rough" would come back to haunt Ballesteros. Having attained a full Division I
schedule by his mid-thirties, which is remarkable speed by any rate, Ballesteros was
due for a fall, or at least one of those setbacks. All officials have them, and even
speak with pride of "getting their noses
bloodied" along the way to learning that
there is far more to this gig than knowing
the rulebook and casebook by rote.
Ballesteros' setback was the virtue that
got him to the university level — intensity.
"It definitely slowed me down," Ballesteros said. "I was so intense about everything that I would get people angry with
me. Coaches would tell Frank they couldn't
trust me in a big game, and that hurt.
"I remember Frank gave me some tapes
and told me to watch them, and I did —
eight hours of tape. What I saw was me
jumping around a lot to the point where it
was almost disconcerting. I knew right then
and there that I needed to slow myself down
a little. You know, still work as hard as I
know how, but not be so intense about everything."
That adjustment came about five years
ago by his reckoning, just in time for him to
be hit with another — three-man crews.
"I'll tell you right now," he said, almost
defiantly, "I was the worst three-man official ever — the world's worst. I'd get to the
center position and I would call stuff out of
my area, taking calls from guys, all sorts of
things. It was hard for me to give up a part
of my ego to another guy. I was sure Frank
was going to fire me after the second year
I realized that I had to be objective about
my career. I was having trouble at it, and I
had to get better. I had to let my ego go.
Sometimes you'll be at the center position
and you'll go six or seven minutes without a
call. It's hard to keep your perspective then,
it's like you're not even out there. So what I
had to do was decide that when the calls
weren't coming to me, I'd become the best
game administrator in the world. I'd make
sure the substitutes came in when they
should, the benches were in order, have the
right shooter on the line for him, make sure
the table was running smoothly, whatever I
needed to stay sharp for when the calls
started coming to me.
"That's when you realize how much is
involved in becoming a good official. A lot
of guys can blow the whistle, but there's a
lot more to it than just making the right
call. You've got to be aware of the players
and coaches, and you've got to be a good
official for your partner when he's making
The last couple of seasons, then, have
been the payoff for all those grammar
school games, Sundays away from home,
doubts and struggles for Ballesteros. He
worked the North Carolina-Arizona West
regional final in 1988 and came within fractions of a point on the observers' rating system of being selected to work the Final
Four that year. He is now a lead official in
the widest sense of the word, a very recognizable fellow indeed.
"I remember the first time I was at Arizona State this year," he said with a smile.
"(Head coach) Bill Frieder is talking with
George McQuarn (an Arizona State assis
tant and former head coach at Fullerton
State) and pointing at me. Well, I come
over and I ask George, 'What's the deal?
We haven't even started, and you guys are
mad at me already?' He says, 'No, no, Richie, honest. Bill was just asking me about
you, and I told him you were all right.' That
made me feel good."
That is because a coach saying, "You're
all right" to an official is the equivalent of
saying, "Let's go to the Bahamas" to your
wife. It is one of the few tangible ways of
measuring an official's image and level of
accomplishment. It is almost as good as a
night off in January with the family. Q
By becoming a top-notch "administrator" on the court, Ballesteros has Increased his level of
competency to greater heights.