IOWA CITY -- Longtime college basketball official Ed Hightower embraced several Iowa players and coaches as he left the court for the final time in his celebrated career Sunday afternoon.
Hightower, who officiated college basketball for 36 years, met with Iowa's Aaron White at the edge of the playing surface for a few seconds before taking the tunnel up Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
It was an emotional finale for 'The Tower."
"When I see Aaron White improve like what he has through this period of time, and to be a great kid, your heart just goes out," Hightower said after the game. "And those are the kinds of things that I’m going to miss."
"I've always liked him since I've been here," White said. "It was kind of sad to see his last game. He had told me just he follows us a lot because he likes Coach (Fran) McCaffery and he likes how we play. He just said keep getting better and he'll be watching me and he likes me as a player so it was nice to have his last game here. He had a great career."
Hightower, 62, officiated in several Final Fours and worked his first NCAA title game in 1988. He spurned an NBA officiating career to stay in education and ranks as one of sports' most recognizable officials. He's officiated games at both Iowa home arenas over the years, including the first one at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
"When (Iowa) opened the new arena with Michigan State, and I had that last play of the game where (Steve) Carfino stepped out of bounds, and (Bobby) Hansen hit the 3 and I disallowed it," Hightower said. "We were reminiscing about that. I’d been in the Big Ten, but that gave me credibility as far as not being afraid to make a call against the home team or the visiting team. A lot of great, great memories of this league, coming to Iowa City over the years, and I’m sure with Franny (Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery) here, you’re going to return to those glory days.”
Hightower earned respect from both coaches and players. Yahoo! Sports columnist Dan Wetzel wrote earlier this week about Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo welling up when talking about Hightower. Indiana Coach Tom Crean did the same. Sunday, McCaffery and Iowa senior Devyn Marble both said they wished Hightower would stay in the college game.
"He's one of those guys that has an incredible ability to manage the game in a way where he can communicate with the players and the coaches, and you always know you're going to get a great shot," McCaffery said. "You're going to get a great night from him. He's going to give you everything he's got and it's going to be fair and you're not going to have to worry, like, do I have to work this guy to get a call because he's working it -- he's been above that for as long as I've known him."
"That's my guy. I like Ed. He's a real good official," Marble said. "He's done a great job in his career, officiating. I've never had a problem with him. I wish him all the best and it was cool to be able to have an opportunity to have him ref his last game."
McCaffery joked with Hightower that he wanted his last technical.
"I called a double-dribble, and he knew it was a good call, but he said ‘I want to make him call a technical foul on me,'" Hightower said. "He said, ‘Hightower, in the second half, I just may get a technical foul.’ And I said, ‘If you do, I’m throwing you out.’ But those are the friendships, those are the emotional ones, and I’m going to miss it greatly. This game has been so good to me. It’s put me in a position to meet some of the great people of college basketball and to see some of the great players."
Hightower will continue his career as superintendent of the Edwardsville (Ill.) School District. Marble said he thinks Hightower should return.
"I'm surprised he's done," Marble said. "I almost wanted to ask him, 'Are you sure you're ready?' He's done a fabulous job and he's obviously one of the premier officials in the country."