Former Wake Forest basketball coach Jeff Bzdelik once famously philosophized that you give respect by showing no respect.
Perhaps that’s what referee Ted Valentine was doing Wednesday when he turned his back on Joel Berry when the North Carolina captain approached him to ask about a call during a dead ball situation late in the second half of the Tar Heels’ game at Florida State.
Video of the incident quickly went viral, with a majority of those responding sharply criticizing Valentine — whose over-the-top theatrics has earned him the nickname “TV Teddy” — for his behavior.
The ACC even felt compelled to issue a statement in response the situation, saying, “We are aware of what occurred and are addressing it internally.”
Friday, however, UNC coach Roy Williams downplayed the controversy when he was asked about it at his regularly scheduled media availability in advance of Saturday’s game at Virginia.
“It’s unfortunate that it happened,” Williams said, doing his best not to escalate the situation. “It looks bad. It’s what it is. Both of those guys are competitors and they’re both going to be fine.”
The play in question happened with 7½ minutes remaining and the Tar Heels trailing 70-67. Replays show that as Berry ran down the court on a fastbreak, his arm was held by the Seminoles’ Terance Mann. The contact slowed Berry and prevented him from catching up to an outlet pass that sailed out of bounds for a turnover.
When play stopped and the teams headed to their respective benches for a TV timeout, Berry picked up the ball and calmly walked toward Valentine, who was standing on the baseline. As the player approached, the ref turned his back and defiantly crossed his arms across his chest as if to say he wasn’t interested in what Berry had to say.
Berry, who led all scorers in the game with 28 points, put the ball down and headed back to his bench.
Williams, who didn’t see the incident when it happened, admitted that Valentine’s actions “looked bad.”
“I did not see him turn his back on Joel,” Williams said. “I saw Joel set the ball down. I told Joel, just go over and say ‘Mr. Ref, I just set the ball down. It was not intended to be any disrespect.’ At that time, when I told him that, I hadn’t seen what happened before. And that wasn’t right, either.
“We’ve released a statement about it. People make mistakes. I’ve had like 19 technicals in 30 years. About four of them I think I wasn’t even mad at the official., but they looked bad enough. (This) didn’t look good, but I don’t think the intention was there for it to look as bad as it did look.”
The Hall of Fame coach said he believes Berry was well within his rights to approach Valentine and talk to him under the circumstances, especially since he did it calmly, in a way that doesn’t show up the official.
“I think players should be able to go and say something to an official,” Williams said. “I do that a lot of times. Instead of me standing there screaming at a guy ‘Hey, will you watch this? Hey, will you watch this? Hey, hey I’m talking to you, you dumb bunk,’ I think it’s a little more pleasant to say ‘Marcus, go over and tell the ref to please watch them doing whatever.’
“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it and 99 percent of the time I think the officials handle it well. And they would probably rather that happen instead of me calling them dumb dumb from 40 feet away.”