Hugh Greenwood is the latest basketball player to make the transition from hoops to AFL but few before him had achieved the level of play Hugh had in basketball.
I first noticed Hugh at the Under 16 National Championships in 2007 in Gosford NSW. I had just finished my time at the Townsville Crocodiles and had started my own scouting business providing reports on Aussie talent to NBA and College teams in the USA.
Hugh was one of the stand outs of the tournament playing for Tasmania in the power forward position and I certainly felt at the time he had to the potential to reach the highest level in basketball.
The following week I was attending the under 18 National Championships in Launceston, Tasmania where a couple of future basketball stars named Matthew Dellavedova and Elizabeth Cambage were starting to make an impact on the National scene.
There was a picture on the front page of the local paper of young Hugh Greenwood holding outstretched arms with a basketball in one hand and a football in the other…the headline posed the question of which sport would this kid pick.
As I was sitting watching the games a young Hugh cruised into the stadium, he was heading my way so I called him over, introduced myself and mentioned the newspaper article to him. I asked him what would steer him into basketball. He indicated that if he could get a scholarship to the AIS then he would certainly pursue basketball as it was his preferred sport.
Sitting near us a couple of rows back was Paul Goriss, assistant coach of the AIS men’s program. I called Gorrie over and said “give this kid an AIS scholarship or else we will lose him to footy.”
Now I’m not claiming full responsibility for Hugh getting a scholarship but they did offer him one as a 15 year old, a bit younger than most players get offered.
Ironically a couple of years later I was to be appointed Head Coach of the AIS program and had the pleasure of coaching Hugh for 12 months in the program.
Over the three years of his AIS scholarship he had not grown too much and as a result had transitioned from a small forward, to shooting guard and was now working on his point guard skills.
He had done a remarkable job to transition through these spots and was about to represent Australia at the under 19 World Championships to be held in Latvia. I was fortunate to also attend this tournament and see firsthand how he and the rest of the AIS squad competed on the world stage.
Hugh had a particularly good tournament, despite the team finishing 6th he was selected to the tournament World All Star 5 and his future at the highest level seemed set.
Hugh, like the most of the AIS squad at that time, was set on playing college basketball in the USA, they all felt they were headed to the NBA and college basketball was the way they were going to get there. Noticeable exceptions were Mitch Creek and Owen Odigie who took the NBL pathway.
Marty Clarke the ex AIS head coach who was now Head Coach of the Adelaide 36ers, put in an effort to recruit Hugh at the last minute. Marty, I guess, decided the NBL was a good pathway now that he was coaching in it!! But Hugh’s mind was made up, he was headed to New Mexico University.
My own advice to him was the NBL was a better way to go, especially if Marty was going to give him the chance to play the point guard position, the only real spot Hugh could play at the highest level of the game.
New Mexico had also promised to develop his point guard skills so there he went for four years.
Now I must admit I didn’t monitor his game to game stats and match play, but the bits I did see he certainly wasn’t playing the point.
During his time at New Mexico some other noticeable things were going on with the Boomers program. Patty Mills was starting to make more of an impact with the San Antonio Spurs and Matt Dellavedova had also broken into the NBA on the back of strong performances with the Boomers program. Dante Exum was also starting to show that he certainly had a future in the guard spot at the highest level and with players like Damien Martin and Adam Gibson still on the scene, you were going to have to be pretty good to break into the Boomers point guard spot.
I understand during this time Hugh also passed on the opportunity to play at the World University Games for Australia, on the team coached by Boomer coach Andrej Lemanis.
Well once his college career was over and no NBA teams came knocking Hugh signed with the Perth Wildcats and seemed destined to play in the NBL. Then suddenly he disappeared into footy with the Adelaide Crows.
Most think it was when he was passed over on a Boomers callup to replace an injured Patty Mills that he saw his options with regards to the Boomers and the big money of the NBA were drifting away. Perhaps he just loved footy more, I guess only he knows, but it was personally a sad day when I saw him intercepting passes and kicking goals against my team, Hawthorn, a couple of weeks back.
I mentioned to a friend that I had coached Hugh while he was at the AIS and the friend suggested that perhaps that makes me a better footy coach than basketball coach, maybe he’s right!