Not too long ago when I was exclusively covering sports in the counties of Henry and DeKalb in the Atlanta metro area, I was at Woodland High to report on a well-played game between the Wolfpack and their rivals Stockbridge.
Before the Tigers, led by 6-5 guard Darius Alexander who is now a member of the Southern Idaho men’s basketball team, defeated Woodland, I said to myself “I know that ref. He is my neighbor.”
Prior to wearing the signature black-and-white striped referee shirt, Antoine Knighton was a star combo-guard at Redan High where he averaged 25 points a game. From there, the 6-3 shooter played more ball at Atlanta Metropolitan State College, Fordham University and Talladega College, respectively.
Then Knighton took his skills to the international basketball scene for seven years, suiting up for teams in Germany, Holland, Finland, China and Nicaragua. Once the professional basketball opportunities stopped bouncing his way four years ago, Knighton traded in his jersey for a different uniform and a whistle.
Since then, Knighton has been officiating at high schools on the Southside of Atlanta along with whistling fouls and violations at games hosted by Clark-Atlanta, Morehouse, the University of West Georgia, Oglethorpe University and Emory University. He also volunteers with the Department of Juvenile Justice, teaching troubled youth about refereeing. Knighton also plans to start a business with some of his counterparts that will put teenagers in position to ref and get paid during those years.
A member of the Atlanta Basketball Officials Group, Knighton took some time from his busy schedule to speak 1-on-1 with Mobasketball.net about how he got started down this career path and how he is preparing to be a better official during the 2016-17 season, while not swallowing his whistle.
How did you get into refereeing?
I played pro basketball in Europe and when I got back in the summer of 2012, I ran across an NBA ref Tony Brown and he asked me have I thought about refereeing. I said nah but I gave it a try and fell in love with it.
How would you sum up your overseas experience?
It was a great experience. I saw the world, different cultures, different people and ate different food. There were some long plane rides and cold weather but everything else was good.
How do you think the experience you have from playing basketball helps you as a ref?
Playing on a higher level you pretty much know what a foul is. Your play calling is great because you have already played the game so you can anticipate what type of defense the defense will be playing and what type of offense the offense will be running so you can anticipate that as a referee. From there, you just play call because you already know what a travel is, a double dribble is and a carry is.
What do you think is the toughest challenge that comes with being a referee?
Dealing with coaches and fans. You really don’t have to worry about players except on the pro level. Players give you respect when they know you played the game so pretty much you have to deal with the coaches–really high school coaches. College coaches know the rules so they are really not going to be chirping at you like that. In high school, they try to chirp at everything.
How do you not get caught up in the action as a ref?
Now that I have experience refereeing, I can say that was a nice play or a nice pass but you really just pay attention to the defense. You are really not worried about the offense because when you are refereeing you referee the defense.
What do you hope to do better this season?
I want to officiate more college games and continue to work on my body. To get to the next level, you got to look like the players. I want to be a better leader too.
What should people know about the Atlanta Basketball Officials Group?
I have been a member for five years. It is my mentor organization. Guys you see refereeing in the NBA and in Division-I, they come back and train up-and-coming officials to help them get to the next level. They advance you really quickly. When you first start, you are refereeing men’s basketball instead of doing little kids’ games. They put you out there so you can learn how to referee real quick. Most of the officials you see on television are from Atlanta. Atlanta is like the Mecca of officiating for basketball.
The NBA regular season is less than a month away from starting. What do you expect to see?
I’m just waiting to see how the season is going to go. I’m from Atlanta so I always root for the home team but we will see how they do and what Golden State does.
The game of basketball is so perimeter oriented now. What are your thoughts on the current state of basketball?
The game is not really the same as when I played. You can’t really play physical defense like that anymore. It’s more guard oriented. It’s fast-paced with 3-point shooting. Back in the day, the post game was the main focus. It is still fun to watch but it’s different.