The Kemba Walker shot is well-known among UConn basketball fans of a certain age, if not all ages.
They’ve had plenty of chances to experience Walker’s step-back jumper and hear Dave Pasch’s “Cardiac Kemba!” call the ESPN broadcast, even if they weren’t in Madison Square Garden or watching on TV a decade ago.
Walker’s performance is as stunning as any of the program’s dramatic winning strokes, which include Tate George in 1990, Ray Allen in 1996, and Richard Hamilton in 1998.
What if it didn’t matter?
What if, when Walker moved back to shoot after crossing over Gary McGhee, sending the Pitt big man to fall to the floor, an official blew his whistle to signal travel?
If the play had happened this season, it would have been labeled travel, according to John Cahill, who was refereeing the game a decade ago and is now the Big East’s supervisor of officials.
Fans of UConn, though, need not be concerned. They can’t undo Walker’s jumper’s start to a five-game winning streak in New York, or the six extra wins in the NCAA Tournament that earned the school its third national title.
However, in college basketball this season, the step-back move, which James Harden has practically mastered in the NBA, will not be considered travel. It’s one of a few key themes the NCAA is emphasizing to its officials for the next season.
“There’s going to be a trend toward not calling it a journey.” “The Euro-step is the same thing, and the spin movements in the post are the same thing,” Cahill remarked at the Big East Media Day this week. “As a result, there will be less travels called on those sorts of plays.”
Cahill recalls Walker’s heroics, which led UConn to a 76-74 victory over the top-seeded Panthers on a March afternoon.
“I recall him hitting a step-back jumper against Pittsburgh.” That was a game in which I participated. “That set them on their way to the Final Four,” Cahill explained. “By today’s standards, that would have been a trip.” We’re not going to call those plays travels, thank goodness. It’s just too thrilling a play for the youngsters to be taken away from.”
That isn’t to imply that no traveling will be called in college basketball this season.
“Guys on the perimeter who are going to start dribbling will be scrutinized more closely to determine if they brought up their pivot foot before releasing the ball. And with pivot guys rotating pivot feet in the post,” Cahill explained.
The penalty for players flopping is another focus for officials this season, according to Cahill.
“The NCAA has expressed a desire to have our official stress flopping,” Cahill added. “That usually happens with perimeter jump shooters who fall down without making contact, as well as individuals who are dribbling the ball closely defended and have the head snap, and on block/charge plays when the defender goes down without making contact.”
The office will issue a warning the first time a player flips. The second occurrence will result in a Class B technical foul, which will not count as a personal foul for the player but will result in one free throw for the other side.
Cahill’s work is no longer the same as it once was. College basketball coaches, on the other hand, still rage at him when they criticize a call made in one of their games.
“I can tell when a coach is going to whine. I adopt a different approach. Cahill explained, “I reach out to them before they have a chance to hit me.” “Now it’s a new type of whining. It’s more of a debate at this point. And the intensity of feeling isn’t as high as it was throughout the game.”
Though there was a virtual break in the 2020-21 season due to a paucity of supporters in most venues, it appears that officials are experiencing more vitriol and hostility from fans these days. Cahill emphasizes the job’s difficulties and requests that onlookers remember them.
“It’s a difficult job to be a referee. As coordinators or fans, we have the option of pressing the replay button or rewinding the game,” Cahill remarked. “This is a split-second choice that is frequently made while on the go. And you might not be in the best position. As an official, you must trust your instincts. You’ll get yourself into problems if you start thinking about plays. You must have faith in your own judgment.”
Former UConn coach Jim Calhoun clearly questioned the decision several times throughout his tenure with the Huskies. When this is brought up, Cahill chuckles and agrees, but claims that the majority of his contacts with Calhoun were pleasant.
Working a game with the usually volatile Calhoun on the sidelines was “a love-hate relationship,” Cahill recalled. “Throughout Jim’s career, I had the wonderful pleasure of working a number of games for him. I began working with him while he was a freshman at Northeastern and I was attempting to get into Division I. And when they beat Butler in the championship game in Texas, I was there to work it.
“We had a lot of interaction, and he’s still a wonderful friend and comrade.”
Of course, if Cahill had phoned Kemba Walker for travel, the bond may have been damaged.