The WNBA, officially, got it right this time

Mohegan – Here is a truth we hold to be self-evident: We all know more about officiating basketball than the officials. Just listen to parents howling at high school games or the indignation throughout Mohegan Sun Arena when the Sun are playing.

Which is why we throw mad props and bon mots at the WNBA today. Not only has the longest running women’s professional sports league in the history of the world hired a magnificent mentor as its new Head of Referee Development, but has sent the great Monty McCutchen on tour recently to WNBA cities in the spirit of teaching and transparency.

Primer on McCutchen: A 25-year veteran of the NBA. He was a fixture in the finals, sort of like Magic and Larry in the old days. His name rides the same alliterative boat as “magnificent mentor,” which he is. And his passion for teaching belies his comforting way to communicate.

McCutchen came to Neon Uncasville last week and talked to some players, coaches and media members about the new job, expectations tethered to officiating in the WNBA, rule changes and officiating lexicon.

It was the most educational 90 minutes of the week.

McCutchen has the same role in the NBA and the G League, the NBA’s development wing. And that’s what was immediately evident: This is a family now. No longer will WNBA officials feel isolated. It’s a bigger umbrella with room for everyone.

“All new WNBA officials will come through the G League and be taught the same mechanic system,” McCutchen said. “We want people who want to be here. To understand it takes sacrifice to get to the best league in the world. It’s not a ‘summer job.’ It is a privilege to work in the WNBA.”

McCutchen’s expectations for his officials apply to every league at every level. So take note, all you recreational, high school and college officials: It’s not easy to get yelled at and not yell back. However …

“Poise is as valuable as passion,” he said. “You can disagree and be civil. We want them to show humility without weakness, strength without arrogance. To communicate effectively. Have the confidence to listen. Communicate through the rulebook versus ‘I have the power therefore I’m right.’”

McCutchen spoke to players, coaches and media throughout the country over a roughly 10-day span. Several players at Mohegan Sun from the Liberty, Sparks, Wings and Sun came away impressed, if for no other reason that this: The goal is a culture change. It takes time, sure. But it also acknowledges the culture needed changing.

And isn’t that the way it should work? Just admit the problem and be transparent about the ways intended to fix it. It helps, too, when the problem solver is among the most respected officials in the history of the game.

There was a moment in a preseason game the other night at Mohegan Sun Arena that would have made McCutchen proud. Sun forward Alyssa Thomas was plenty peeved about a call and let official Jeff Smith know it. Thomas was vocal enough to get Smith’s attention just before a timeout. Smith let her vent, but was clearly not happy about the way Thomas stormed to the bench.

But that’s when Smith took the time to chat with Sun guard (and team leader) Jasmine Thomas about what had transpired. It was a civil conversation, illustrating exactly what McCutchen expects: humility without weakness and strength without arrogance. And then the game resumed without incident.

McCutchen answered all questions lobbed his way from players, coaches and media alike. Essentially, he said, the principles of officiating don’t change across the men’s and women’s games. He said the rules, the concept of “aggressive but not rough,” and the principles of position and verticality apply the same, save for “above the rim physicality” in the men’s game.

The good folks who have been coming to watch the Sun for 16 summers now just might be booing less in the summer of 2018. There’s a new sheriff in town. His name is Monty McCutchen.

“Good relationships are possible,” McCutchen said, “when you uphold standards.”

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro 

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