HEAL: American basketballers a better bet than Folau for AFL clubs

Shane Heal Columnist

By Shane Heal,


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    LeBron James - the biggest thing in basketball, literally and figuratively. AFP PHOTO / MARK RALSTON

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    The AFL’s pursuit of former American college basketball players may seem like a gamble, but so long as clubs are choosing wisely and know what they’re looking for, it’s a wise investment.

    Ten players were flown in for the AFL’s recent draft combine and one of those, Eric Wallace, has been given a 10-day trial at North Melbourne.

    Is it crazy? I don’t think so.

    The AFL were reportedly paying Israel Folau $1.5 million a year which, despite admittedly bringing off-field benefits in terms of marketing and profile, was not a gamble that generated long-term benefits on the field.

    For that same $1.5 million, the AFL could get at least 15 American basketball players out here and, so long as they got the selection process right, at least one of them would become a star.

    The stats say only around one percent of Division 1 college players make it to the NBA. Outside of that, you’ve got Europe and the D-League.

    It leaves a massive number of quality athletes wanting a professional career and with the right physical attributes with nowhere to go.

    Since taking over as coach of the Sydney Kings in February, I’ve literally received hundreds of emails from agents and players looking for an opportunity to play basketball in Australia.

    There could be some real finds for the AFL in this group because physically, a lot of these players have the right body type.

    Obviously, the transition would not be automatic. Not all of them would make it as AFL is a tough sport.

    Once a player is recruited, it’s going to take time for him to learn a new sport and adapt enough to play it at a high level. He’ll have to master foreign skills like kicking, handballing and marking. Persistence will be very important.

    Also, it won’t work if the clubs involved aren’t serious. They would have to treat their recruit as an investment and be prepared to wait a couple of years to see a return.

    However, with patience, that return could be very significant.

    While Nic Naitanui is considered tall and unbelievably athletic by AFL standards, if he were to play basketball these attributes would not stand out. They’d be considered normal.

    Body type isn’t the only factor that makes basketballers appealing these days, either. Perhaps more than ever, the game style is conducive to players making the transition.

    The AFL is so much faster today than it was 10-15 years ago, the players are so much fitter and more athletic. With less one-on-one situations, players also need quick hands and quick peripheral vision. These qualities, which are prerequisites for basketball players, are very much in demand from modern day AFL coaches.

    The terminology is also starting to overlap more. Zones and pressing are topics now covered in both sports.

    Similar traits have always existed, but with the innovation that has taken place in the last decade or so in the AFL, now is a particularly good time to look at what’s out there.

    The concern some would raise is that it’s a waste of time and money. They might say that the possibility of finding a star is so minimal that it’s not worth it.

    Just look at the Israel Folau deal.

    Realistically, there’s more chance that a 6’7″ athlete from the States is going to be successful long-term than Folau, and for a significantly smaller investment.

    There are guys I’ve played with in the States that if you played them at full forward, they are that big and that strong that after kicking it to them it’d be almost impossible to stop them, especially now that you can’t hack the forward’s arm or anything like that.

    The beauty of it is that it’s only going to take one player to come over and be a star. Once that happens, it could open an entirely new talent pool for the sport.

    I’m not saying it would be easy. I’m not saying every college basketball player that doesn’t go pro is a suitable candidate. I’m not saying clubs wouldn’t require patience.

    But there’s a lot of great talent out there and the AFL would be crazy not to explore it.

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    The Crowd Says (59)

    • December 18th 2012 @ 7:47am
      josh said | December 18th 2012 @ 7:47am | ! Report

      I tend to agree. Most recruits will be better suited to play ruck and would be pretty successful too. Ruck skills are basketball skills, vertical leap, tap downs are all skills basketball recruits all ready have. If basketballers brought the volleyball swot from shot blocks, tap downs alone could travel 10-15 meters, that would stop the congestion around the bounce. I’m all for it and I hope the North Melbourne recruit can land a spot. It has the potential to change the game.

      Comment left via The Roar’s iPhone app. Download it now [http://itunes.apple.com/au/app/the-roar/id327174726?mt=8].

      • Roar Guru

        December 18th 2012 @ 8:49am
        mds1970 said | December 18th 2012 @ 8:49am | ! Report

        Dean Brogan was a good example. He’d played for the Adelaide 36ers in the late 1990s before crossing over to AFL; and played in Port Adelaide’s 2004 premiership side.

        • December 18th 2012 @ 11:54am
          The Curious Case of Benjamin Stratton said | December 18th 2012 @ 11:54am | ! Report

          Yeah, but ‘white men can’t jump’ 😉

          • December 18th 2012 @ 3:16pm
            Ian Whitchurch said | December 18th 2012 @ 3:16pm | ! Report

            And in the case of Dean Brogan, he cant make free throws either.

    • December 18th 2012 @ 7:54am
      All sports said | December 18th 2012 @ 7:54am | ! Report

      “Only around one percent of Division 1 college players make it to the NBA.” Wow!! That does leave alot of untapped talent.

    • Roar Pro

      December 18th 2012 @ 8:06am
      Matt Simpson said | December 18th 2012 @ 8:06am | ! Report

      I mentioned in an article about code hoppers that Dean Brogan won flags with the Adelaide 36ers and the Power. LeBron James at CHF? Hell Yeah!!!

    • December 18th 2012 @ 8:18am
      sledgeross said | December 18th 2012 @ 8:18am | ! Report

      Good point Hammer, I remember Brett Brown making the point about Sam Mackinnon. Over here, we look at a guy who was young, white, about 6’5 who was dunking in traffic and on the break, and everyone was thing hes an NBA talent. But Brett Brown said that while Mackinnon was a good athlete, you put him in any NBA draft and he is only considered average.
      I know that Paul Roos has mentioned similar pounts to yours about the unlimited potential for the “also-rans” of American college sport.

      • December 18th 2012 @ 9:57am
        B.A Sports said | December 18th 2012 @ 9:57am | ! Report

        Paul Roos was a pretty handy basketballer as a youngster as well.

        I like the idea alot. To make it through the college system, you have to be dedicated and a pretty handy athlete.

        If nothing else, it is worth the AFL experimenting.

        • Columnist

          December 18th 2012 @ 10:14am
          Ryan O'Connell said | December 18th 2012 @ 10:14am | ! Report

          Roosey was more than handy – he could really play!

    • Roar Guru

      December 18th 2012 @ 8:32am
      Redb said | December 18th 2012 @ 8:32am | ! Report

      Given a development period like that of Mike Pyke there is loads of potential for AFL in time. Basketballers may well be better suited to the game, bouncing the ball, one on one, guarding space, zones, etc
      Definitely worth a shot to tap into a massive talent base if you consider Australia has less than 10% of the US population, even without accessing the absolute best American talent the opportunities are immense.

      Kicking skills will be the issue. Maybe if some have a College football background also it might help.

      • December 18th 2012 @ 10:57am
        Chris said | December 18th 2012 @ 10:57am | ! Report

        Hardly any positions in American Football require kicking either.

        • Roar Guru

          December 18th 2012 @ 11:16am
          Redb said | December 18th 2012 @ 11:16am | ! Report

          Sure, a lot of them would be use to handling an oval ball and some would learn how to place kick and punt.

    • December 18th 2012 @ 9:26am
      Australian Rules said | December 18th 2012 @ 9:26am | ! Report

      I think the logical next step for the AFL is to lure LeBron over here…with a marketing top-up in the pay packet.

      Great article Hammer