Wilson Rejects AFL to Commit to Kings

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Written for nbl.com.au by Liam Santamaria

 

Tom Wilson is locked, loaded and ready to fire for the Sydney Kings in NBL19.

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Despite constant overtures from AFL clubs – Wilson says he’s been approached by West Coast, Melbourne, Collingwood, Geelong, St Kilda, Adelaide, Richmond and “a bunch of others” over recent years – the promising young athlete signed a two year deal with the Kings earlier this year.

He’s made his choice, he says, and is focused on helping Sydney secure a championship in his debut NBL campaign.

“I’m excited for it, we have an awesome team that’s been put together,” Wilson told NBL Media this week.

“For me, as a rookie, I just want to come in and learn as much as I can but also show people that I am here to play, that I am ready.”

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Wilson’s rookie season in the NBL will form the latest step in the twenty-year-old’s fascinating sporting journey.

A talented junior footballer, Wilson was an AFL scholarship holder before leaving the AFL Academy as a 16-year-old to follow his passion for basketball.

That led him to Basketball Australia’s Centre of Excellence, where he worked with Boomers coach Andrej Lemanis and current Boomers assistant Adam Caporn to develop his game.

It was from there Wilson launched onto the global hoops scene; captaining Australia to a silver medal at the U17 FIBA World Championships in 2014.

The versatile guard scored 23 points in a hard-fought final against the USA, balling out against a number of future NBA lottery picks.

“For me that was really an awakening,” Wilson reflected.

“Once I had that world championship experience and with how close we came to beating guys like Jayson Tatum and Josh Jackson, it really became for me ‘well, okay, I can really compete against the best guys in the world.’ That’s kind of what has driven me.”

That drive has helped Wilson navigate a tumultuous last couple of years. From college ball in Texas and Idaho, to a professional stint in Serbia that ended before it began, Wilson has bounced around like a Damon Lowery free throw.

Enter Andrew Gaze. The legendary baller turned passionate coach has helped Wilson find some stability, first with Melbourne in the SEABL and now with the Kings.

“Andrew has really taken me under his wing and we have got a really good relationship together me and him,” Wilson said.

Naturally, Wilson’s commitment to basketball has not stopped the Aussie Rules fraternity from continuing to knock on his door. In fact, almost half of the AFL’s clubs have approached him at various times over the past few years, all keen to snap him up if he ever decides to return to footy.

“They’ve all been basically the same conversation,” Wilson explains.

“They’ve expressed their interest in me and want to see where my head’s at. I’ve told them that basketball is still what I want to do.”

As for recent reports that he is on the verge of ditching his NBL career to join the Geelong Cats, Wilson says they’re simply “not true.”

“I have had a relationship with (Geelong) for a while, for the best part of a year or so,” he explained.

“My girlfriend has a beach house down at Ocean Grove and every time I stay down there, they have kind of opened it up so that I can come in and use the facilities.

“They have put forward that they are definitely interested in me and things like that, but they are not pushing me or anything.

“They’re just trying to keep the relationship and help me out a little bit… but it’s nothing other than us having a good relationship and letting me use the facilities.”

Of course, none of this is news to the Kings, who are confident in Wilson’s commitment to the club.

“Tommy is an elite level talent,” Managing Director Jeff Van Groningen told NBL Media.

“Not surprisingly he has caught the attention of the AFL, given his athleticism and physical gifts. But he has an incredibly bright future ahead of him in his chosen sport and basketball will provide the best overall platform for gifts. I’m very confident of that.

“Tommy doesn’t have a ceiling that I’m aware of and we look forward to him stepping out for the Kings at Qudos Bank Arena this year.”

When that happens, Wilson will pair with former Melbourne United guard Kyle Adnam to support Sydney’s superstar starting backcourt; former league MVPs Jerome Randle and Kevin Lisch.

And with the Kings roster also featuring Brad Newley, Daniel Kickert and Andrew Bogut, all eyes will be focused on the team goal of taking out the title.

Wilson echoes that sentiment, but also outlines a short-term goal of his own.

“Rookie of the Year is definitely on my radar as something I would be keen to take out,” Wilson said.

“I think I am ready to play in the league. I already know what it’s like day-in, day-out training with the group for the last few months of last season. So that is something that is definitely earmarked out for me as something that I want to do.”

In the longer term, Wilson says his focus is not on pulling a skin-tight AFL guernsey over his shoulders, but rather donning the green and gold at the most prestigious of international basketball tournaments.

“To be an Olympian,” he said.

“That’s something that’s always been a goal of mine. Not many people in the world can say they’ve done that.”

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