INDIANAPOLIS — The way John Adams sees it every time he watches a Purdue men’s basketball game, and the way he says it bluntly, without hesitation, is this: “Zach Edey gets his ass kicked.”
But the former NCAA men’s basketball officiating national coordinator goes on to say, “At 7-4, over 300 pounds, guys just jump off him.”
And that is where the seemingly insoluble enigma lies for the officials who whistle for or against the Herculean Edey.
“It’s what we call ‘art versus science,'” said Bo Boroski, who spent two decades as a Division I official before retiring in 2022 after three consecutive finals. Boroski made many judgments in court as Edey posted. And in making those calls, he kept two things in mind.
“Science. It’s the letter of the law. If you do it, then it happens, without further consideration,” Boroski said. “And the art. It’s feeling the game, understanding what has an impact. I’ve always tried to use both.”
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Like when a 5-11 guy hit Edey’s forearm as he came up for a monster dunk and hit the rim. Was this contact illegal or merely incidental?
There’s a fine line officials have to walk when it comes to true fives, true posters, true centers back to the basket. Edey is a dying breed in basketball, Adams said, and that’s a responsibility for him on the court.
“Edey is penalized,” he said, “for being one of the last true centers.”
‘It cannot be said against Edey that he is 7-4’
Purdue coach Matt Painter seems to agree, although he turned down an interview with IndyStar for this story. In January, Painter spoke out after a Purdue victory over Maryland in which the team “used multiple players to get into the game to hit and hit the Boilermakers’ seven-foot center,” wrote the Journal & Courier.
“All flagrant throws, tackles, all that stuff, they should be called and they should be called always,” Painter said. “I think officials don’t want to call it out every time because in most scenarios people aren’t going to do it, but because (Edey) is such a difficult disguise, that’s what keeps happening.”
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The officials are the ones with the power, who decide whether that elbow or hook from an opponent on Edey rises to the level of illegal contact, especially when Edey uses his monstrous body to fight and make the basket.
“You can’t say Zach Edey is 7-4. If he makes illegal contact, it must be a foul,” Boroski said. “That said, you also have to factor in all the other variables that go into the decision-making process.”‘
And that’s where art comes in.
“These are huge human beings,” Boroski said. “There’s a proportional aspect to it, because if I pushed someone with a 5-8 as hard as I would push someone with a 7-4, it might not have a negative result or effect on the 7-4 person. That’s what we have to differentiate.”
Sometimes science says it was a miss. Sometimes art says no. And vice versa, depending on which side of the court the whistle is blowing.
“Unfortunately for people Zach’s size, they need a lot more contact than their teammates,” Boroski said. “Because it takes more contact to make an impact.”
With Edey, says former official JD Collins, “You have to look at, rather than the size of the players, ‘Do they gain an advantage?'”
“We look at the physical act that happens on the ground and determine if there was displacement,” said Collins, who has refereed for two decades, including two Final Fours, an Elite Eight and five Sweet Sixteens. “If you have two players 6 to 10 300-pound weights both pushing each other, the art of the game says ‘physically, there’s not necessarily a foul’.”
But when one player replaces another, the call can change.
“When you look at any really big man, sometimes they just move around the court because the person guarding them is smaller, they move too,” said Collins, who retired as the NCAA men’s basketball national coordinator in 2022. .” It doesn’t necessarily displace them in a physical way. It’s a very fine line determining what is a displacement versus gaining an advantage.
A fine line, especially, when it comes to Edey, the most monstrous college basketball star in the game.
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‘Zach gets Shaq treatment’
Edey declined an interview request for this story through a spokesperson who said, understandably, “we’re going to politely decline the story idea. Nothing good can come of us talking about umpires.”
Greg Oden, 7-0 and 284 pounds, stepped in to explain what it’s like to be Edey on the court.
“Being a great, you kind of think it’s unfair,” said Oden, a former Lawrence North High and Ohio State star and NBA player. “It’s weird always being so much bigger and more empowering and imposing. It seems like the kind of strength they can give you, if you give a fraction of that strength back, it’s not going to be good.”
Not good, a miss. And then, across the court, there’s the “daily beating,” Oden said.
“Zach gets Shaq treatment,” he said. “Everybody’s just hitting him the whole game and sometimes he probably doesn’t even feel it. But he’s probably in the training room getting a look in the back the next day.”
Oden, who is now Butler’s director of basketball operations, said he found ways to overcome his size while playing.
“I know NBA guys would just scream or wave their hands,” he said. “My thing was just trying to play. There’s no use complaining to the referees. Get past the contact, try to make the basket and if you commit a foul, that’s a bonus.”
Boroski said he agrees with Oden in most cases. But sometimes the bonus isn’t taking a free kick.
“If Zach turns to the basket and makes a little bit of contact that I don’t consider illegal, it wasn’t illegal and I let him put it in, I did him a favor,” Boroski said. “I could have reported it, waved it off and who did I really penalize? I penalized Purdue and Zach Edey.”
Whether the whistle blows or not, Edey made it clear in January after the Maryland game what he believes is happening on the court. “I get fouled every possession,” he said.
“I think a lot of people know that. They’re going to put both hands on my back. They’re going to put a knee on my ass. Those are just fouls. They put their whole body weight on me. That’s a foul,” Edey said. . “I’m strong enough, I can handle it. They can’t take a foul on every possession, so that’s something I have to deal with.”
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‘No one knows how to deal with it’
Edey shouldn’t have to “just deal with it,” Adams said. “Oficiating the true postgame is the most inconsistent part of the game (NCAA men’s college basketball).”
People ask Adams all the time for his opinion on Edey’s refereeing.
“Here’s what I tell people. I was on the road four games a week, 17 or 18 weeks for seven years (as an official NCAA coordinator),” he said. “I’ve been to every game, I’ve sat under the basket and I don’t know what’s a foul and what’s not in the low block. I think it changes every minute, not every game.”
The real problem is how few college teams have real fives back in the basket. “Almost no team does. Purdue does,” Adams said. “Nobody knows how to handle it.”
As the Big Ten Tournament unfolds this week – followed by the NCAA Tournament – many players, fans and coaches will complain about the officiating, including the calls for or against Edey.
But Collins has a stat he wishes those people would hear: In 67 NCAA Tournament games in 2022, officials hit 96.02% of the time when blowing the whistle, he said. When calls are added that should have been called, referees were successful 93% of the time.
“I don’t know about you, but I’d be happy to be right about anything 93% of the time,” Collins said. “And people yell at us like we’re 50-50.”
Adams says the best skill an official can have when refereeing big men like Edey is consistency.
“A miss is a miss,” he said. “If you’re calling that foul one minute late, you’re calling that minute short. Otherwise, every time the official tries to play God, they don’t do very well.”
Follow IndyStar sportswriter Dana Benbow on Twitter: @Dana Benbow. Contact her via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared in Indianapolis Star: Purdue’s Zach Edey: How NCAA Officials Call Fouls (or Not) on Big Men