Ronald Martinez, Getty Images
Former BYU player turned referee Bernie Fryer discusses a call with Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki. Fryer is now the NBA's vice president and director of officials.

He only played in a BYU uniform for two seasons, and since that time his contact with the school has been minimal. But the NBA's new vice president and director of officials, Bernie Fryer, remains one of the best point guards the Cougars ever had.

Fryer's appointment to the NBA post, announced this week, is most certainly a move by the league to help restore credibility after a betting scandal led to the prison sentencing of longtime official Tim Donaghy. A shakeup in the NBA is long overdue in the crisis viewed as the worst in modern league history.

The man who recruited Fryer to BYU remembers the native of Washington as an outstanding athlete who was smart and was a tremendous student of the game.

Pete Witbeck, an assistant during the Stan Watts era, is a retired assistant athletic director at BYU. In the late '60s, Witbeck received a tip about a junior college point guard who posted a 57-point game during a double-overtime contest in the northwest.

He decided to check it out. The player's name was Bernie Fryer.

The tip came from the father of former BYU star Gary Ernest (1958-61), who lived near Seattle.

"He had always been a solid guy in judging talent, and he knew we were looking for a point guard," said Witbeck.

"You got to check out this guy," Ernest told Witbeck.

He did.

On the first of two recruiting trips, Witbeck remembers it being late in the year when he first saw Fryer play.

"He had great ball-handling skills and he could really shoot. I got Stan to come up and see him, and we visited with his parents on two occasions," Witbeck said.

"As I remember, he was recruited by several other universities, including the University of Washington.

"He liked our transition game and how we pushed the ball up the court, and he decided to accept our offer to play in Provo."

Fryer enrolled at BYU and immediately won the starting point guard spot during the 1970-71 season. On that team he'd play with a future Hall of Famer, the late Kresimir Cosic, for two of Cosic's three years in a BYU uniform.

In Fryer's two years at BYU, he played in 55 games and scored 1,030 points for an average of more than 18 points a game. He was a 46 percent shooter in the days before the 3-point shot and he made 75 percent of his free throws.

But the thing Witbeck will always remember is Fryer getting ticked off when Cosic would get a rebound and bring the ball up the court, taking over his role as point guard.

"He'd yell over at us on the sideline or during a timeout and say, 'You've gotta make him (Cosic) quit doing that, he won't give it to the guards."'

So, Watts, Witbeck and the other staffers would lecture Cosic about the importance of keeping the ball in the hands of the point guards when coming up the court.

"Cosic would promise, he wouldn't do it again. Then he did," Witbeck recalled. "He just couldn't quit, he loved playing point guard and having the ball in his hands."

Fryer earned All-WAC honors and performed exactly how BYU's coaches expected he would in taking over the back-court duties. Witbeck has run into Fryer in airports several times over the years. No doubt Cosic is a topic.

Fryer, who served as the NBA's Assistant Director of Officials and Crew Chief Coordinator during the 2007-08 season, will be responsible for the day-to-day management and on-court performance of NBA referees, reporting to Senior Vice President of Referee Operations, Ron Johnson.

"This restructuring, together with the recent hiring of Ron Johnson, ensures that our referees are being managed, trained and developed by a group of first-rate, dedicated professionals," said NBA President of League and Basketball Operations Joel Litvin.

An NBA referee for 28 seasons, Fryer holds the distinction of being one of only three people to both referee and play in the NBA — Leon Wood and Stan Stutz are the others. During his career as an NBA official, Fryer refereed 1,696 regular-season games, 157 playoff games and 12 Finals games. Prior to becoming an official, Fryer spent two seasons playing in the NBA, earning All-Rookie Team honors in 1974 while playing for the Portland Trail Blazers.

Witbeck remembers Fryer won a Seattle-area water ski endurance contest a couple of years in a row in which the skiers had to skip around some 24 miles of waterways near the city.

That takes some guts.

Fryer will need that and more to help restore officiating trust in the big league.

It's never been this low.


E-mail: dharmon@desnews.com