Former Arizona Wildcats guard Lyons in middle of “He touched the ball” episodeby Javier Morales on Jul. 14, 2013, under Sports
RELATED LINK: My recap of Mark Lyons’ first game in the NBA Summer League last night (WILDABOUTAZCATS.net)
LAS VEGAS — The last time Mark Lyons played a game here, Arizona lost to UCLA in the semifinals of the Pac-12 Tournament amid plenty of controversy, with Lyons at the center of it all.
Lyons was involved in a play in which Pac-12 referee Michael Irving gave Sean Miller a technical foul with 4:37 left in the grueling 66-64 loss for the Wildcats at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on March 15. Miller was upset about a double-dribble call on Lyons, arguing that UCLA’s Jordan Adams touched the ball before Lyons picked it up, negating the possibility of a double-dribble violation.
For the record, Lyons confirmed last night that Adams indeed touched the ball, but he took responsibility for the result of the play.
“(Adams) touched it, but it really does not matter,” Lyons said after Toronto’s NBA Summer League game at Thomas & Mack Arena last night. “I should have taken care of the ball regardless of what happened. I had to do a better job of protecting the ball.”
Lyons spoke for the first time about the incident, which became a burning topic more than two weeks afterward following Arizona’s last game against Ohio State in the Sweet 16.
In the days leading up to the Final Four, a CBSSports.com report written by Jeff Goodman (now with ESPN) was published about Pac-12 coordinator of basketball officials and former NBA referee Ed Rush telling a group of referees — including Irving — that he would give them $5,000 or a trip to Cancun if they gave Miller a technical or “ran him” from the game.
“The reason I got a technical foul is because I said, ‘He touched the ball. He touched the ball.’” Miller told reporters a few minutes after the game. “Like in other words, Mark Lyons dribbled, and, by the way when you show the replay here on ESPN in a few seconds, (Adams) touched the ball. He touched the ball. … He touched the ball. … He touched the ball.
“That’s a hard one now when you work August, September, October, November, December, January, February, and here we are. My man over here (looking at senior Solomon Hill), he’s never coming back here again. His coach gets a technical foul. Didn’t cuss. Didn’t challenge him. By the way, it’s my first technical foul of the year. That’s what this is about?”
Rush ultimately lost his job, forced to resign over the bounty, which he said he made in jest. Miller was reprimanded by the Pac-12 and fined $25,000 by the league for allegedly confronting a game official after the game and for demonstrative behavior in the vicinity of a Pac-12 staffer in the hallway of the arena.
“They don’t talk to me,” Miller told CBSSports.com. “If I cuss and I’m out of control and I’ve been warned, shame on me. When I say, ‘He touched the ball, he touched the ball’ because I thought the two of them could have maybe gotten together and explained that, in fact, he did touch the ball.”
Lyons said he was taken aback by what happened concerning Rush’s bounty and how that affected Miller, whom he considers a father figure.
“I didn’t think it was that big of a deal until after the game, you know when you kind of look at the things about the refs and what they did to our coach, the things that were said about him,” Lyons said. “That’s when it hit me that the play was bigger than what I actually thought it was.”
According to the CBSSports.com report, Rush targeted Miller, which Rush and Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott later denied. Rush said he wanted the refs to police Miller and former UCLA coach Ben Howland to make sure they remained in the coach’s box.
“Rush was emphatic about not dealing with him (Miller),” an anonymous referee, in the meeting with Rush before the Arizona-UCLA game, told CBSSports.com. “He made that perfectly clear.”
I asked Lyons if the integrity of the game can be questioned now because of Rush’s bounty placed on Miller, whether it was in jest or not.
“You come to realize it’s a business at the end of the day,” Lyons said. “We all know it’s a business. We don’t know what happens behind closed doors and things like that.
“As a player, you just have to go out there and play. You can’t worry about the refs. You can’t worry about nothing but your team and what you practice every day.”
Miller’s strong “He touched the ball” comments after the game grabbed the attention of the Wildcats. He may have been fined $25,000 by the Pac-12 for his postgame actions, but Miller’s comments were priceless to Arizona, especially to its seniors such as Lyons, Hill and Kevin Parrom, who will never again get the opportunity to play for a conference tournament title.
“I just want to thank Coach Miller for going to bat for us on that one call,” Lyons said.
WILDABOUTAZCATS.net publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He also writes blogs for Lindy’s College Sports, TucsonCitizen.com and Sports Illustrated-sponsored site ZonaZealots.com.