Ex-col­lege bas­ket­ball player to make Oz history

The China Post - - SPORTS -

Jason Holmes will make a bit of Amer­i­can sport­ing history this week­end, when he be­comes the first U.S.-born-and-raised player to com­pete at the top level of Aus­tralian rules football.

The for­mer More­head State bas­ket­ball player, and brother of Oak­land Raiders wide re­ceiver An­dre Holmes, has been in­cluded in the squad for the St. Kilda team to play against Gee­long on Sun­day in the Aus­tralian Football League.

The 203-cen­time­ter (6-foot-8) Holmes has been with the Mel­bourne-based club since late 2013, and has had to rapidly learn the sport from scratch. He has been play­ing with the Saints’ feeder team in the Vic­to­ria state league, and the club has now judged him ready to per­form at the top level.

“It’s one of the dreams they sell us when they try to get Amer­i­cans over here,” Holmes said. “I don’t think it’s sunk in yet and I un­der­stand it’s a re­ally big thing, but I’m just proud to be a cog in the ma­chine that’s go­ing to help this sport grow in- ter­na­tion­ally.”

Holmes, of Chicago, was in­vited to try out at the an­nual AFL draft com­bine in the U.S. as one of sev­eral for­mer col­lege ath­letes — mostly bas­ket­ball play­ers — given the op­por­tu­nity to try their luck in Aussie rules. He took some con­vinc­ing. “I had no clue what it was,” he said. “I think I’d seen it in Funny Peo­ple and on ESPN2. But I hadn’t re­al­ized what it was at the time.

“I lit­er­ally got the call on April 1, so I thought it was a joke.”

More emails ar­rived, he was con­vinced to give it a try, and the pro­fes­sional con­tract came soon af­ter.

Other Amer­i­can for­mer col­lege bas­ket­ball play­ers have been se­lected from the an­nual com­bines: ex-Ok­la­homa State player Ma­son Cox is on the ros­ter of the Colling­wood club, and Eric Wal­lace at North Mel­bourne, but Holmes is the first to be se­lected for an ap­pear­ance in the big league.

He is not the first Amer­i­can to do so. U.S.-born San­ford Wheeler played with Syd­ney in the 1990s, but had moved to Aus­tralia as a small child, whereas Holmes is the first U.S.-raised player who has un­der­gone the tough tran­si­tion of adapt­ing to the sport as an adult.

Once a sport that sourced all its play­ers do­mes­ti­cally, Aus­tralian rules is try­ing to cul­ti­vate more play­ers in­ter­na­tion­ally, and is us­ing the lure of ever-in­creas­ing salaries. Many Ir­ish play­ers, drawn from the rel­a­tively sim­i­lar sport of Gaelic football, have thrived in Aus­tralia, while for­mer Canada in­ter­na­tional rugby player Mike Pyke has be­come a premier­ship-win­ning player for Syd­ney.

Sev­eral Aus­tralians have been mak­ing an im­pact in U.S. sports re­cently: ex- rugby league star Jar­ryd Hayne has started his time at the San Fran­cisco 49ers in im­pres­sive style, while the Cleve­land Cava­liers’ Matthew Dellave­dova made plenty of head­lines for his scrappy per­for­mances dur­ing the NBA Fi­nals.

Holmes played against Dellave­dova in col­lege.

“He might re­mem­ber. I led the team in scor­ing and re­bound­ing in that game,” Holmes said.

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