By Wendell Maxey, Special to NBA.com
Posted Sep 17 2011 3:10PM
Srdan Dozai worked as a traffic engineer at the international Zagreb Airport in the nearby suburb of Pleso, Croatia before trying his hand at becoming a part time basketball referee.
Since then, Dozai grew into a FIBA official in 1993, called over 2,500 men's and women's basketball games, more than 500 international contests from EuroLeague and EuroLeague Final Four games.
Today he is considered one of the Croatian Federation's top game officials.
Picture Dick Bavetta, but 29 years younger.
For the past two weeks in Lithuania, Dozai and various international officials from 51 FIBA Europe countries have received detailed training and development from one of the best referees in NBA history -- Ronnie Nunn.
Before retiring from NBA officiating and last serving as Director of Officiating in 2011, Nunn's 20-year experience between the lines has served as an invaluable teaching resource for FIBA Europe at EuroBasket 2011 in Lithuania.
"He is a great teacher and has a wonderful knowledge of American basketball. He's learned a lot from us and we've learned a lot from him," said FIBA Europe Referee Instructor Alan Richardson of Nunn.
"Ronnie provides us with a new voice, a fresh voice."
At EuroBasket, Nunn collaborates with Richardson, FIBA Europe's Secretary General Nar Zanolin, Head of Operations Miguel Betancor, Euroleague Director of Referees Costas Riga, and Richard Stokes of the FIBA Europe Referee Department in helping overseas officials grow in their profession through daily training sessions and timely feedback.
The end goal: building a consistent basketball environment on and off the court.
"The consistency of a staff is very important," Nunn told NBA.com
"There will always be errors in what we do, but there really hasn't been any issues in officiating this tournament. They are calling it on both ends of the floor as consistently as they can. The beautiful thing about FIBA Europe is there are 51 countries and I am able to share my expertise with all of them."
Before EuroBasket tipped off on August 31, Nunn and three other instructors, 40 novice and veteran referees, and eight FIBA Europe commissioners held an on-court meeting in Vilnius, Lithuania to prepare for the tournament which determines who competes at the 2012 London Olympics.
Out of the 24 teams, Spain and France meet Sunday evening in Kaunas, Lithuania to settle the winner of EuroBasket.
Then there's the 25th team in the tournament -- the FIBA Europe referee crews.
Befriending Richardson, Rigas, and Betancor back in 2003 made Nunn's trip to Lithuania for EuroBasket possible and annual summer trips to Gran Canerra, Spain followed, where Nunn lectured on standards in officiating during two-week training sessions.
"I'd discuss with them a basic discipline of rhythm, speed, balance and quickness as it affects contact," Nunn explained.
"If it doesn't affect a players' rhythm, speed, balance or quickness, this is probably marginal and the game should flown on."
While there are a number of rule differences between the NBA and basketball around Europe -- touching the ball on or above the cylinder, size of the basketball, the defensive 3-second rule for example -- some aspects remain universal.
Communication during games between refs and players in discussing foul calls is a major focal point according to Nunn.
"Communication from a language standpoint isn't a problem. Players appreciate communication and we need to communicate better with players," Nunn said. "You don't see the referee as frequent here as you would see the relationship that goes on between a player and among 60 officials and 30 teams in the NBA. People know people.
"We can take a page from the European game where they are very solid on the ground work of passing and looking for the open player. There is a sense all five players can shoot the ball well. We have that in the NBA it's just that sometimes your key players get the ball at the 8- or 9-second count and then they are creative."
At EuroBasket, Nunn's day starts with a 10 o'clock meeting with FIBA Europe officials where play calls are reviewed and preparations for that day's schedule, before breaking down both good and bad calls from previous games. Building off Nunn's "Making the Call With Ronnie Nunn" on NBA TV, the group also views a brief video segment titled, "Tips and Tricks by Ronnie".
Sitting through six hours of basketball games, Nunn and Richardson review in-game calls at halftime utilizing the, "The System Observer" program, a revolutionary video analysis software where real time game footage is complied and dissected. Referees can receive copies at any time, review clips immediately and make comments available to all viewers.
"We review the plays that need to be reviewed for their accuracy, but also the plays that are solid that you want to learn from. That is more of what I teach today," said Nunn.
He hopes to continue his working relationship with FIBA Europe once EuroBasket concludes.
EuroBasket 2013 in Slovenia will be here before we know it.
"I love passing along what I've learned from this game," Nunn added.
"This experience has been beyond anything I could have imagined."
Wendell Maxey is a freelance writer based in Germany.