‘Fly’ Valentine Comes To Huggins’ Parlour
Not since Mary Howitt opened her famed 1828 poem “The Spider and the Fly” with this oft-quoted line — “’Will you walk into my parlour?’ said the Spider to the Fly” — has such an invitation been offered.
Here was basketball coach Bob Huggins, in what seemed to be a most spiderly gesture, offering flamboyant basketball official Ted Valentine the opportunity to walk into his basketball facility on the West Virginia campus and down his curved staircase to take part in his annual basketball Fantasy Camp.
Indeed, Huggins and officials all too often get along like Ms. Howitt’s literary Spider and Fly in real life, and the only fantasy this could register was Valentine, come dinner time, asking Huggins what was on the menu to eat and Huggins answering simply, “You.”
But this was different, for Huggins’ relationship with Valentine is different than it is with most men who wear striped shirts with whistles dangling around their neck going up and down a basketball court making calls that Huggins seldom — if ever — agrees with.
See, Valentine is a West Virginian himself, proudly out of Moundsville, John Marshall High, and Glenville State, and Huggins actually finds him to be entertaining and honest … qualities they both share.
Consider Valentine’s resume.
He’s known as “TV Teddy” for his showboating.
This year he celebrates the 20th anniversary of a high-profile argument with Hall of Fame coach Bob Knight after ejecting him from a 1998 game and four years ago he put his face eyeball to eyeball with Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin.
Now 60, Valentine last year found more trouble in the Florida State victory over North Carolina when he turned his back on Tar Heels star Joel Berry II when he went to argue a call he felt Valentine missed.
The Big Ten yanked him off two games and Valentine, who’s been good enough to officiate 10 Final Fours and four NCAA Finals, to say nothing of West Virginia’s Elite Eight victory over Kentucky that carried them into the Final Four of 2010 before losing to Duke.
“Teddy’s just a little bit controversial,” Huggins said. “But he’s a West Virginia guy, and he and I have always had a great relationship.”
Of course, Huggins is careful not to confuse anyone into thinking that he has such a relationship with officials in general.
“I didn’t say officials,” Huggins said this weekend. “I said Teddy. Let’s get that clear.”
The availability of any official, let alone the one official almost anyone would want to talk with, could not be passed up, especially as you wondered at 60, having been embroiled in yet another controversy last year and having hinted he was pondering retirement, if he would be officiating this next season.
“Oh, yes, sir,” he answered. “Yes, sir.”
Given time to think about things after hinting that he might retire, he is eager to get back out there again, knowing that he is now working in a different arena than in the old days.
“Society has changed,” Valentine noted. “This is something I have been doing for 38 years. Sometimes I avoid things and sometimes with the world of social media — they put stop clocks on this and I only turned my back for 2.8 seconds.”
Long enough for it to be blown into a full-scale snub of a player’s complaint about a foul that wasn’t called.
“I was turning my back on something I didn’t know anything about and it’s unfortunate that’s the world we live in. I have to adapt, but it’s something I’ve done my whole career to avoid something I don’t want to get involved in.”
This time it went global.
Valentine understands that there are those who will be critical. In fact, he even understands where Huggins was coming from the other day when he said it was “unfair” to ask 60-year-old men as referees to go out there and keep up with 20-year-old kids on the court.
“I’m 60 myself,” Valentine said. “No one trains like I train. It’s a young man’s game. We get older as officials, but the players’ ages remain the same. We have to condition our body and our minds to keep up with them.
“I find I have to find more time year round to do that. I can’t just throw it down, go fishing and play golf. Officiating basketball is like coaching … it’s a 12-month-a-year gig,” he continued. “This is all I do. This is my livelihood. This how I live. I have to take it serious. Everything I do when I step out on the floor can affect someone’s career or their job.”
He has gone from an era of two officials to three, into the era of replay and of social media, things that are made to make officials look bad.
He is not against replay but he thinks it should be limited.
“I think replay is good to a certain point,” Valentine said. “I’m not being critical but you shouldn’t be able to go back and re-referee the play. There’s going to be a little bit of human element involved. Sometimes you have to live with the mistake.
“We should be able to review out of bounds, most critical calls, and because most games are decided not at two minutes, but most at the four- or five-minute mark. In my opinion, replay has to be increased from that five-minute point on down.”
In the end, though, he believes they should let them play and let the game flow.
He thinks there should be a time limit. “After it’s up, if you can’t decide, you should live with the call,” he said. “Coaches can only talk for so long to their team there and the players are ready to go out and play.”
This, of course, wasn’t really what Huggins brought him to Morgantown to do. He was to entertain his Fantasy Camp guests with tales of officiating before Bobby Knight and Huggins and Rick Pitino and dealing with Dick Vitale when he made a call against Duke.
“You always sit around and try to figure out, ‘What can we do different?’” Huggins said. “These guys pay good money to come here, but we’d kind of gone through the gamut of guys.”
Guys like Jerry West and Hot Rod Hundley and Rod Thorn and Mike Gansey and all the rest.
Then he thought about what Valentine could add. He called.
“He was all in,” Huggins said, having lured his “Fly” into his “parlour.”