Sport Basketball How the AFL is gutting Australian basketball
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How the AFL is gutting Australian basketball

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A couple of weeks ago, in the tradition of rising Australian basketball talent, Hugh Greenwood left the court following a session with the Perth Wildcats, the team he had signed with for the upcoming 2015/16 NBL season and two years beyond that, and announced he was leaving the sport to pursue an AFL career.

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At 191cm, with a solid frame and a more grounded style of athletic ability, he fits what is fast becoming a prototype made famous by the Scott Pendleburys of this world.

Dante Exum, 20, is making waves in the NBA. Photo: Getty
Dante Exum, 20, is making waves in the NBA. Photo: Getty

Having spent the past four years in New Mexico playing point guard in the American college system, it’s unlikely Greenwood would have found the time or retailer who stocks Australian sporting goods, to work on his set-shot from 50m. History tells us that’s hardly a stumbling block.

Two years ago, a six-two, stocky Caulfield Grammar kid named Michael Luxford put pen to paper and became a Geelong Cat, having not so much as laced up a pair of studded boots.

Instead they took note of his physical attributes as he chased then NBA hopeful Dante Exum around the court at one of these national tournaments – I guess they figured he’d just learn on the job.

Greenwood, a talented athlete, savvy decision-maker, and leader by character has been groomed by the sport of basketball since his early teens.

He spent years at the AIS on taxpayer money with the hope that he would one day represent his country.

Scott Pendlebury was a state-level junior basketballer. Photo: Getty
Scott Pendlebury was a state-level junior basketballer. Photo: Getty

He has already done so. Not at an Olympics or World Cup, but he has caps nonetheless.

In most sports that should give a kid stock that he has the talent to play at the top. That’s not always the case for basketball in Australia.

A Tassie native, he would’ve kicked as many drop punts at school as he dropped jump shots.

But like so many kids before him, basketball was his first choice, and as a teenager he was a talent.

He turned heads at a national tournament, and was shipped up to Canberra to fulfil his potential, but that potential was never enough to keep him out of the AFL’s clutches.

Now known as the Basketball Centre of Excellence, the basketball program at the AIS has been a place traditionally reserved for those with gifts necessary to one day see them playing for their country.

Unfortunately for the sport, the promise of being a Boomer is no longer enough and the bar needs to be lifted higher than that. Only those with NBA pedigree need apply.

The financial investment in an athlete like Greenwood might be too risky, to see them eventually chase the dollars one finds in the AFL.

Irrespective of what they’re doing to their peers on court at the junior level in Australia, unless a kid has the size or physical gifts to go toe-to-toe with America’s best athletes at the same age group, or at least be willing to one day live in a non-English speaking country in Europe and chase the dollars there, they should be overlooked.

"So, Patty - how do you reckon you would have gone at centre half-forward?" Photo: Getty
“So, Patty – how do you reckon you would have gone at centre half-forward?” Photo: Getty

Otherwise the outcome is that these expansive resources in a sport that doesn’t have them are being handed over to a sport already in possession of some deep pockets.

Joe Ingles rolls his eyes every time he’s made to talk about his fleeting brush with Richmond.

Patty Mills has to endure fielding questions about his AFL potential when bailed up by your typical football journalist who hasn’t bothered to Google some of what he has achieved overseas. Both of these guys are getting NBA minutes, so the AFL never had a chance.

Greenwood, however, always looked like a shaky investment.

So much so that when it came time for him to pull on a jersey for New Mexico in the NCAA, Basketball Australia fought hard to ensure he played in the position they wanted him to.

He may have started out as a potentially versatile guard/forward, but genetics ensured he would need to be one very specific kind of player if he was going to trouble the Dellavedovas and Pattys at a Boomers’ camp.

Turns out the real threat wasn’t four years playing out of position in the States.

The real threat was seeing him lured to a game that sees itself as an athlete-first, skills-second sport. Few could argue with Greenwood’s decision. It’s worth a crack.

In two years he could be a 25-year-old Nat Fyfe, or worst-case scenario, he’ll return, hat in hand looking for an NBL contract. That’s not really the point.

The point is that a junior national tournament may not be the best place to find basketball’s next Dante Exum or Andrew Bogut, and the sport should take a leaf out of the AFL’s book, and seek out kids who can jump out of the building, rather than those who can execute the shuffle offense and knock down the mid-range jumper.

The talent basketball invests in must be able to compete with the best athletes in the world at a base level, otherwise the real competition will be found at home, by a well-funded sport happy to gobble up the investments of those that really can’t afford to lose them.

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