During last Wednesday's McDonald's All-American game, there was a court full of high school players hoping to make an impact at higher levels of basketball.
They weren't the only ones.
If you caught the game on ESPN, you may have spotted Mike O'Bryan, one of the best high school officials in Western New York, sprinting up and down the sidelines.
"The whole experience was unreal," said O'Bryan, an All-Western New York first-teamer for Kenmore East in 1993 and now a state trooper who still lives in the Town of Tonawanda. "The talent level was obviously superb. It's an all-star game, so you kind of let the kids play through stuff. You just hope that somebody from a big [collegiate] conference notices or invites you to a camp, sees how you run, your mechanics are good and you hope you catch a break."
How did he get to work the game? Like many a local has said -- there's always a Buffalo connection. Western New Yorker Jim Huetter, a former NBA official, has assigned O'Bryan to Division II and III college games for about 12 years. Huetter used to work with Don Olsen, who moved from the Southern Tier to Chicago and now officiates in the Midwest, including Division I games. Olsen officiated last year's McDonald's game and was the assigner this year as the game returned to Chicago.
O'Bryan said the differences in the play from the local high school and college games he usually officiates were clear.
"The court gets smaller," said O'Bryan, whose brother, Erik, coaches at Niagara-Wheatfield while their father, Archie, was a longtime Iroquois coach. "You have guys that are 6-9 handling the ball, and when they push it, they aren't dribbling much. They cover most of the floor pretty quickly and you have to work to keep up, even in a three-man [officiating] rotation. That's what is awesome.
"The kids are so big -- you look in the lane and it is jammed tight. You're looking at four kids, and they're big, not just one like in many games. You have to actually move to see your partner.
"Every play is above the rim. If there's a missed shot, there will be a play above the rim."
Then there were the ways television impacts a game. Often the players and officials were ready to play -- but they had to hold on until ESPN was back from commercial.
"You're inbounding the ball after a timeout," O'Bryan said, "and you're standing there for three minutes until the [television] guy points at you."
O'Bryan would love to get used to those kind of things. He continues to work on his craft with the goal of working Division I games.
He'll pay to attend camps, such as the one in Indianapolis where about 100 officials work one of the country's top AAU tournaments and have their performances scrutinized. Only two officials from the camp earn a Division I promotion.
"I'll head to camp this summer again and hope for the best," O'Bryan said. "That's what local guys like Willie Pulliam, Kenny Turner and Kevin Ferguson have done -- Todd Sweeney broke in last year.
"It's an investment, but you keep doing it until you think you can't do it anymore -- hopefully it will work out. But the great thing about being a referee is the amount of great people you meet -- the connections and friendships you make."
Around the halls
*Williamsville South softball will honor the late Gerry Gentner prior to the Billies' home game with Williamsville East on April 23 at 4 p.m. Gentner, who coached South for 14 seasons, passed away Jan. 27 after a four-year battle with cancer. There will be several lasting tributes to Gentner unveiled while his family -- including South coach Julie Murphy, one of Gentner's daughters -- will throw out the first pitch.
*The News' annual All-Western New York basketball issue will be published Saturday. It will include the Player of the Year awards and All-Western New York teams in boys and girls basketball along with the final News polls of the season and league all-star teams.
*Excuse me while I retweet myself: "@KeithMcSheaBN: Baseball & softball coaches: If you call in a blowout score, please use #realtalk & report the ACTUAL score. We don't run fake scores. #ugh"