The announcement that Adelaide had signed former basketballers Jack Osborn and Tim Klaosen highlights a growing trend amongst AFL clubs.
While the AFL is happy to look at the NRL to find its next superstar, club recruiters are instead looking wider, with many finding themselves courtside at the basketball.
Osborn and Klaosen join former US college basketballer Ben Dowdell on the Crows’ list. Only last month, Collingwood signed Ben Richmond while former Melbourne Tigers player Ryan Bathie signed with Geelong two years ago.
All were signed as category B rookies, meaning they hadn’t played in any AFL competition for at least the last three years. This rule allows clubs to add players outside its list in the hope they will develop into footballers.
While none of these players have the big profile of an Israel Folau, who attracted money and publicity in his time in the AFL, its only time before a big name star will join the ranks.
Olympian Mark Worthington tested the waters after returning from London, indicating his interest in joining West Coast. The 29-year-old even went as far as trailing at the club before being told his age played a major factor against him.
If someone who has played at international level shows interest with little support from the AFL, imagine what would happen if a top basketballer was given the same support as Folau and Karmichael Hunt.
For many, they would be earning just as much if not than what they were being paid to play basketball in Australia. The AFL will never be able to match the money offered overseas to players, but would be competitive in the Australian market.
A number of players on AFL lists were top-line basketballers as juniors, representing their states at junior level. Collingwood gun Scott Pendlebury was even offered an AIS scholarship. One of his mates at Vic Country training was fellow Gippslander Jarryd Roughead, who focused on basketball until he was 16. Kurt Tippett is another who made a name for himself at under-18 level.
While many players only focus on one football code growing up, some players had the distinct advantage of being able to play both football and basketball due to the time differences. It meant that many were able to combine both sports and develop two sets of skills with success, making their transition into footy easier.
In some ways, basketball players are better suited to AFL than rugby players. While rugby players are used to playing with an oval football, the biggest challenge that faced Folau and Hunt was to get their bodies right for AFL. They had to lose weight and increase their fitness just so they could get a run on the park.
Basketball requires athleticism, pace, endurance and the ability to think on your feet, all which is vital to AFL. It’s extremely impressive when you consider that not all basketballers are small, with the likes of Andrew Bogut measuring up to current AFL ruckmen.
If the AFL needs any clearer indication that basketball is the way to go, it only needs to look at Dean Brogan. Brogan, the Greater Western Sydney and former Port Adelaide ruckman, is evidence that it can work. He is not only an AFL premiership player but also has a NBL championship to go with it.
While he was never the top ruckman in the game, Brogan was able to hold it with the best. His basketball background helps him in contest and relate to the quick movement of the game.
Josh Jenkins is another former basketballer who looks set to have an impact in the AFL. The former Townsville Crocodiles development players has gone from being an Essendon rookie two years ago to being seen as a vital part of Adelaide’s plans for next year.
The AFL seems happy to spend money looking overseas to find its next stars, with basketballers among those travelling out to the draft combine. While it’s good to do that, if we were to look in our own backyard, we would find players just as talented who would be able to adapt to the game a lot easier and for a lot less money.