As G League opens sea­son, many fe­male ref­er­ees get­ting the call

Women make up nearly one-third of of­fi­ci­at­ing staff.

Austin American-Statesman Sunday - - SPORTS - By Tim Reynolds

The G League sea­son opened Friday night, and there was some­one on the court in places like Grand Rapids or Greens­boro or Des Moines whose next job will be in the NBA.

That isn’t lim­ited to play­ers. Or to men.

Nearly one-third of the ref­er­ees in the G League this sea­son are women, and some — like dozens of play­ers, coaches, front-of­fice staff and refs — are mov­ing closer to re­al­iz­ing NBA hopes. Ev­ery ref­eree hired by the NBA in the last 15 years has some ex­pe­ri­ence in what’s now called the G League, which means it’s a prov­ing ground for both those who are mak­ing plays and mak­ing calls.

“It was my ex­pe­ri­ence that as my skill set deep­ened, so did my re­solve to work at the high­est level,” said Lau­ren Holtkamp, the NBA’s third full-time fe­male ref­eree and some­one who spent six sea­sons in what was called the NBA Devel­op­ment League be­fore it was re­branded ear­lier this year. “The train­ing fu­eled the de­sire.”

That’s the same sort of sen­ti­ment play­ers in the G League have.

Ev­ery NBA team opened this sea­son with a G League alum on its ros­ter, some with many of them. The NBA says 38 per­cent of its play­ers right now have at least some G League ex­pe­ri­ence, and that num­ber has been ris­ing rapidly in re­cent years. In 200405, there were 15 G League graduates start­ing the sea­son in the NBA; this sea­son, there were 167.

Detroit, At­lanta, Toronto, Chicago and Mi­ami com­bined to have 48 G League alums on their ros­ters — more than the en­tire NBA had a decade ago.

“I ab­so­lutely think all are re­ally re­al­iz­ing the high level of tal­ent, the high level of com­pe­ti­tion that we have in the league,” G League Pres­i­dent Mal­colm Turner said. “We are a league of op­por­tu­nity and a league of as­pi­ra­tion. We can be a launch pad to help NBA dreams come true, whether you’re a player, coach, ref­eree, on down the line and that’s re­flected in the style of play that you see. Our guys get af­ter it, night in and night out.”

The league is now up to a record 26 teams, in­clud­ing a Hawks team launched this year in Erie, Pa., be­fore re­lo­cat­ing to Col­lege Park for the 2019-20 sea­son. A 27th team is com­ing next sea­son and Turner hasn’t ruled out the chance that the league’s goal — 30 teams, all sin­gle-af­fil­i­ated with an NBA club — could be­come re­al­ity within a year or two at the most. It’s also the first sea­son with two-way con­tract op­por­tu­ni­ties for play­ers, who can spend up to 45 days in the NBA on those more-lu­cra­tive deals while con­tin­u­ing to de­velop in the G League.

The G League will also again be a lab­o­ra­tory of sorts for the NBA. To start this sea­son, the G League is us­ing four-per­son ref­er­ee­ing crews in­stead of three, plus will be of­fer­ing a coach’s chal­lenge and a two-minute over­time. As has been the case with other ex­per­i­ments, the NBA will study what hap­pens and see if re­sults sug­gest it could help their game.

But when it comes to the fe­male ref­er­ees, that’s no ex­per­i­ment. Many worked sum­mer league games this year, and Holtkamp — the only wo­man work­ing NBA games as an of­fi­cial right now — is look­ing for­ward to the day when fe­male refs might no longer be viewed as a nov­elty.

“I’m in­vig­o­rated know­ing there are tal­ented and de­ter­mined women in the de­vel­op­men­tal pro­gram who have ac­cess to the best train­ing in the world,” Holtkamp said. “I be­lieve in their abil­ity to do this work.”

PHELAN M. EBENHACK / AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Lau­ren Holtkamp — the NBA’s third full-time fe­male ref­eree and a G League grad­u­ate — says she is look­ing for­ward to the day when fe­male ref­er­ees might no longer be viewed as a nov­elty.

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