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From kicking goals to pick & rolls

Craig Moller had reached a crossroads. Having spent three years in the AFL system with the Fremantle Dockers, with just one senior game to his name, the time had come to move on. It happens, that’s life in professional sport, and a new start at a new club beckoned. Moller nominated for the AFL’s pre-season draft and awaited his fate. But the ruckman couldn’t shake a familiar feeling… he belonged on the hardwood, he knew it, and his gut was trying to remind him. So with all that weighing on his mind, Moller did what any self-respecting 20-year-old would do when faced with a potentially life-altering decision. “I took a couple of months off and went to Europe with some friends,” Moller told NBL Media. “I thought about it for a while and when I came back I decided that basketball was what I wanted to do. So I pulled out of the AFL Draft and haven’t looked back from there.” Fast forward ten months and the Sydney Kings announced this week that they have signed Moller as a Development Player for the 2016/17 NBL season.   The 22 year old, 202cm forward is part of a select group of Australian athletes to have played both Aussie rules football and basketball at the elite levels. Dean Brogan, perhaps the best known of that group, won an NBL championship with the Adelaide 36ers in 1998 before claiming an AFL premiership with Port Adelaide in 2004. But when Moller stepped on court for the Kings late last season, filling in for the injured Jeromie Hill, he become the first to cross the divide in the opposite direction. “I just love basketball a lot more,” Moller told NBL Media in Brisbane on Thursday. A talented junior at both sports, Moller was forced to narrow his focus at age 14. He now believes his time in football has prepared him for the basketball challenges ahead. “It was almost, in a way, kind of like going to college. Instead of going to college I went and played footy for a few years.” The decision, he says, was one he needed to make on his own. “In the end it’s up to me, my family have always been big on that. As a kid, whatever I wanted to do it was always up to me to make the decision. I certainly sought some advice from people but in the end it was all my choice.” Moller is a fascinating NBL prospect. He’s quick, long, runs the floor like a gazelle and has legitimate range on his jumper. He spent a short time playing with the Sutherland Sharks in the NSW Waratah league this winter before signing with the Ballarat Miners in the SEABL. In 13 games for the Miners, Moller averaged 10.3 points, 9.7 rebounds and almost 2 dimes per game. “I’m about ten months on from making my decision and it’s probably only now that I’m starting to feel really comfortable on the court at this level,” Moller explained. “I’m feeling a lot more comfortable now with where I am as a player and within the team.” Kings head coach Andrew Gaze has been impressed with the ease at which Moller has transitioned back to basketball. “He’s demonstrated the capacity to play at the highest level and we think he has a lot of upside,” Gaze said this week. “We think he has the potential to be a significant player in the NBL… He’s an incredible athlete and I’ll certainly give credit to the AFL in regards to his conditioning. His speed, agility and overall fitness is elite.” So how else has football helped him as a baller? “The two sports are very similar in terms of quick decision making when you’ve got the ball,” Moller explained. “Possibly a bit of the toughness and grunt that comes from playing footy as well. That’s helpful in basketball when you’re battling down low.” Chatting to him, Moller is visibly excited about the year ahead. He talks glowingly about his high-profile teammates as well as the brand new coaching staff assembled in the Harbour City. Two-time NBL champion Lanard Copeland, championship-winning coach Dean Vickerman and former Australian Boomers guard Luke Kendall are set to assist Gaze on the sidelines. “For where I’m at – 22 years old and having been out of the game for a few years – just trying to fast-track that development as much as possible, having those guys coaching me is a perfect fit,” Moller said. Far from satisfied with his status as a Development Player, Moller has his eyes set on Sydney’s full-time senior squad. The Kings still have two roster spots available and the ambitious forward is keen to upgrade his ticket. It’s a long shot, given the Kings are in the market for a back-up point guard and, possibly, an import big, but he’s gunning for it nonetheless. In Sydney’s opening game of the Australian Basketball Challenge on Friday, Moller took another step forward, scoring 10 points and grabbing 3 rebounds in just over 10 minutes on the floor. “With those spots still available I’m really trying to push my case for one of those,” Moller said. “It’s just about me competing as hard as I can, playing tough, playing the team role and showing what I can do.” From the AFL to the NBL… somebody had to be first. The question is, who will be next? Written exclusively for NBL.com.au by Liam Santamaria
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