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It's Black and White For Nichols

It certainly isn't because Nichols has lost his enthusiasm or his desire to see his guys ref better. Watching George Mason-Drexel, he kept a keen eye on all three officials throughout the game. He was pleased when Eades instantly called a pushing foul when a Drexel player tried to fight through a screen and bumped the ballhandler.

"You see some people will say, 'Why call a foul 30 feet from the basket?' " he said. "But the kid with the ball [Campbell] got bounced backwards and had to go backwards and reset the entire play. That's an advantage for the defense. You call that foul. When Syracuse played Georgetown a few weeks ago, Syracuse was holding for the last shot, and the same thing happened and my guys no-called it. They should have called it."

Nichols began officiating in the mid-'60s, when his older brother Bob persuaded him to work high school games with him in the Buffalo-Niagara Falls area, where Nichols was teaching and coaching. Their dad had been a referee, so it seemed a natural thing to do.

"One of the first college games we worked together was a freshman game at Niagara when Calvin Murphy was a freshman," he said. "We ended up fouling Calvin out with about six minutes left. A woman in the stands stood up and hollered, 'One thing I know for sure: Two Nichols are not worth a dime!' "

Nichols smiled. "I thought that was a pretty good line," he said.

He worked his way up to the ACC by the early 1970s and worked his first Final Four in 1975, including the championship game between UCLA and Kentucky, which was John Wooden's last game.

"Early in the game I had to 'T' David Myers up because he slammed a ball in frustration," Nichols said. "Coach Wooden couldn't believe it. He was up screaming. I was already hopped up -- first final and all -- and I might have given him a tech if Bob Wortman [the other official] didn't get to him first. Imagine if I'd given John Wooden a tech in his last game."

As it turned out, Nichols worked nine more Final Fours before becoming the boss in 1987. Every year before the season, he puts together a tape for coaches telling them points of emphasis for the season. Then he does clinics with all the officials.

"Two years ago, we decided we had to stop guys from palming the ball all the time," he said right after Faia had called a palming violation. "Now, the kids are actually starting to dribble the ball correctly again."

Of all the things Nichols is proud of one that might surprise people is this: "Refs today don't care who wins games," he said. "When I started that wasn't always true.

"It wasn't that they were dishonest. But guys knew that if certain coaches lost games they worked too often, they'd probably end up bounced from the league. Coaches had way too much influence back then."

Nichols has maintained the respect of basketball people in part because he's been good at what he does, in part because he's always kept his sense of humor.

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