THERE are precious few more consistent performing or more well-regarded imports to have come to the SBL the past decade than Michael Lay and he was proud to reach 200 games in the league while still playing at a high level with the South West Slammers.
Lay had no idea what he was getting himself into when he lobbed in Geraldton to play with the Buccaneers as an import point guard for the 2007 SBL season.
It was a significant change of scenery for Lay to come from growing up in Compton, Los Angeles but he made an immediate impact for the Buccaneers firstly in 2007 and 2008, and then a second stint in 2011 and 2012.
Lay was club MVP in three of those four seasons but more than that it was a lifechanging move in so many ways where he began his work with the youth through basketball starting up his School of Hoops programs which has now transitioned to him working at Clontarf Aboriginal College.
On top of that, he is now married to Tash and the couple have two young children, so it’s fair to say that initial decision to move to Geraldton has turned out the best thing Lay ever did even if he’s now settled in nicely 580km away in Bunbury with the Slammers.
Lay also had a three-year stint playing in Germany with Holiday Check Baskets along with a season at the Perry Lakes Hawks in 2013, but by 2015 Lay thought his days getting paid to play basketball were beyond him.
He committed to growing School of Hoops and even found himself settled in Halls Creek for some time.
However, when Charles Nix reached out to him in 2017 to see if he wanted to play and help out as an assistant coach when he took over the job at the Slammers, Lay jumped at the chance and has now never looked back.
He and his family have settled nicely into life in Bunbury to the point where he has put his hand up to contest the local government election later this year.
Combine that with the fact that he is captain and assistant coach at the Slammers and still playing outstanding basketball personally even if his team is struggling.
After notching 200 games in the SBL, Lay couldn’t be happier with the way things have turned out.
“The lifestyle is No. 1 and also the ability and opportunity to play basketball, and I think I just fell in love with the place,” Lay said.
“It started off in Geraldton where it’s really windy up there, but just the opportunity for me to continue to play basketball has meant I’ve just been able to continue to follow my heart.
“I’ve been able to keep doing what I love to do and opportunities have flowed from that. Looking back, it’s crazy to have spent that long here but each season and step along the way has been me committing to doing what I love doing.”
While the 2019 season hasn’t gone to plan as a team for the Slammers with a win yet to come their way, that’s certainly through no fault of Lay who is in the best shape and form during his now three-year stint at the Slammers.
Lay looks like and is playing like a man fresh out of college in 2019. He’s in great shape and his basketball is backing that up with him putting up 18.4 points, 5.5 assists and 4.7 rebounds a game.
He had another 26 points and five assists on Saturday night against the Perry Lakes Hawks in his 200th SBL appearance. While he would obviously have preferred some wins this season, he is happy with what he’s able to produce at 35 years of age.
“One thing I’ve learned is that I can use my experience to my advantage now that I’m a bit older, but I’m still able to do what I love doing,” Lay said.
“So I commit myself to training and keeping my fundamentals strong to make sure I can provide the team with everything I can to give us the best possible chance at winning.
“That’s obviously not happening as a team right now, but on an individual note I feel really confident that I’m back to some of my best basketball now after having three years off.
“I actually never thought I would play basketball at this level again, but being able to look back three years and to be still playing really is a blessing.”
Lay was resigned to the fact that his 2013 season at Perry Lakes would be his last in the SBL and he had reservations about returning to the court when he received the call from Nix ahead of 2017 given he had three years out of the league.
But instantly when he arrived at the Slammers and joined a team that included Tre Nichols, Brian Voelkel, Clive Weeden, Teny Puot, Travis Durnin and Chris Douglas, he knew he had made the right decision.
That Slammers team of 2017 really got rolling and played a high-quality and dramatic playoff series before losing in three games to the eventual champion Perth Redbacks.
Remarkably and somewhat disappointingly, Lay is now the only one of that bunch still at the Slammers. The last 18 months have been challenging with seven wins from 41 games, but Lay will always look back fondly on that team.
“That was one of the best seasons I’ve had in terms of enjoyment. We started off 0-4 I think and then we found our rhythm and chemistry-wise we just clicked. I think that just stemmed from having a good group of guys where we all got along, and that just flowed onto the court,” he said.
“Once we understood what our roles were and accepted them, we started getting wins and we had some really good momentum. It’s really easy when you’ve got great athleticism with Tre and Brian, experience with Clive and all the other guys.
“That really helped and it’s a shame we came up short but by far that was one of my most enjoyable seasons, as well as my season at Perry Lakes back in 2013. That was a really good year but in terms of friendships and bonding, those two seasons definitely standout in my mind.”
Lay is enjoying the work he is doing now with Clontarf as regional manager for WA South West. While things can always change quickly, he sees no reasons why he and his family aren’t settled in Bunbury for the foreseeable future.
“I’ve got a really good job with Clontarf and I can’t see myself or my family moving unless things drastically change,” Lay said.
“Bunbury is a beautiful little spot and hopefully basketball-wise things can improve which would be the icing on the cake, but lifestyle-wise my family and I are really settled and couldn’t be happier.
“I have an attitude that wherever I’m living is where I consider home so I’ve got a permanent mentality just to maximise friendships and opportunities where you are living.
“If you are thinking short-term you can cut yourself short with those things so while I’m living there it’s home but you never know what other opportunities might come up.”
With the form Lay is displaying right now, it would be a shame if he doesn’t play on in 2020 and he would certainly like to give winning that elusive championship another real shake.
But he won’t make that decision until after this season is done and he sees how life pans out later in 2019.
“Next year is a long way away and when you’ve got a family with two beautiful kids and my supportive wife, we just take it season by season at this point in life,” Lay said.
“But I still love the game, I’m still capable and I would love to give myself the best chance at actually winning a championship. That’s obviously what we all aspire to do so we’ll just have to see what happens beyond this season.”