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Married NBA refs working to make the right calls at home

Thu Oct 17 1:39pm ET
AP Basketball Writer

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) Lauren Holtkamp and Jonathan Sterling first met a few years ago at a meeting of college basketball referees in Virginia, and when the group when out for some socializing that night she asked him to dance.

He declined.

The refs now agree: That was a bad call.

They eventually became the NBA's first husband-and-wife refereeing duo, and now another first awaits later this season when Holtkamp-Sterling - she goes by the hyphenated name now - is planning to become the first mother to officiate in the league. The couple became parents to a daughter, Stoan, earlier this year.

''It is a different story,'' Sterling said. ''But for us as a couple, I think it's just work.''

It'll be a lot of work. NBA referees get their schedules about a month in advance, spend the bulk of their time on the road and when Holtkamp-Sterling returns to the court she and her husband will be running in opposite directions because there are no plans for them to be assigned to work on the same officiating crew for a game.

Having a baby at home only adds to the juggling act. The NBA has certain programs to make lives easier for new parents, such as paying for the shipping of breast milk when a mother is on the road for work. But the couple knows that they're embarking on a challenge, one similar in some aspects to what many other ''regular'' families have to address. In looking for ideas, they have researched what the military does for parents with new families, as well as the policies utilized by the WNBA, the LPGA Tour and the PGA Tour.

''I think in navigating this, what it means to be a married couple who are parents and NBA referees together - together and apart, right? - there's just such an opportunity to figure it out and be creative,'' Holtkamp-Sterling said. ''I don't want to overuse the word innovative, but I really think that is what it's about ... being able to find a path that works.

''It's really a privilege to be part of that process and on the front end of it.''

Holtkamp-Sterling became just the third female full-time NBA official when she was promoted in 2014; Ashley Moyer-Gleich and Natalie Sago followed to the full-time ranks last year, and more women are under serious consideration to be added to that roster before long.

The last time Holtkamp-Sterling worked a game was in the 2017-18 season. She missed last season with a knee injury that required surgery, and she won't be ready for the start of the regular season this year while recovering from abdominal surgery. Not returning to the on-court role was considered, though she is now convinced she wants to be back as soon as possible.

''If you think about what all this means for family planning, that's a unique challenge,'' Holtkamp-Sterling said. ''We're traveling all over the United States and our work happens at night, which creates so many more questions. And as this process, knowing we have the support of our league and our union, goes along we're just going to keep moving forward and see what happens.''

She was at the forefront of a major transition for the NBA in recent years, with women now moving into more and more high-profile roles leaguewide. Adding more women to the NBA corporate depth chart has been a top priority for Commissioner Adam Silver, and the league's vice president of referee development Monty McCutchen has said he wants more women on the referee roster.

The couple understands the outside fascination with their story - all parts of it, from Holtkamp-Sterling being a trendsetter in terms of more women being on the NBA floor, to one ref being married to another ref, and now the motherhood aspect.

But to them, it's just life. It's their new normal.

''We've gone two, three weeks without seeing one other during the season,'' said Sterling, who made the full-time NBA ref ranks three years after Holtkamp-Sterling did. ''It's like two ships passing in the night. But we try to get together when we can on the road. And I think just being the first married couple on staff ... it's been very good so far.''

They get the same treatment other refs get: They get yelled at by players and coaches, critiqued critically by fans and know that they're in a profession where compliments are rare.

But both understand that comes with the territory, and neither wants to be overly sensitive or protective of the other.

''When you talk about Lauren, she's assertive and she's confident and she does a good job,'' Orlando coach Steve Clifford said. ''She handles herself that way. To me, she's just another official.''

They are, very much, a basketball family.

Both played the game in college. There's a hoop in their driveway. Even the family dog, named M.J. because her white paws reminded them of Michael Jackson's gloves, has a ridiculously high vertical leap out of excitement when she meets new people.

The couple started their relationship in a competitive way - their first date was a decathlon of sorts, the loser of which had to wear a T-shirt in playfully shameful recognition of the loss, and Holtkamp-Sterling still has her shirt as a reminder. And they've been on the same team ever since.

''We've got incredible support and incredible family support and the most amazing nanny,'' Holtkamp-Sterling said. ''I'm very confident that we're going to be flexible with whatever happens, and I know we'll be able to always figure it out.''

Player Notes
Isaiah Thomas Nov 14 8:40am ET

Washington Wizards point guard Isaiah Thomas enjoyed his return to the TD Garden on Wednesday, scoring 18 points and dishing out seven assists in a 140-133 loss. He shot 7-for-14 from the field, including a very good 3-for-6 from downtown. Thomas had managed just 21 points in total in the previous two games, so this will be a nice little confidence booster for him ahead of Friday's clash with Minnesota. It's a great matchup for Thomas, as the Timberwolves are giving up the second-most points per 48 minutes to opposing point guards this season.

Bradley Beal Nov 14 8:30am ET

Washington Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal scored 44 points on Wednesday against Boston, but it wasn't enough to lead the team to victory. He was red-hot in the eventual 140-133 loss, going 17-for-27 from the field and 4-for-6 from three-point range. Beal also had six assists and five rebounds in his second 40-point game of the season. The 26-year-old is set for another career year, even if the team lacks quality and isn't going anywhere. He'll face the T-Wolves next in a matchup against a side that's allowing the opposition to shoot close to 40 percent from deep this season.

Jaylen Brown Nov 14 8:30am ET

Boston Celtics guard/forward Jaylen Brown produced another solid outing on Wednesday against Washington, scoring 22 points on 9-for-19 shooting in a 140-133 win. Brown missed all three of his attempts from deep, but he did add five rebounds, four assists and one steal to his line. The 22-year-old has now tallied at least 20 points in three consecutive games and he's averaging 20.1 points for the season with 6.7 rebounds and a pair of assists. He should be able to continue his good scoring run on Friday against the Warriors, who are giving up 121.1 points per game.

Jayson Tatum Nov 14 8:20am ET

Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum, who scored only five points in Monday's win over Dallas, returned to form on Wednesday, notching 23 points in a 140-133 win against Washington. He still struggled from deep with a 1-for-5 record, but his overall shooting was fine at 9-for-20. Tatum also had his third consecutive game with four assists, while adding three rebounds to his line as well. His three-point percentage (40.3) is actually better than his overall efficiency (39.7 percent) at the moment, so Tatum's shooting has been very inconsistent this season. Despite the struggles, he's still putting points on the board and posting another 20-plus point effort shouldn't be a problem in the next matchup against the Warriors, who own a league-worst 117.2 defensive rating.

Kemba Walker Nov 14 8:10am ET

Boston Celtics point guard Kemba Walker scored a team-high 25 points in Wednesday's win over Washington, doing most of the damage from deep with a 6-for-12 success rate. He shot 8-for-17 overall from the field and 3-for-3 at the line, adding five rebounds and five assists without a single turnover. Kemba has now shot at least 50 percent from downtown in back-to-back outings and he's shooting 48.4 percent from deep for the month. He's rolling right now and look for him to produce another big night on Friday against the struggling Warriors and the defensively suspect D'Angelo Russell.

James Harden Nov 14 8:00am ET

Houston's G James Harden scored 68.00 fantasy points with 47 points scored, seven assists and six rebounds in a 102-93 win over the Clippers on Wednesday night. Harden has scored an average of 65.83 fantasy points in his last 3 games.

James Harden Nov 14 2:00am ET

Houston's G James Harden scored 47 points on 12-of-26 shooting in a 102-93 win over the Clippers on Wednesday, Nov. 13.

Bradley Beal Nov 14 2:00am ET

Wizards' G Bradley Beal scored 44 points on 17-of-27 shooting in a 133-140 loss to Boston on Wednesday, Nov. 13.

Lou Williams Nov 14 12:20am ET

Los Angeles Clippers guard Lou Williams eclipsed the 20-point barrier for the ninth time in 11 games this season. His final box score of 20 points, a season-high seven rebounds and four assists will be welcomed by all fantasy managers. One has to wonder how long this product can last, though, as Paul George is expected back as soon as Thursday night against the New Orleans Pelicans. Williams has been great through the first four weeks of the fantasy basketball season, but if another owner wants to buy him at his peak right now, Williams owners would be silly to not at least listen to the offer. Having two alpha dogs like Kawhi Leonard and George is sure to take a chunk out of Williams' workload. Basketball fans will hopefully be able to see Williams' new role as the Clippers close out Week 4 with games against the Pelicans and Atlanta Hawks.

Kawhi Leonard Nov 14 12:20am ET

For the third straight game and fourth time in the last five games, Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard posted a double-double. In Wednesday's loss to the Houston Rockets, Kawhi recorded 26 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists, one block and one steal in 41 minutes. Leonard is still waiting for his running mate Paul George to make his Clippers debut, but he has put up great numbers in his nine games so far this season. He is averaging 26.9 points, 8.5 rebounds, 5.9 assists and is shooting 44.4% from the field to get the Clippers off to a 7-4 start. Load-management issues may prevent Kawhi from playing on Thursday night in New Orleans, so managers should keep their eyes glued to the RotoBaller injury news before Thursday's game.

Clint Capela Nov 14 12:10am ET

Houston Rockets center Clint Capela recorded 12 points and 20 rebounds in the win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday night. Capela grabbed 20 rebounds for the third straight game and became the first Rocket to achieve that statistical feat since Moses Malone in 1982. Capela left the game in the fourth quarter after getting hit in the face to end his night at "only" 20 rebounds. The Swiss big man is now averaging 11.8 points and 13.3 rebounds in November as he recovers from a slow start this season. Fantasy managers should keep their ear to the ground or their eyes on their social media feed to determine Capela's status heading into a matchup against the Indiana Pacers on Friday night.

Russell Westbrook Nov 14 12:10am ET

Houston Rockets guard Russell Westbrook committed four fouls in the first quarter and could not find a rhythm the entire night in a 102-93 win over the Los Angeles Clippers. Westbrook had season-lows with two rebounds and two assists and needed 20 shots to get his 17 points. It was a forgettable night for the new Rocket, who is clearly still adjusting to his new role as the second offensive option in the Houston offense. His November numbers have dipped from his frantic October pace, but Westbrook is still very valuable in fantasy. Westbrook and the Rockets take on the Indiana Pacers on Friday, but that will not be an easy game to get his statistics back on track. The Pacers are the toughest team in the NBA against opposing point guards.

James Harden Nov 14 12:10am ET

Houston Rockets guard James Harden scored at least 40 points for the fifth time this season as the Rockets took down the Los Angeles Clippers 102-93 on Wednesday night. Harden had one of his best shooting nights of the season against the Clippers, as he was 7-for-13 from three-point land. His 47 points, seven assists, six rebounds and three steals helped Houston to their fifth straight win. Harden leads the NBA in scoring and is in the top 10 in assists per game. The addition of Russell Westbrook has not hindered his scoring at all, and fantasy managers can rejoice in the fact that he is just repeating his ridiculous 2018-19 performance. Harden closes out Week 4 with matchups against the best team in the NBA versus point guards in Indiana, and a bottom-seven team against point guards in Minnesota.

Jaren Jackson Jr. Nov 13 11:00pm ET

Memphis Grizzlies power forward Jaren Jackson Jr. had another solid showing, and this time it was versus the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday. This was Jackson's fourth straight contest shooting above 50 percent from the floor. Jackson scored 16 points, going 5-for-9 from the field, with four of those made buckets coming from three-point territory. Next up for Triple-J and the Memphis Grizzlies are the Utah Jazz on Friday. The Jazz give up the second-fewest points per game, so expect Jackson to come back down to earth.

Ja Morant Nov 13 11:00pm ET

Memphis Grizzlies point guard JA Morant made the contested layup to clinch the win Wednesday against the Charlotte Hornets. Morant went 10-for-15 from the floor to record his 23 points. That wasn't all for the talented rookie, as Morant also had 11 assists. Fantasy owners will have to be patient with Morant, as his production can be very volatile from game to game. In the two previous contests, Morant shot worse than 25 percent from the field. For the season things do look bright, as Morant is averaging 18.3 points and 5.8 assists while shooting 48.2 percent from the floor. DFS players may want to avoid Morant, but in season-long leagues, the future is very bright for the Grizzlies point guard.

Jonas Valanciunas Nov 13 11:00pm ET

Memphis Grizzlies center Jonas Valanciunas had a strong showing Wednesday versus the Charlotte Hornets. Valanciunas had 18 points and 13 boards, shooting 9-for-14 from the field. The ascension of the younger players for the Grizzlies means fewer opportunities for Valanciunas, who is averaging 12.8 points and 9.5 rebounds a game -- both numbers are his lowest since 2016-2017. The next opponent for the Grizzlies and Valanciunas are the Utah Jazz on Friday. The Jazz will mainly have defensive superstarRudy Gobert defending Valanciunas, so expect the Grizzlies center to struggle on Friday.

Terry Rozier Nov 13 10:50pm ET

Charlotte Hornets point guard Terry Rozier had a stellar showing, scoring 33 points on 13-for-21 shooting, versus the Memphis Grizzlies Wednesday. In addition to Scary Terry's scoring production, he also had six assists and five boards. This was only the second contest this season where Rozier shot above 50 percent from the field. The Hornets and Rozier next take on the Detroit Pistons on Friday. The Pistons have the seventh-slowest pace of play in the NBA, so Rozier may not get nearly as many opportunities to produce as he did Wednesday.

Miles Bridges Nov 13 10:50pm ET

Charlotte Hornets small forward Miles Bridges had another decent outing Wednesday against the Memphis Grizzlies. Bridges contributed in a multitude of ways, tallying 14 points, seven boards and four rebounds. While not excelling at any one category, Bridges does give fantasy owners stats in a variety of areas, averaging 13.1 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists while shooting 47.5 percent from the field. The Hornets and Bridges face the Detroit Pistons next on Friday. The Pistons give up the 11th most points per game, so Bridges may be a decent DFS play.

Jeff Teague Nov 13 6:30pm ET

Minnesota Timberwolves point guard Jeff Teague (illness) is available to play Wednesday night against the San Antonio Spurs. Teague has been sidelined for four straight games with an illness, but finally feels good enough to take the floor. Jarrett Culver and Josh Okogie will take hits in value, but will likely still get decent playing time while Shabazz Napier (hamstring) remains hampered by injury.

Paul George Nov 13 6:30pm ET

Los Angeles Clippers forward Paul George (shoulder) will not make his season debut Wednesday against the Houston Rockets. However, coach Doc Rivers said Paul George "might play" Thursday against the New Orleans Pelicans. Either way, George is nearing a return from shoulder surgery which should excite fantasy owners everywhere. Once George returns, Patrick Patterson will move to the bench and lose most, if not all, fantasy value. Kawhi Leonard might see a slight dip in usage, but it should not affect his overall production too much.