The players are just one part of the basketball community who greatly benefit from the elite standard at this weekend’s Medibank National Junior Classic.
Refereeing the highest-calibre players – from the Melb Utd. Victorian Junior Basketball League (MUVJBL) and around the country – is an opportunity no serious junior-level referee should pass up.
If you want to move up the ranks and become a sought-after referee… it’s an event you can’t afford to pass up.
The referees learn just as much and flourish in the same ways after a weekend of high-tempo officiating for some of the best junior players in Australia.
One of those referees is Jessica Baker, who has been a mainstay at the Classic for the last five years. The Mill Park referee has been running the sidelines since she was 14 and remains as passionate about the profession as ever.
“I actually started refereeing with my mum as something to do – and then it became a little bit of a competition between us to see who could get their stripes first and I managed to get them before she did,” Baker said. “I met my husband through basketball so it’s definitely a way of life.
“When we met, he was doing Junior Panel and he said I should pursue it and that really sparked the love for that – then I went to his Big V games on his first year and as soon as I got onto Junior Panel and Big V it was just a natural progression and I loved every second of it.
“Probably taken me about seven years to get to where I am at the moment – a lot longer than most jobs I’ve had – so I’d classify this as a second career.”
The next step in her refereeing was to look towards the Medibank National Junior Classic – a proving ground for Australia’s next generation of players and referees. Baker has excelled in her time at the Classic as she looks towards finishing on a high note with another gold medal match under her belt.
“This is my fifth year at the Classic and I went to under-18s last year, got a gold medal women’s, and my aim this year is to do that for the men’s – but if it happens it happens and if it doesn’t then it doesn’t,” Baker said. “Under 16s before that was a medal in that as well and under 12 and under 14s in the years before that I got medals as well – so I’ve had a pretty good run so far and I’ve enjoyed every second of it.
“For me it’s always been something you do – when you’re reffing Junior Panel, it’s a commitment that you make that if you ref that, you ref the Classic.
“Some people don’t get a chance to, because of outside commitments, but if you want to take your refereeing seriously, it’s something you do in your junior career and it’s definitely something that’s worth doing.
“You don’t get an opportunity throughout the regular season to get the level of coaching you get at the Classic and to get the amount of coaching you get.
“If you want to take refereeing seriously, it’s something you can’t pass up.
“Because as well you’ve got some of the best teams coming in and doing it, you don’t get the calibre on a standard Friday night.
“You’ve got clubs coming from across the country and you’re dealing with new players and coaches you haven’t seen before and different refs as well and it’s great to network.”
It may not seem like it from the stands, but the referees are out there for the same reasons as the players – just on the other side of the whistle. The love of the game guides their actions and Baker believes as long as your refereeing is led by passion, you’ll be an asset to the basketball community.
“If you stop enjoying it, that’s when I think your craft begins to get let down – so as long as you’re enjoying it, just do it as long as that,” Baker said. “I was told in my refereeing class when I was first starting way, way back when and Stan Kirkham was our adviser at the time, and he said ‘if you’re doing it for the money, go to McDonald’s, because you’ll earn more there’.
“It was something like $6.50 a game and once you got your C Grade it was $8 a game so it wasn’t worth doing it unless you love it and that’s something I’ve always taken away from it.
“I think it’s really important to enjoy what you do in life as well and I don’t see myself stopping any time soon.”
As she bids farewell to the Classic, Baker has set her sights on oftier ambitions to keep her refereeing at the highest levels. A FIBA badge is the dream, but in the mean time she wants to push her senior refereeing to the next level.
“Long term, I have ambitions to get my FIBA badge and doing international tournaments, but short term I’m working on my Big V stuff at the moment and the step after Big V is SEABL,” Baker said. “That’s my next level that I want to get to, but to get to that I have to focus on what I’m doing at the moment and getting my craft to a point where I’ll be at that level to be comfortable on those games.”
She’s already had a taste of national tier competition as a four-time referee at the Basketball Australia National Junior Championships. She’s earned herself three gold medal matches already in that time and even managed to secure a bronze medal match at the recently held under-18 championships in Townsville despite being selected as an emergency.
I’ve medalled at every single one, so I’ve had a really successful time at nationals at the moment and went away to 18s as an emergency so to even be considered for medal games I was ecstatic,” Baker said. “I got a phone call a week or two before nationals to go to Townsville… and there was no way I would say no.
“It’s part of the progression to do Junior Panel, go to the Classic, get identified at the Classic and selections or nationals can be via Classic, Junior Panel or the TOC and to get that opportunity to go gives you that ability to really shine and the calibre of players and ref coaches at nationals is far beyond anything.
“It’s definitely an honour and you go away to a nationals and think ‘I’d love to do a gold medal match’ and the first time you go away you think about all of that… but as you go through the week you realise you’re there with a fantastic group of people and that anything can happen.
“I have people that I’ve gone to the last four nationals with – there’s a group of four of us and we went to 18s together and took a photo together at the end because there’s that bond you make.
“Even if you’re just meeting someone for the first time or if it’s your fourth year in a row, you’re going away with these people and those are friendships for life.”
It’s amazing how far an opportunity can take you and the Medibank National Junior Classic provides everyone who enters the arena a chance to shine and progress. Who knows where a small chance could take your game.
REFEREE TIPS FOR THE MEDIBANK NATIONAL JUNIOR CLASSIC
FITNESS – You’ve got to think of yourself not just as a referee but as an athlete. You’ve got to be as fit, if not fitter, than the players so you can keep ahead of the game.
LIVE HEALTHILY, SLEEP OFTEN – You’ll find you burn yourself out faster if you’re not taking care of yourself physically, watching what you eat, hydrating and sleeping properly.
BE AWARE OF YOUR FOCUS – Identifying when you’re losing focus is the most important. When I know I’m losing focus I commentate the game. “Red 5 is running the ball” or “this person is taking a shot” so you can anticipate what happens. Others like to be active with proactive voice and will start talking more and that helps them get back in.
REFEREES ARE A TEAM TOO – You’re all on the same team. You’re all there for the same thing, for the same goal – to referee basketball. It’s important that you control what you can control, I can’t worry about how someone else will ref, so I have to focus on how I ref. Work on yourself, don’t worry about too much about things you can’t control, as it will bring you down.
LISTEN, ENGAGE, LEARN – You might not agree with everything you’re told, but if it’s something you’ve heard before it’s something you should take on board. If it’s something new and left of centre, just put it in your back pocket and then if you start to hear it start actually doing it. But it’s important to absorb all the information given to you as you won’t receive this level of ref coaching often.
HAVE FUN – Don’t always take it too seriously. If you enjoy it, you’ll do well. If you take it too seriously then it sucks the love right out of refereeing.