THE biggest sporting leagues in the United States are littered with more Aussies than ever before, and there’s more on the way.
No matter how much Donald Trump wishes he could stop it, America is not immune to globalisation, and sport-mad nations like Australia have a whole lot of talent to share with the world.
The amount of athletes travelling across the Pacific Ocean is not slowing down either.
The latest additions to the NBA, no. 1 draft pick Ben Simmons and no. 10 draft pick Thon Maker, will join the seven Australians currently in the league in Andrew Bogut, Matthew Dellavedova, Dante Exum, Joe Ingles, Aron Baynes, Patty Mills, and Cameron Bairstow. Maker and Simmons’ selections marked the first time two Australians had been taken in the first round of the NBA draft, underlining the high calibre of players produced Down Under in recent years.
There’s more Aussies on track for the NBA too with approximately 80 players currently coming through the college system in NCAA Division I alone.
Seven-foot-tall teenager Isaac Humphries is entering his sophomore year at Kentucky, the most successful college program in history. Melbourne born Jonah Bolden — son of former NBL player Bruce Bolden — will return to UCLA this season. At the Southern Methodist University Mustangs, Queenslander Harry Froling will join fellow Aussie Tom Wilson, and at Louisville there’s another Australian duo impressing scouts, in Deng Adel and Mangok Mathiang. Meanwhile, highly-touted 18-year-old guard Dejan Vasiljevic is set to begin his freshman year with the University of Miami Hurricanes after knocking back interest from Stanford.
Jarryd Hayne may have significantly boosted Australia’s interest in the NFL last season, but long before he started playing, young up-and-coming Aussies have been plugging away in the college system, and at the NFL draft this year the results were phenomenal.
Victorian Adam Gotsis became the highest-ever NFL draft pick from Australia, taken in the second round by the Super Bowl-winning Denver Broncos at pick no. 63 overall. Gotsis was a homegrown talent who began playing the sport at his local club in Monash before a successful college career with Georgia Tech led him to the NFL. Now the defensive end is being talked up by the likes of NFL legend and Broncos general manager John Elway as a possible starter in his rookie year.
With punter Lachlan Edwards picked by the New York Jets in the seventh round as well, it marked the first time two Australians had been selected in one NFL draft. In addition to this, following the draft, there were free agent signings of offensive lineman Blake Muir (San Francisco) and punter Tom Hackett (New York Jets) and Adelaide kicker Brad Craddock (Cleveland, later waived).
Along with the Aussies already signed to NFL teams in Jordan Berry, Brad Wing and David Yankey, this new class of rookies has brought the total number of Australian players in the league to an all-time high of seven guys.
In Division I college football there are more Aussies with NFL potential on the way too. Muir’s brother Sean — also an offensive lineman — is still at Baylor, punter Cameron Johnston is entering his senior year with the 2014 national champion Ohio State Buckeyes, and at the Michigan Wolverines led by former 49ers coach coach Jim Harbaugh, punter Blake O’Neill is another flying the flag for Australia.
When the University of Hawaii play at ANZ Stadium next month for the college football season opener against the University of California, Sydneysider Max Hendrie is also set to feature in a game that will further expose Australians to the game and perhaps inspire more to take up the sport.
Australia has produced some excellent MLB players over the years, and that trend isn’t about to end. There is currently one active Australian in the big leagues, in veteran pitcher Peter Moylan at the reigning world series champions, the Kansas City Royals.
In Detroit Warwick Saupold has had game time as has Liam Hendricks in Oakland, but both are bouncing up and down from the MLB to the lower leagues.
There’s some exciting young blood ready to step up in the next few years in baseball however. Identical twin brothers Alex and Lachie Wells are both 19-year-old pitchers playing rookie ball with affiliate teams of the Baltimore Orioles and Minnesota Twins respectively. In AAA baseball, Aussie shortstop James Beresford is also kicking around with Twins affiliate team, Rochester.
Australia might not have a player in the National Hocky League yet, but that wait could soon be over.
Sydney’s Nathan Walker made history as the first ever Australian selected in the NHL Draft in 2014 when he was taken by the Washington Capitals. Since then he has been working hard in the team’s lower league AHL and ECHL affiliate sides, developing as a player. Walker battled injury last year, but this past season with the Hershey Bears he reached career-best form, playing in 73 games, scoring 41 points and becoming the first Aussie to play in the Calder Cup finals.
Closer to home, the semi-professional Australian Ice Hockey League is a breeding ground for talent, and is a good stepping stone for young players looking to move up in the sport.