They come from all over the country. They sweat and toil hoping to make the next level.
Seasoned observers scan their every move. They critique. They pick every nit. Meticulous notes are taken and backed up with video for every camper.
But dribbles and rebounds are not what they are being evaluated for. What's important is what's done during and after the tweet of every whistle.
The Peach Jam is not just a proving ground for players. The Southeastern Conference has utilized the event as a recruiting tool for officials since 1998. It's the proving ground piled on top of the player proving ground.
The cost is $525. The campers work six to eight games during the week.
"They come in here trying to hone their skills hoping to find a way to referee college basketball in the SEC," clinician Bert Smith said. "We critique them during and after each game. They visit with us afterward and we go over the tape and our assessments."
Smith estimated that 12 to 18 of the 51 referees working the Peach Jam are SEC officials with less than three years' experience seeking to refine their skills. The remainder of the stripes comes to the Peach Jam looking for an SEC whistle.
"Somebody could get hired from this camp," said Smith, who came up through the evaluation process at the Peach Jam in 1999-2000. "It depends on what the league's situation is and if they can hire a few people. If not, we still identify the high-level officials to come work in the SEC when there is an opening."
Smith said an SEC official can earn several hundred dollars per night, depending on the game and his or her experience.
"It's not a career or anything for any of us," Smith said. "We all have careers. We try to do an excellent job at this on the side."
That's what Stephen Derr is looking for. He wants to learn from NBA and NCAA vets this week. Derr, 51, currently officiates NCAA Division II basketball.
"We're all trying to move up one step at a time," said Derr, who has been participating in camps for 20 years.
Charlie McCarthy is one of his instructors. He has spent 51 years in SEC basketball. He worked games for 26 years and has served as an officials supervisor for 25. His first SEC game was with LSU's Bob Pettit during his senior year in 1954. He almost threw the future NBA Hall of Famer out that day.
"If I called a technical on him I may have never worked another SEC game," McCarthy said. "He said a bad word. I learned a bit about discretion that day."
He's currently the chief observer for the SEC and also the officials supervisor for the Atlantic Sun Conference.
So what does he look for?
"The basics," McCarthy said. "I look for the basic tools. The basics and the rule book and the mechanics of a live basketball game. The flow and rhythm of how he manages coaches and communicates, how he handles players. He's got to be cool and stay at the same composure level the whole game. The ability to do that all comes from these camps. This week isn't just all about the players. It's about all of basketball."
Reach Jeff Sentell at (706) 823-3425 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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