Dante Exum. Photo: Jeffrey Chan
Basketball will use NBA championship winner Patrick Mills and draft prospect Dante Exum as the sport's poster boys to send a message to the AFL: "Hands off our players.''
Australian Boomers coach Andrej Lemanis has detailed his hopes that Mills' and Exum's success, coupled with the chance to play at an Olympic Games and massive pay packets, will give basketball the edge in a recruitment battle with the AFL.
Mills helped lift the San Antonio Spurs to an NBA title last week, while former Lake Ginninderra College student Exum is projected to be a top-five pick in the NBA draft on Friday (Australian time).
Patty Mills can help lure talent towards basketball. Photo: Getty Images
In the past, AFL has successfully lured promising basketballers away from the court because of a perceived lack of pathways to the top.
The Sydney Swans tried to recruit Mills before he decided to pursue a college basketball career in the United States and AFL recruitment guru Kevin Sheehan said the Canberra junior would have been an Australian football star.
Collingwood captain Scott Pendlebury was offered as AIS basketball contract before AFL recruiters encouraged him to focus on football.
But Lemanis believes Mills and Exum can give basketball an unprecedented boost.
"It's bloody great for Australian basketball ... campaign probably isn't the right word but the AFL try to pinch a lot of basketballers," he said.
"But when you see what is possible through basketball, the ability to play on the world stage, and you get paid very, very well, plus a world cup and Olympic Games ... that's being reflected.
"I know there are a few basketballers who have gone over to AFL and when you talk to them, they wish they had stayed in basketball.
"People make their choices for their reasons and the AFL does recruit aggressively in basketball. But I think it's becoming clearer that the NBA is a legitimate pathway for Australian players.
"You can make it, the NBA is a legitmate end goal. When guys weigh up AFL or basketball, guys can legitimately see themselves in the NBA."
When Exum is drafted on Friday, Australia will have five players in the NBA. It's a stark contrast to when Luc Longley broke through the barriers to become the first Australian to play in the league more than 20 years ago.
Exum, 18, is in contention to be the coveted No. 1 pick in the draft and has already signed lucrative deals, including with adidas,which has resulted in a US television commercial.
Longley said Exum was likely to be picked by Cleveland Cavaliers, Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers or Orlando Magic, which hold the top four picks.
''He is talented and can do a lot of things we haven’t seen in Australia in a long time," Longley said.
Mills and Exum have also committed to playing for the Boomers at the world championships in Spain, from August 30 to September 14.
But details have to be finalised with their respective clubs and Basketball Australia has insurance policies for their NBA contracts.
Mills is about to become a free agent and his superb efforts in the NBA finals is expected to significantly boost his earning potential.
If Mills hasn't finalised a deal by the time the world championships starts, it could complicate his availability because of the risk of injury, but the Canberra junior ranks playing for Australia as one of the sport's highest honours.
Mills could return to Australia for a Boomers training camp at the AIS on July 22.
"I saw the hard work that Patty put in, he came into the Oceania series and had a personal trainer and he was dedicated ... to get rewarded for that is very pleasing," Lemanis said.
"He was a game-changer [for the Spurs]. We believe we have a chance to do what no other Australian men's team has done before and win a medal [at the world championships].
"Every indication I have got from Pat and Dante is that they want to play for Australia and value that very highly, it's just a matter of working with them and their clubs now."
with Roy Ward