After reading last Tuesday’s Bangor Daily News Sports article about Bob Brown and Skip Chappelle having a Maine college coaches connection to Rick Pitino, the University of Louisville basketball coach who became the first Division I college coach to win two NCAA titles at two different schools, it brought back my own personal connection to Pitino.
It was on a Friday morning in December 1977, and I got a call from my College Basketball Officials Association assigner, asking me if I could fill in and do a Maine JV prelim game at the University of Maine that evening.
I agreed and I worked the game with Board 111’s current interpreter, Dave Ames. We worked the game and it was packed to capacity at the Memorial Gym’s famous “Pit.” It was the prelim game before the Boston University and UMaine varsity game.
Skip Chappelle was coaching at UMaine and Rick Pitino was coaching at Boston University.
I was just getting ready to leave the refs’ room when Stu Haskell, the athletic director at UMaine, stopped me to inform me that the varsity officials for the BU-Maine game had missed their flight and they had no officials for the varsity game.
He wanted me to stay and work the varsity game. I said with Dave? Stu answered there was a problem. Dave could not work the varsity game because he was employed by the University of Maine. That was against CBOA rules as BU also pointed out when it was suggested that Dave and I work the game.
Pitino and Chappelle joined the discussion and I asked Pitino, “When are you leaving to go back to Boston after the game?” He said, “Tomorrow around noontime.”
I quickly suggested that they should play the game the next day at noon and leave after the game. That way the original officials could get to work the game or I could get two CBOA Board 111 officials to do the game.
He did not want to do that, so we were in a big dilemma.
Haskell, knowing that I was the Eastern Maine IAABO Board 111 assigner for high school basketball officials at that time, asked me if there was a Board 111 official available that could work the game with me.
I said that because it was the opening night of high school basketball in the state, all the Board 111 high school officials that worked CBOA college games were already working. Haskell asked, “Are there any high school officials available then?” I said, “There was one that was not working that was capable of doing a college game and that I would call him.” I called, but the official was not home and I asked where I could reach him. They said he was at the BU-Maine basketball game at Orono.
I said, “Great, we will make an announcement for him to come to the officials’ room.”
The official, who will remain unnamed, came down and agreed to work the game, and both Pitino and Chappelle also agreed to have him work it with me.
Now here came another big problem. He had no equipment with him. He didn’t have time to go back home and get his equipment or have someone bring it to him as the game was already almost an hour beyond the starting time and the crowd was getting restless.
So he borrowed a whistle from me and borrowed Dave Ames’ shirt, pants and shoes. However, because he was a bit bigger than Ames, he was in an even tighter situation than having to ref the game with me. The shirt, pants and shoes were all too small, but he put them on anyway.
The first half went pretty smooth and BU had a slight lead at halftime. But at halftime we did have a problem. The other official had split the seat out of Ames’ pants and had blisters on his feet because of the size of his feet in the smaller shoes, two sizes too small. So I gave him a black T-shirt which he put under his pants to hide the split and then he put on his street shoes to take care of the foot problem.
In the second half the game got real nip and tuck with neither team getting a very big lead. The “Pit” was rocking so loud that the players could hardly hear the whistles, and a couple of times they just kept on playing after we had blown our whistles as hard as we could.
The game went right down to the final minute with Maine winning by a couple of points.
After the game Haskell told me that Pitino wanted to talk to me. He was very gracious in defeat after a very tough loss in a very tough situation. He told me, “I should have taken your suggestion.” I replied what suggestion was that? He jokingly said, “Your suggestion to play the game tomorrow at high noon.”
It was ironic that on last Tuesday, my BDN “Off the Rim” column was attached (literally connected) on the first page of the sports section to the very article about the Maine coaches’ connection to Pitino.
Even more ironic was on the fourth sports page of the continuation of both articles, Pitino’s name was above his column and mine was above my column, and his column was directly above my column and attached literally again to my article.
Now that was a real different Maine basketball connection to Pitino, both figuratively and literally speaking.