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Respected NBL referee Michael Aylen reaches 500

He just wanted a way to be involved in the NBL 21 seasons ago but today Michael Aylen reached 500 games and will go down as one of the League's best and most respected referees. Aylen grew up in Nunawading and while he now resides in Adelaide working for Basketball South Australia, it was in Melbourne he notched his 500-game milestone as United faced the Adelaide 36ers at Hisense Arena this afternoon. Aylen's milestone is significant as it surpasses more games than any player currently in the NBL, reflecting his impressive experience. He has also achieved great success outside the NBL, including refereeing the Gold Medal game at the 2012 London Olympics, but Aylen is proud to get to 500 and for it to be in Melbourne. "I'm living in Adelaide now so it will be nice to get back there and my children will be at the game so that will be a good highlight," Aylen said during the week. "I think it's 21 seasons and 20 years so it means that I guess I have been good enough, but also that I've had the passion to hang around for this long and to continue to get enjoyment out of it. It's a nice little feather in the cap for a bit of endurance and perseverance. "If you look at [referees] Ray Hunt and Bill Mildenhall who have done 949 and 940, they will never be surpassed. But from a short, little fat kid out of Nunawading to hang out in the NBL for 21 years it isn’t a bad peg to hang my hat on." ay2 Officiating 500 games over 21 seasons makes it hard for any individual moments to stand out given the amount of possessions he's overseen in that time. But the recent rivalry between the New Zealand Breakers and Perth Wildcats stands out for Aylen, as does the thrilling Grand Final between the Wollongong Hawks and Townsville Crocodiles in 2001. "They all do actually blend into one another but recently the Perth Wildcats-New Zealand Breakers rivalry has been fantastic to be involved in. I've had three of their games this year and they are always intense and finals standard and quality played with passion," he said. "I go back to my first Grand Final in 2001 when Wollongong beat Townsville to win their first title, and it was an amazing full house up in Townsville. "There are highs and lows along the way and it's hard to pick anything out, but you get games that are ball tearers and then mediocre blow outs from time to time." Basketball is a rare sport where there is plenty of interaction between the officials and players and coaches. Aylen feels that has helped him build up some good rapport over the years, but he acknowledges he will never see eye to eye with everyone. "You like to think that over all this time you build a bit of a bond, but there's always some people that you fundamentally just don’t get along with and there's others who you have a respect for both ways," he said. "Mika Vukona always shakes my hand before every game and says he's happy I'm doing the game. Brendan Joyce used to always just call me No. 1. "I've built some great friendships over 20 years, but there are other people you just show respect to, shake their hand and you'll never get along with them but that's life." ay1 The NBL has undergone a massive transformation during Aylen's time in the League. The one thing that stands out to him in the modern era is how athletic every player is. "The calibre of athlete in the League now is second to none. You did previously have guys like Dwayne McClain and Leon Trimmingham, but the athleticism is better than ever before," he said. "You only have to look at Jarrad Weeks from Illawarra who is 6-foot nothing and skinny as buggery, but gets up and reverse jams it without any trouble in the world. "The athleticism is there and we're a different game to the international game where we're a lot more physical, run a lot more and there's less half-court basketball. The quality of the League at the moment is probably the second to none certainly to what it's been in at least the last 10 years." For Aylen to remain at the top of his game for over 20 years it has taken tremendous dedication and that's something he has put a lot of effort into to make sure his mind and body remains at its peak. "Most referees get into it because they weren’t very good players and find out they are good referees, but generally they aren’t genetically athletically gifted," Aylen said. "We do have to work hard on that and I was a short, little fat kid out of Nunawading. But I have built my own gym, I train five days a week and I get up at 6 o'clock in the morning to work out and watch my game tapes. "People think you just turn up, get your cheque and want to be the centre of attention but there are a lot of things that go in behind the scenes before we get out on the court." Michael Aylen was honoured prior to tip-off at Hisense Arena in a presentation with NBL Executive Director Larry Kestelman and Head of Basketball Operations Bret Mactavish. 
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