Or said the wrong thing, or gestured the wrong way, or celebrated excessively, or did anything else that might be considered "unsporting behavior,'' according to a new zero-tolerance policy approved for this season by the NCAA.
Many of the players and coaches gathered at Greensboro's Grandover Resort bluntly said they either did not like the change, didn't understand why it was necessary, or both. The biggest issue: there is too much room left for the wrong interpretation.
"If you dunk on someone or whatever -- that's just someone's game. They take pride in it, "insisted Virginia Tech guard Malcolm Delaney. "They don't mean to disrespect people, but that's sometimes how it comes out.
"I think they should have done a survey with the players, asked us for our input,'' he added. "We're the ones playing, and they wouldn't know how we feel about it unless they ask us. They wouldn't know how it affects how we play if they don't ask how we feel."
Said Maryland guard Greivis Vasquez -- formally voted by the media as preseason first-team all-ACC, and informally picked as the player most constrained by the new rule -- "What if you dunk on someone, and it's a crazy dunk, and you can't keep the emotions inside of you? I guess that's what they want us to do. But, that's why they have rules.''
Not even a coach's reputation as "old school'' kept him from being perplexed by the new rules, which call for a technical if an official -- at his discretion -- deems a player's actions as over the line.
"That's why college basketball is a great game, because of that exuberance,'' Maryland coach Gary Williams said, adding that there is a distinct difference between celebration and taunting. "These are 18-and-22-year-old kids who have grown up playing a certain way. It may not be the way I grew up playing it, but it's a great way to play.
"And I hope nobody gets penalized for making a great play and being penalized for it. You've seen it in football already,'' he added. "Hopefully, nobody loses a game over something like that.''
Williams was referring to the infamous "excessive celebration'' football penalty that essentially cost Georgia a victory over LSU earlier this month, a mistake the Southeastern Conference later had to admit to and for which the officiating crew was suspended. Georgia Tech's Paul Hewitt also recalled that play, and laughed when asked about the new basketball rule.
"You always teach your players to respect the game, so I think it's important that you're serious about that -- but I'm smiling, because you're putting a lot on the officials,'' Hewitt said. "They're officiating the best athletes in college sports ... This is just another thing you're piling on their plates.''
The taunting rule is one of a handful of changes or areas of emphasis to be put into play this season. There now will be a specific blocking-charging area under the basket, but one that will not be marked by a line as in the NBA. Also, the use of replay will be expanded to determine whether certain fouls are called flagrant, intentional or technicals; three-seconds will be scrutinized more; excessively swinging elbows by a player with the ball will be subject to flagrant fouls; the choices coaches have in picking a replacement foul shooter when the fouled player is injured were narrowed, and distracting free-throw shooters once they are at the line was outlawed.
Even as he was explaining the new taunting rules, ACC officiating supervisor John Clougherty admitted that the Georgia-LSU situation "went too far.'' On the other hand, he said, the basketball officials would now have wide latitude on calling, for example, pointing at an opponent or standing over him after a dunk, flexing muscles, posing, speaking or gesturing to him.
The players would have to walk a fine line between celebrating with teammates and inspiring a home crowd, Clougherty said, and acting unsportsmanlike. As a guide, he said, "Act like you've been there, don't embarrass your opponent.''
Coaches and players don't mind the obvious unsportsmanlike acts being whistled, but they said there are too many that are being confused with normal expressions of excitement. With those, they said, there's no good reason to halt them anyway.
"You're not doing anything wrong, you're just showing the love of the game,'' Williams said. "It doesn't bother me. Obviously it bothers some people ... This is the 2009-2010 season. We're not playing in the 1960s, where everybody wears a crew cut.''
One of the few players who believed it would not alter how he plays was North Carolina forward Deon Thompson: "Not with our team. Our coaches don't like when our team dunks in a guy's face and taunts him -- he doesn't like that,'' meaning head coach Roy Williams.
Hewitt pointed out that with the way players grow up playing ball nowadays, traveling all over the country and building friendships in competition that continue as they move to differing college teams, what might look like trash-talk might be a completely innocent exchange between long-time acquaintances. "I don't think that was considered when they put this in,'' Hewitt said, adding that it would not have hurt for coaches as well as players to be "consulted'' on such a move.
Ironically, Thompson has such a bond with Clemson's Trevor Booker, a teammate on the United States' under-19 World University Games squad in Belgrade last summer; Booker, also a preseason all-ACC pick, boasted of what he and his team would do to Thompson's Tar Heels, and said of the rule, "That's a big one for me; I like showing my emotions ... They have to let you get your crowd into it.''
North Carolina, the defending regular-season and NCAA champs, and Duke, winners of last year's ACC tournament, tied for first in the preseason voting, the first time there has been a tie in 41 years of media voting. Duke's Kyle Singler was chosen player of the year and was joined on the all-conference first team by Vasquez, Booker, Delaney and North Carolina's Ed Davis. Georgia Tech's Derrick Favors was the overwhelming pick for rookie of the year.
The 2012 tournament, already awarded to Atlanta, will be played in Philips Arena rather than the Georgia Dome, the site the last two times the city hosted it, conference officials announced. The two preceding it and the three following it will be held at the Greensboro Coliseum.