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Calling the big shots, an exercise physiology alumna trains to be an NBA referee

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Kelsey Reynolds, ISU exercise physiology alumna

Training to become a National Basketball Association (NBA) referee is how Kelsey Reynolds, ’16 master’s degree in exercise physiology, has spent the past year. “I was job searching during my last semester at Illinois State when the Referee Development Program caught my eye. It was the closest thing to being back on the basketball court.” Reynolds played women’s basketball for DePaul University while earning her bachelor’s degree.

The Referee Development Program was created by the NBA to prepare individuals over a three-year period to officiate in the G League and eventually move up to the NBA and WNBA. The G League is the NBA’s official minor league basketball organization. From an applicant pool of more than 500, Reynolds was one of eight selected for the officiating program. Trainees learn all aspects of officiating basketball from making accurate calls to proper mechanics and positioning. They also gain knowledge about the NBA operation by completing rotations through the corporation’s different departments including Referee Operations, G League, and WNBA. Reynold’s experience of writing a thesis and using statistics served her well in her rotation with the Analytics Department where games are reviewed for call accuracy.

A typical day might include officiating men’s league games; a film session on mechanics, play calling and positioning; and rotations through the different departments. The bulk of Reynold’s time; however, is spent officiating games for men’s and women’s leagues. When asked if she ever feels intimidated officiating men’s games Reynolds quipped, “All players want is accuracy. It doesn’t matter if you’re male or female as long as you can call the plays correctly.”

Technology is becoming more and more a part of the game. NBA games are filmed from nine different angles, and WNBA games are filmed from two different angles so that every play is clearly visible. The games are also connected to the Replay Center in Secaucus, New Jersey. “Whenever a referee is looking at a monitor during a game, they are talking to the folks in New Jersey to make a final ruling on the play.” Video makes referees accountable, thus making crisp calls with proper positioning is essential.

Reynolds was recently selected to referee in the upcoming women’s collegiate division three basketball conference in the New York / New Jersey region where she currently lives. Another recent achievement occurred during the NBA all-star weekend when she was selected to officiate Basketball Without Borders camps which included the top 67 high-school age boys and girls players from 32 countries and territories.

Reynolds’ notes one of her best memories during her time at ISU was that she was able to live with a cousin while she studied for her masters. She also appreciated the time spent in her graduate assistantship working with Girls in the Game; a sports, health, leadership, and life program for third- and fifth-grade girls. Most rewarding to Reynolds was when parents and teachers told her they could tell which girls had participated in the program by their leadership, attentiveness, and willingness to take initiative.

When asked what advice she would give to recent KNR alums she said, “do well in school and work hard so that you are prepared for opportunities that come your way. Putting the necessary time and energy into school will pay off in the long run!”

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