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  This Weekend, Do Yourself A Favor – Learn The Rules

As you get ready to head to the boys state basketball tournament this weekend, brush up on the rules to save yourself some embarrassment.

By: Paul Kingsbury
Published: 2/25/2019 9:06:07 AM


Follow Paul on Twitter: @idahosportspaul

Go back to Foot Locker!

It’s a whistle, not a pacifier!

Zebra, zebra short and stout, find your head and pull it out!

Hey Ref! Your mom called – you suck!

Are you the person in the stands that yells stuff like this? NEWSFLASH: No one likes you.

You might think you look like Katniss Everdeen, leading your side of the gym in a righteous rebellion against the evil cult of basketball officials (who obviously conspired before the game to screw your team out of a win). But to everyone else you look more like Carl Spackler yelling at a gopher. (Links provided for the readers who don’t watch good movies)

Studies have shown that yelling and screaming at officials makes you look and sound like an unhinged toddler throwing a temper tantrum in the cereal aisle at Wal-Mart because your mom would only buy Marshmallow Mateys and not real Lucky Charms. The only difference is that your mom was wrong and you were justified throwing that tantrum to get the real stuff. The officials are usually ALWAYS right and that just makes you look like an angry toddler who doesn’t know what they’re talking about.  

As you get ready to head to the boys state basketball tournament this weekend, it might be a good idea to brush up on a few of the rules for the game of basketball to save yourself some embarrassment. I am here to help you save yourself from yourself by going over some of the most commonly misunderstood rules of the game.

From when I started playing the game as a young kid on the asphalt on the “little kids” side of the playground at New Plymouth Elementary School, to the most recent boys varsity game I called as a broadcaster on, I have seen more than my fair share of basketball over the years. I’ve been fortunate to make a lot of really good friends during that time, and several of them have been high school basketball officials. In addition to my own personal experiences and research, I picked the brains of a few officials to find out what calls the “refs in the stands” get wrong the most. Enjoy (and learn).

Over The Back
No matter how loud you yell “OVER THE BACK” it won’t make it appear anywhere in the official rule book. If you are “that” person in the stands that yells ”OVER THE BACK!” stop. Just stop. You are embarrassing yourself.  As long as little Johnny wasn’t displaced by his opponent to gain an advantage, there won’t be a whistle. There is no rule against one player being taller or jumping higher than another player. If your little Johnny Allstar didn’t get the rebound don’t blame the taller kid that can jump higher. Remember, it’s all about “displacement”.

I’ll admit, during broadcasts I have said more than once, “Player A just got called for the reach.” The problem is, like “over the back”, the term “reaching” is nowhere to be found in any rulebook. There has to be contact to have a foul and just reaching in isn’t contact. If contact does occur, it’s either a holding foul or an illegal use of hands foul. Don’t start yelling “REACHING!” when a player makes a play for the ball and the whistle doesn’t blow.

Have you ever yelled "He wasn't set!" to a referee after a charge was called? Sure you have. I’ll admit I may have quietly uttered these words under my breath once or twice. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as “wasn’t set”. A defensive player does not have to remain stationary to take a charge. All a defender has to do is establish “legal guarding position” by having two feet on the floor facing their opponent. Once this happens, the only thing they can’t do is advance into an airborne shooter. Everything else is legal and contact responsibility is on the offense, which means they can’t run through someone once legal guarding position is established. A defender can turn away, move sideways/backwards (obliquely), duck, dodge or dip to absorb contact and still draw a charge on the offense. Even if one or both feet is off the floor when contact occurs.

Three Seconds In The Key
“THAT’S THREE IN THE KEEEEY!” Admit it, you just heard a voice in your head of someone you know saying it exactly like that. Theoretically, a player can spend 12+ seconds camped out in the key without being in violation of any rules. Johnny can post up for three seconds, receive a pass and pivot towards the basketball for another three seconds. Then he can put the ball on the floor and dribble towards the hoop for a layup for another three seconds. If the shot is missed, Johnny can block out to get a rebound for another three seconds. As an added bonus (just to throw you off) the three-second count is negated until possession is obtained by the offensive team if it is knocked away or a shot is missed.

The ball’s loose. Johnny dives for it and slides 10 feet. One half of the gym explodes with moms and dads looking they are busting out dance moves from the 70’s screaming, “TRAVELING!!” The other half looks like they just got away with it and sit there smiling saying, “Thanks for the make up call!” Both sides are wrong. Johnny can slide from one end of the court to the other while holding the ball until his momentum stops and it isn’t a travel. Once Johnny stops sliding, however, he can’t try to get up or roll over. He can pass, shoot or call a timeout but if he tries to get up, roll from side to side or do the funky chicken, the whistle will blow and a travel will be called.

There is no such thing as, “You get a step and a half”. Once a player has established a pivot foot it can be lifted from the floor legally to continue or finish a move but can never be returned to the floor even if in the exact same spot it came from without the player first passing or shooting. Just because the player has long legs and takes big steps, doesn’t mean that great step-through was a travel.

At 5-foot-8, this is one thing I never really had to try and avoid getting called on me. Goaltending is defined as, “a violation in which a defensive player interferes with a shot when it is on its downward arc or is on or over the rim.” Slapping the backboard during a valid attempt to block a shot isn’t goaltending. If a player slaps the backboard really hard to bring attention to himself or to obviously disrupt the shooter a technical can be assessed. 

A player can also legally pin the ball against the backboard as long as the shot is still on its way up and not in “the cylinder”.

The hand really is part of the ball
Even if you can hear the slap all the way up in the stands, if the offensive player’s hand is in contact with the ball when the defense makes a legitimate play on the ball, it isn’t a foul. The offensive player can be holding the ball, passing, dribbling - even shooting. Hitting a player’s hand if it is in contact with the ball isn’t a foul, even if the offensive player comes away with a hand print on the back of his hand.

Air Ball
A player can shoot an air ball and retrieve it without it being a traveling violation as long as the official deems it was a legitimate shot attempt. The player can even start a new dribble at that point.

Since I know a few officials will be reading this, I do have one tiny little favor to respectfully ask. If you have watched/listened to very many games I have called over the years you will know that a big pet peeve of mine is a quick jump ball call. For instance, Player One has the ball and Player Two reaches in to steal the ball. Immediately the whistle blows and a jump ball is called. A “held ball” occurs when “one or more players of each opposing team have one or both hands FIRMLY on the ball so that neither team can gain control without undue roughness.” Just sayin’…..

In the end, refs don’t make calls that decide who wins or who loses. The team that puts the ball in the hoop more often than the other team tends to win. The players on the court (and sometimes the coaches on the sidelines) commit the fouls and violate the rules. The officials are there to call the fouls and rules violations and then apply the required penalties. These are trained professionals doing what they love doing. The refs are usually the only unbiased people in the gym. Are fouls sometimes missed? Sure they are. Was the ball tipped out by the “other “ team, but it was called out on “your” team? Sure it was. And it will happen again, but next time maybe it will be the other way around. A game refereed by humans will never be 100 percent perfect. However, imagine a world where games can’t even be played because no one is willing to step up and ref them.

The bottom line is this: Don’t be the jerk in the stands embarrassing yourself, your family, your school and your entire town this weekend at the state tournament. Instead of worrying about the three refs doing their jobs the best way they know how, focus your attention on the five guys on the floor that you have watched play together since they were eight years old. Enjoy the state tournament this weekend and soak in the memories. If you do it right, you will be hoarse by the time it is over because you were yelling and screaming for your team and not at the officials.

Do you know of other basketball rules that fans tend to get wrong? Post them in the comments below!

For additional reading on high school basketball rules, click here.



Fan Comments Sign In | Register
2/25/2019 9:20:44 AM
Thank you!
I appreciate your opinions. Thank you for sharing! However, I hear varsity coaches yell these same "phrases."
2/25/2019 10:22:33 AM
RE: Thank you!
Big thank you! Paul! This was a well written and researched piece! To gblake: Yep, you're write. There are too many varsity coaches unaware of the rules. It's sad that so few actually show up to their state rules meetings. Many send an AD or an assistant to avoid going.
lumberjack fan
2/25/2019 10:36:27 AM
Thanks for sharing. I do know some of these rules but sometimes in the heat of the game, well lets just say my knowledge goes out the door. And a big thanks for the don't be too quick with the whistle for the jump ball comment.....Should be a great week of basketball. Good luck to all the teams and refs!
2/25/2019 12:50:04 PM
I think at some point in time we have all been guilty of all of the above. I have enjoyed the tournament a lot more since I have just been there to watch and not be actively cheering for a specific team......did I really used to sound like the fans around me.....sorry to say but yes I did.
2/25/2019 3:22:18 PM
Fans at state will now be hollering DISPLACEMENT at officials and it is all Pual's fault. ;) I agree with the quick whistle on a held ball. This was especially evident in the girl's tourney this year. Not sure why there is a shortage of officials, there are plenty of them in the stands. I do not see a net improvement in officiating with three officials. Maybe to alleviate the shortage we should go back to two.
2/25/2019 7:00:37 PM
Sometimes people forget that there is no 5 second count in the offense's backcourt and that the 3 second count can't start until the ball is in the front court. I would add too that just because it looks really ugly doesn't mean there is a violation or foul. Sometimes a fumbled ball or interrupted dribble can cause what appears to be a travel or double dribble or foul but not actually be a violation or foul. Here's one I got yelled at about this control continues on an interrupted dribble or pass and with team control the team can call for and be granted a timeout.
2/25/2019 7:35:48 PM
Sometimes people forget that there is no 5 second count in the offense's backcourt and that the 3 second count can't start until the ball is in the front court. I would add too that just because it looks really ugly doesn't mean there is a violation or foul. Sometimes a fumbled ball or interrupted dribble can cause what appears to be a travel or double dribble or foul but not actually be a violation or foul. Here's one I got yelled at about this control continues on an interrupted dribble or pass and with team control the team can call for and be granted a timeout.
2/26/2019 10:17:45 AM
And I'll be there to point out these rules
To the refs as they miss them time and time again costing kids remember able moments of glory replaced with dreaded endings by missed calls and blown ones. I honestly stopped reading after the second paragraph when you said the refs are usually always right. Yah, not true in the nba for sure. Not true in high school either here. It's the hardest job to ref basketball but also the most corrupt reffing happens in this good game. I think the majority of fans know the rules. Most refs just don't do their job right and held accountable. My friend was and he was fired and didn't work for that company again after a repeated mistake. The nba is set in its ways. Don't ruin the only real version of basketball left in high school at state. Get the best officials and do your job. When you don't, we all keep them accountable. Remember the titans. You think this game is fair, I'll go to the papers ref etc. Another quality movie. It happens. Don't lie and say it doesn't ever.
2/26/2019 11:19:35 AM
Hey ttg1 if your the guy,
Who was refereeing at a smaller local school here in the valley, the call your talking about where the team lost possession and a steal and lap up was bound to happen but a time out was granted after the steal action by yourself, I have video evidence that you are indeed wrong sir. The fact that you think you made the right call is the issue fans get upset with. Honestly most fans don't care until refs start getting arrogant and mistaken consistently and reinforcing it. If this wasn't you, then Nevermind. Have a good day sir and season. We always need quality refs. But call what you see not what you assume. That is all.
2/26/2019 11:52:09 AM
That description doesn't fit my situation at all so I'm thinking that you're thinking of someone else somewhere else. What valley are you referring to? There's a few of them around the state. And I wouldn't call this school site a smaller school. But it sounds like you're giving officials a little too much credit to the officials for their impact on the game. Come check it for yourself!
2/26/2019 11:09:55 PM
While I normally defend my fellow referees...I have to call you out on this one ttg1. Maybe I misunderstood, but are you saying that a time out can be granted while there is a loose ball because team control hasn't been lost? If so, that is incorrect. While you are right that team control is not lost during an interrupted dribble, in order to grant a time-out there has to be PLAYER control, not just TEAM control. Rule 5-8 art.3a--A request for time out shall only be granted when the ball is at the disposal or in control of a PLAYER of his/her team, or when the ball becomes dead. Team control does not equal player control

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