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Referee dad is Max's official inspiration

US Olympian draws motivation from father's NCAA career

Updated: 2024-04-05 07:03
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Members of the US men's water polo team train for this summer's Paris Olympic Games at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, California, on Jan 17. Attacker Max Irving, pictured third from top, is the son of Michael Irving, a former Pac-12 college basketball referee. [Photo/AP]

Throughout his water polo career — from growing up in Long Beach to playing for UCLA and the US national team — Max Irving has drawn inspiration from his father, Michael.

Each of them knows what it's like to work in front of a hostile crowd.

Max Irving is preparing for the Paris Olympics — looking to help the US to its first medal since it won silver in 2008 — while Michael Irving is a longtime men's college basketball referee assigned to the NCAA Tournament again this year.

"Just to be able to see him and his professionalism and just how focused he is when he is officiating a game is something that's really inspiring to me," Max Irving said, "because I know if my dad's been able to do it for as long as he's been able to do it, then I can definitely at least try my best to continue that legacy in the water."

Making the most of his time in professional leagues in Italy and Greece, Irving has turned into an indispensable member of the US team. He scored 25 goals as the US clinched a spot in Paris by winning the 2023 Pan American Games in Chile. He collected 10 goals as the US finished ninth at the world championships in Qatar last month.

"If you ask me, 2017, he was first time with us ... is he going to be here where he is right now, I would give you the wrong answer, I would tell you no," US coach Dejan Udovicic said. "He's really improved.

"Without Max with this team and this roster, if Max is not playing or he is not playing on that level with what he's supposed to give us, it's not easy to replace him."

The 28-year-old Irving played in his first Olympics in 2021 in Tokyo, but there were no fans in the stands because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Irving, who has two brothers and a sister, should have plenty of support this time around.

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