The most important dunk of Cal’s game against Oregon State wasn’t Richard Solomon’s two-handed flush 30 seconds into the first half, even though it jumpstarted Cal’s afternoon. It wasn’t Tyrone Wallace’s leaping left-handed baseline jam with a minute gone in the second half, either, however spectacularly vicious and emasculating it may have been.
In fact, no one saw the most important dunk of Saturday’s game. That’s because it didn’t occur during the game. It happened well before tipoff, when the Beavers were warming up.
When Oregon State was practicing its layups — you know, that drill that every team from the NBA to elementary school does where one line shoots and the other line rebounds — freshman forward Olaf Schaftenaar dared to dunk. The referees promptly hit Schaftenaar, a Dutchman making his first career start for the Beavers, with a technical foul, giving the Bears two shots from the charity stripe to start the game. Allen Crabbe made one of the free throws — the final margin of Cal’s 60-59 victory.
According to the NCAA rulebook’s Section 6, Article 1, Subsection e, a player “dunking or attempting to dunk a dead ball before or during the game, or during any intermission” shall be assessed a technical foul. Disregarding the vagueness of the language — are balls used for practice drills dead balls? I wouldn’t have thought the ball came alive until the game started — this is monumentally stupid. Dunking is part of the game of basketball. Warming up before the game is supposed to prepare you for playing basketball. So if players can’t practice dunking, then they can’t practice all aspects of the game they are about to play.
This is like an umpire preemptively calling a batter out for hitting a home run during batting practice or a judge assessing a golfer penalty strokes for drilling a hole-in-one during a practice round. Notice that neither of those are currently part of the NCAA’s rulebook.
Imagine the scene: You are a freshman international student who left home just a few months ago to travel more than 5,000 miles to play the sport you love. Filled with adrenaline after getting the nod for your very first start, you do what all athletes wish they could do: dunk the basketball. You do it, and two hours later, you realize that you may have cost your team the game. In an organization full of bizarre and baffling rules, this just might be the silliest.
Before closing, a quick note to the NCAA about its rulebook: It stipulates (in Section 4, Article 1) that for men’s games, at least one referee must be on the floor 30 minutes before the game starts. For women’s games, at least one official must be on the floor only 15 minutes before tipoff. Why the discrepancy? Women only need half as much supervision as men? I would love to see Brittany Griner throw one down 20 minutes before gametime and get away with it while Olaf stews.