
  • Use of your voice – Communicating during plays and during decisions is very important. Make your communication clear and concise.

Consistent messages were revisited from the Tuesday night session led by McCutchen and Wunderlich, one of which was to reinforce the importance of trusting your co-officials.

Stokes was next to the floor and delivered a session on Game Management. His presentation focused specifically on areas most frequently mentioned in self-submitted officiating evaluations, and the content of observer reports.

Using Richard’s own background across various European competitions, he was able to identify situations within our own NBL competitions to give a tangible realisation of how learning from our top European colleagues can develop officiating here in England.

There were several key points made regarding effective game management as an official, including:

  • You should always be relaxed in emotional situations.
  • When communicating, your voice and tone should be calm and clear.
  • You cannot remove emotion from a situation.
  • You should assess behaviour throughout a game.

Stokes then moved on to some other really solid tips for officials at all levels of the game:

  • Having game awareness is key to good management. Examples include knowing where the shot clock is as well as the game clock, and knowing what the foul count is for each team.
  • As an official, you need to react to behaviour appropriately. Can a certain behaviour be ignored or does it need some action? Does the same behaviour always need the same response?
  • Clear explanations are key, both during a game and during evaluation. “If you cannot explain a decision clearly then you do not understand the decision you have made.”

If you have any questions on last week’s NBA Clinics, how you can improve as an official or what further learning opportunities are coming up in the coming months, you can use the button below to contact Simon.