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From concertos to the hardwood

SJU student is officiating in international basketball tournament after singing in Europe

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July 23, 2015

By Jake Schultz '16

Christian Wilmore (middle)

Christian Wilmore's work takes him across the world. At the age of 21, he's already near the top of his profession.

His professional career as a basketball referee began before ever coming to Collegeville to major in biochemistry. Wilmore, a senior at SJU, was already making the rounds as a referee at age 14 on the courts of his hometown of Nassau, Bahamas.

Now, seven years later, he is in Russia for the Under-19 International Basketball Federation (FIBA) World Cup for Women. The tournament continues through July 26 and features some of the best women's basketball players in the world that are 19 years old or younger, including a bevy of Division I players.

Wilmore served as a crew chief for a three-person officiating crew during a July 19 game between Egypt and Spain.

His work as a referee began with a passion for the game. Though his passion never translated as a player, Wilmore stayed involved in the game by keeping score at high school games. It wasn't long before a teacher approached him with the idea of officiating.

Shortly thereafter, Wilmore took the test to become an international referee, even though he was too young for the test to count, and scored 92 percent — the top score in the Bahamas.

While refereeing almost every night after school and working countless tournaments, Wilmore's reputation in the Bahamas began to grow, but not always in a good way. He has experienced countless incidents where other referees didn't want to work with him because he was too young.

"We are growing up in a society where people continually want to tell young people what they can and cannot do just because of age, and I had to fight that when I first became a referee. Age is not a limitation," Wilmore said.

Despite the criticisms, however, Wilmore forged on. In 2012, Wilmore became the second-youngest official in the history of FIBA. He was the youngest to ever do so in the Western Hemisphere, at the age of 18.

"To be one of the youngest international referees on the circuit means a lot to me," Wilmore said. "It confirms to me a long held belief that age is only a number and should not be an obstacle and if one is willing to put in the work to improve despite their age or experience it is reasonable to assume that they can arrive at the highest levels of their work."

Since becoming an international referee, Wilmore has traveled extensively. His first international tournament took him to Uruguay in the summer of 2013 for a World Cup qualifier. Later that same summer, he had another World Cup qualifier in Puerto Rico.

The following summer, however, he had his breakthrough.

In June of 2014, Wilmore became the youngest person to ever officiate a FIBA World Cup when he traveled to the Czech Republic for the under-17 FIBA World Cup for Women. At that tournament, Wilmore was chosen to officiate the bronze medal match between the home nation Czech Republic and Hungary, an event he credits as his favorite memory as a referee.

"High intensity and electric best describe the atmosphere and it is the dream of referees to be tasked with adjudicating a match of this level of importance in this kind of environment," Wilmore said. "For me, it was a dream realized and further confirmation that the many hours I spend perfecting my craft will produce fruitful and tangible results."

What sets him apart from the average referee is the hard work and preparation.

"I am drawn to the constant and unattainable pursuit of perfection," Wilmore said. "Though I know it is not attainable, my competitive and perfectionist mentality does not allow for me to be easily satisfied. I am driven by the fact that you can never in officiating arrive at the level where there is nothing else to learn or to improve upon."

Just as every player does, Wilmore studies film of his games, making mental notations on everything from his gait to the accuracy of his decisions. No step goes unnoticed.

He runs his own blog on officiating, Points of Emphasis 242, and has more tournaments already scheduled for the rest of the summer. His real focus, however, is the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. If he gets the opportunity, he'd be the youngest basketball official in Olympic history and the first from the Bahamas.

"I do not want to sound cliché but the sky is the limit. I see opportunities to officiate Olympic and senior World Cup level basketball," Wilmore said. "There is the opportunity for me to travel to every corner of the world as basketball is a global past time. The possibilities are endless."


Another uniform

Christian Wilmore has more than one uniform in his closet.

When he's not officiating, Wilmore trades his referee uniform for a tuxedo to sing for with the Men's Chorus at Saint John's University. 

In May, he traveled with the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University Choral Arts Ensemble.

The 50-voice choir performed six concerts and contributed music for three Liturgies while on a concert tour May 14-29 of Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic.