Canberran Ivan Soldo, 18, with cousin Ivan Maric, after the former basketballer signed as a rookie with Richmond Photo: Richmond Football Club
At 204 centimetres and 104 kilograms, Richmond Football Club did not worry about the fact Canberra teen Ivan Soldo had never played a game of Australian rules football before they signed him on as a rookie this month.
Soldo grew up in Canberra playing soccer and then basketball, representing the Territory at under-16 and under-18 level, but turned to AFL when he finished at Daramalan College last year.
The 18-year-old is the cousin of Tigers ruckman Ivan Maric and a conversation with him earlier in the year got the ball rolling.
"He was asking about basketball and how I was going," Soldo said. "I said I'd stopped, 'what do you reckon if I played AFL?'
"It wasn't really my passion, AFL, but … at school they always pressure you about university and this and that. I've always wanted to play sport."
Maric, who also switched from basketball, told him to give it a go and spoke with Richmond about his younger, bigger cousin. They were keen to meet him.
Told by the club to lose some of the bulk he had spent hours in the gym putting on, but given no promises, Soldo lost 20 of his 126 kilograms.
"I felt like that was my opportunity out of school and I took it pretty seriously," he said.
Having only ever kicked a ball with his mates, and having never joined a club, Richmond were able to sign Soldo as a category B rookie, which they did after trialling him for two weeks.
While the sporting switch came as a surprise to his former basketball coach, Brendan Parnell, he said the move "made sense".
"With basketball, he was tall and had pretty amazing touch," Parnell said. "He was a centre … but he wanted to be a creative player, so he would mimic the things the guards did, he'd put it between his legs and throw behind the back passes and shoot from the perimeter.
"We wanted to pigeonhole him as a centre, but it wasn't the way he was wired, and that's why I think he'll be good at AFL. He'll certainly be able to do the ruck stuff, but I think he'll be a multi-skilled ruck guy."
Parnell, who has been living in Melbourne, said the "cross-pollination" between juniors playing basketball and AFL was helping athletes in both codes with skills and strategies.
"The two skill sets are so similar they lend themselves to each other," he said. "I'm sure basketball will help Ivan, he will have more skill than just a big kid that can tip the ball out of the ruck. He's got great touch, vision and agility and mobility because of playing basketball ... he can see passing lanes and angles."
Soldo has spent the past five weeks doing individual development with the Tigers, trying to "squish in" 10 years of skills development into one, and played his first game last weekend.
"I gave away a couple of frees, I was a bit rough," Soldo said. "I won pretty much all my hit-outs, did my ruck job but I'm looking to be a bit more of a forward too so I can help up front – that's what I need to work on."
Soldo said his basketball background had helped, but he is happy with his decision to switch and is in it for the long haul.
"AFL is much better for me," he said. "I know that now and the passion is growing, definitely."