US giants attempt to tame an AFL ball

The 18 giants stood in the middle of palm tree-lined Aviation Field in Redondo Beach, California, curiously holding Sherrin footballs.

They tried to bounce them but, instead of returning to their large hands, the balls rolled in every other direction.

They also awkwardly tried to kick them, but they sprayed right, left, along the ground and over the heads of other giants.

Welcome to the latest chapter of the AFL’s American experiment where athletes, most at least 198cm tall, are handpicked from US college basketball and gridiron teams to have a shot at Australia’s unique football code.

“When I first received the invite, I was hesitant and thought it was for rugby,” Jamal Hunter, a 200cm, 91kg power forward from Jacksonville State University in Alabama, told AAP.

The 18, including Stanislaus Heili, a 216cm tall, 109kg centre for Missouri’s Lindenwood University, looked like fish – or maybe blue whales – out of water attempting for the first time outdoors to kick, bounce and hand pass Australian rules balls.

But any fears or doubts they were embarking on an impossible journey were erased on Monday when Texas ruckman Mason Cox, in the first 80 seconds of Collingwood’s Anzac Day clash with Essendon, took a mark and kicked the game’s first goal in front of more than 80,000 fans at the MCG.

The 18 hopefuls, along with their AFL handlers, had gathered on the eve of their three-day Los Angeles combine to watch the game live on TV.

“They saw history unfold before their eyes,” the AFL’s national and international talent manager Kevin Sheehan said.

“It might be a breakthrough game for what has been our American experiment.”

The hopefuls were handpicked by Jonathan Givony, a college basketball expert at DraftExpress, who looked for athletes under 23 and not only were basketball or gridiron specialists, but with backgrounds in other sports.

It was Givony who first identified Cox while watching an Oklahoma State basketball game on TV.

Givony’s ears pricked when a commentator mentioned Cox also played soccer.

AFL clubs North Melbourne and Richmond have representatives at the combine and will have first dibs on the 18 players.

The plan is to take the best three back to Australia in July.

As curious joggers looked on, AFL talent manager Michael Ablett explained the mechanics of kicking a football to the 18.

He also adjudicated a skins versus shirts game using a tennis ball that evolved into a highly competitive mix of rugby, lacrosse and basketball showcasing their leaping ability.

The players likely won’t make it to the NBA or NFL so, to continue their elite sporting careers and make a lucrative living in Australia, are keen to give it a go.

“It is a lot more difficult than I expected, but I think I’m getting the hang of it,” said Brandon Nazione, a 203cm forward on Eastern Michigan’s basketball team.

Nazione and the others rapidly improved with each kick and hand pass.

However, not only do the American giants face the difficult task of taming a Sherrin but some need boots size 16 and above and the major sporting footwear companies do not make them that large.

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