Student has ambitions to referee NBA games

April 7, 2011 

Tyler Kanda isn't a daydreamer, stuck in that foggy wish-it-could-be true state of mind.

Oh, he dreams, he aspires. One day he wants to be an NBA referee. But for Kanda, dream is a verb, not a noun. Instead of just wishing, he’s taking action.

When he was 16 and a sophomore at Capital High School, Kanda officiated his first basketball game, calling fouls on players in middle school. By the time he was a senior, he was already working high school games. This basketball season, at age 22 and a junior at Saint Martin’s, Kanda officiated 70 college games and another 20 or so high school games, even reffing his alma mater – Capital.

“My grandpa did it, so I figured I could do it,” Kanda said. “That’s what got me started. It’s just something I’ve liked doing.”

This past season, Kanda worked college games for both the Northwest Conference and the Cascade Conference, calling fouls on players from PLU, UPS, Linfield and The Evergreen State College. He even worked an exhibition game involving the Washington Huskies, getting praise after the game from UW coach Lorenzo Romar.

Kanda’s dream-chasing brings both satisfaction and anxiety for his dad, Devin Kanda. As a kid, Devin remembers sitting in the stands, enduring the occasional heckling his dad, Dick Kanda, got for officiating high school basketball games.

“I didn’t like it,” Devin said. “Fans can be pretty tough.”

But Tyler has his grandfather’s disposition, a thick skin that gives him high tolerance to verbal abuse. Tyler Kanda is young, one of the youngest refs in the college game. But he’s not soft. He has booted fans, players and coaches.

But the intent is never to be the show, he said, only to ensure that the show is played the way it was intended to be.

“We’re just the facilitators,” Kanda said. “It’s not like we want to ‘T’ anyone up or kick anyone out. We’re the shadows. It’s all about the players.”

Kanda isn’t your typical college student. He’s the king of multitasking.

During baskeball season, besides being a full-time student at SMU, Kanda was reffing as many as six basketball games a week.

A business marketing major, Kanda felt the squeeze from being a student, a ref and being on SMU’s golf team. For a couple of weeks, the seasons overlap, making him simultaneously a student, golfer and ref.

“I learned something about time management,” Kanda said.

He’d study in the car on the way to officiate games in Salem, Ore., Portland, Tacoma, or wherever else he was supposed to go. He’d squeeze in a golf practice when he could.

From the start, Kanda has turned to others for advice. Erik and Rae Ann Jonson have mentored Kanda along the way.

“I’m very thankful for them,” Kanda said. “They’re the ones I went to early on.”

During the summer, Kanda attends clinics put on the by the NBA and colleges up and down the West Coast. When he watches games on TV, he observes both the players and the refs, looking for tips.

“I’m hesitant to say I’d like to end up in the NBA, but I’m going to ride this out as far as it takes me,” Kanda said. “That’s my dream.”


Curtis Norwood will coach Jamey Smith, again.

Smith, the versatile guard for the Olympia Bears, first played for Norwood as a 7-year-old on a YMCA basketball team. Now, Smith will play for Norwood at South Puget Sound Community College.

“I’ve known Jamey for a long time,” said Norwood, who recently finished his first season as SPSCC’s men’s basketball coach. “He’s a fine character young man. This is a huge signing for us. He’s getting the program off to a solid start.”

Smith was a first-team, all-league guard for Olympia, helping the Bears place fourth at state.

Gail Wood: 360-754-5443

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