Illini basketball

One Moment from Lahaina

Wanting some clicks, I waited a while to write about Maui. Now that Illinois has the week off, and you’re feeling happy about Samba Kane, I’m going to share a funny story about referees. It’s the story of a very bad missed call.

But first, some Samba porn.

Iowa State doesn’t spring to mind when Illini fans think about rivals.  Maybe they should. The very first memorable Maui moment came 30 seconds after I walked into the Lahaina Civic Center gym, right into George Conditt and Talen Horton-Tucker.

Brad Underwood wanted those guys. Steve Prohm got them.

Speaking of Prohm. I’ve always wondered what head coaches do before tip-off.  You never see them. The assistants drill the players in warm-ups, but the heads are always hidden behind closed doors, presumably Thinking Big Thoughts. It’s one of the nearly religious traditions of college basketball.

An hour before the Iowa State game, at the Sheraton Ka’anapali Resort, Steve Prohm perched on the edge of his deck chair, looking at his phone. Assistant Daniyal Robinson sat two chairs away. Neither seemed anxious. They weren’t reviewing game plans. Just chillin’.

Ed Corbett explains an out-of-bounds call to a thoroughly perplexed Ayo Dosunmo

Anyway, the bad call.

Ed Corbett is and/or was a college basketball referee. I have no particular opinions and/or grudge toward Ed Corbett.

The Koch Brothers are notorious industrialists. Everyone has opinions about them.

The Koch Brothers are not known to be Iowa State Cyclones fans, so I assume the guys in these photos are merely Koch cousins.  But the one on the left looks a lot like David and Charles.

These two angry loudmouths must have contributed tall dollars to the Cyclones program. Regular tickets to the Maui Invitational cost something like $700 apiece. Courtside seats are, one suspects, available only to people who’ve already invested at least a hundred times that amount in a given program. Illinois’ million dollar donor John Giuliani had a seat behind me, with the Chancellor Joneses.

With money comes privilege. These two knew they could get away with whatever they wanted. They were warned by referee Ed Corbett against doing what they wanted, but they persisted.

Ed Corbett warns the Koch Brothers they’ll get the heave-ho if they don’t shaddap

Their ire was not misplaced. The officiating crew, and Corbett in particular, were the only three people in the building who didn’t see Andres Feliz, a good four feet out-of-bounds, bat a loose ball back into play. The entire Cyclones fan base went ballistic, but the Koch cousins were close enough that the refs could hear the insults verbatim.

Honolulu photographer Michael Sullivan caught these images of the moment, and emailed them to me — thanks Michael!

Corbett is looking right at Feliz’s feet. How did he miss it? It’s really remarkable.

November 17, 2018 – during a game between the Illinois Fighting Illini and the Iowa State Cyclones at the Lahaina Civic Center in Lahaina, Maui, HI – Michael Sullivan/CSM

Courtesy of Michael Sullivan/Guava Press Media 

In the second photo, you see Feliz gets a toe inside the baseline after batting the ball, then quickly lands on his heel — still out-of-bounds.

Every single one of Iowa State’s 1,300 fans jumped up and yelled. The Koch Cousins must have laid it on thick, because Corbett warned them they’d be thrown out. 

They didn’t shut up.

Ed Corbett calls to an usher/security dude

Referee Paul Szelc, ostensibly the crew chief, took over from there.  

Specifically, Szelc told tournament chief Dave Odom “they don’t have to leave the building but they can’t stay there.”

They stayed there.

Paul Szelc said: “They don’t have to leave the building, but they can’t stay there.”

Odom, the one who coached Tim Duncan, visited with the pair and doled some southern charm upon them. His top security guy, an ex-New York cop type named George, also sweet-talked the pair.

Whatever they talked about, Odom seemed to enjoy it.

Odom was sitting immediately behind Michael Sullivan, just to my right. So he almost certainly saw the play, too.

In his decades of coaching, one can assume he’s seen some bad calls. Perhaps none as egregious as that one. And maybe that’s why he sided with the blowhards, and overruled the officiating crew.

After considerable Georgesplaining, the privileged white men were allowed to remain in their million dollar seats. 

George also splained to Szelc, who immediately folded, and amenably.  No one likes to be shown up, publicly. On the other hand, an expenses paid trip to paradise is a good gig. One assumes the stripes would like to return. These guys fly nearly every day during the season, so staying put for three days straight, with a view of the beach, is worth a certain amount of indignation.

Odom is not insensitive to the needs of his hired whistles. He mentioned to his wife that a couple of them had tight deadlines for travel back to the frozen mainland. He wanted to do the best for them. But he couldn’t uphold their ultimate ruling. He’d seen the play.

I witnessed those tight deadlines myself. Earl Walton, who called the Xavier game, was on my return flight. It departed at 10:10 pm that evening.  Eric Curry, who called the UNLV game in Champaign this Saturday, was on a flight that left slightly earlier, with the entire Cyclones team aboard.

I asked both of them how they would feel about being overruled in such a situation. “Well, not good” admitted Curry.  (He was wearing Golden Gophers gear, so he’s obviously not afraid to share his preferences when off-the-clock.)

Ed Corbett’s top Google hits include a story about a blown out-of-bounds call, and the story of his retirement (perhaps he should have).


Are you frustrated by holiday shopping?  Out of gift ideas for the Illini fan who has everything? Here’s my recommendation: The Friendly Orange Glow, by Brian Dear.

Out in the middle of that fruited Illinois plain there’s a place where a lot of the future we take for granted today got started, long ago. The town is Urbana, and the place is one of the largest universities in theUnited States: the University of Illinois at Urbana- Champaign. On UI’s campus there’s one particular building that is at the very heart of our story. Most of the events chronicled in the pages that follow took place in this particular building, or if they took place elsewhere (sometimes clear across the world), they did so only because of prior things that had taken place in this building. What went on in this building changed lives. It may have changed yours and you don’t even realize it

Brian Dear, The Friendly Orange Glow, Penguin Random House

If you lived in Champaign-Urbana in the 70s or 80s, you probably know someone in this book. Don Cohen and Jerry Glynn, from The Math Project, are in it.  Erstwhile Champaign County Board member Brendan McGinty appears as a computers-obsessed teenager. My Trademarks professor Peter Maggs and his son Bruce are there.

A funny vignette features  Leonard Nimoy visiting and being perplexed by the technology (and having regular-sized ears). There’s a history of the Boneyard Creek, and lots of juicy university politics (spoiler alert: administrators were idiots back then, too.)

If you have no relationship to technology, it’s still an engaging history of Champaign-Urbana. Reader friendly.

My favorite moment occurs in the upstairs spare bedroom at the house next door to my own.

Access was so important, sometimes PLATO users would go to extreme lengths to get it. Bob Rader, one of CERL’s senior systems staffers, had a PLATO terminal at home. “One time,” says Rader, “I came home, and found not my son, but a friend of his,” using the terminal. “And he was the only person in the house!”

Brian Dear, The Friendly Orange Glow, Penguin Random House

I’m four and seven years younger than the Rader kids, Alison and Stephen respectively, but they let me play on that PLATO terminal. The modem looked like this:

That’s all for today. If I get bored tomorrow, I’ll write about the most recent out-of-bounds mystery.

How did Aaron Jordan persuade Lewis Garrison to award this call to Illinois?

There’s no way he knocked the ball backward, right?