AFL’s “open door” made it easy for Tom Wilson to return

What Grbac saw in Wilson was someone talented enough to have elite careers in either code, so he left him with a simple message.

Footy is only a phone call away.

On Tuesday Wilson, now 21, was granted a release from his contract with NBL club Sydney Kings to enter the AFL.

“We had a lot of experience with very talented boys who were at pains to make a decision between two loves,” Grbac recalled on Tuesday.

“One thing I knew about Tom was that he did love both games. I said to him you have to go with what you feel like you love at the moment, but I know football will always be there for you if you want to come back to it.

“Just follow your path, trust that and if anything else pops up then give footy a go.

“In that particular case I think it rung a bell for him and made that decision a little easier.

“We always felt that it was better for football to leave the door open than shut the door on them and I think it’s worked in this case.”

Wilson left footy as a 186-centimetre half-forward and he returns at 194 centimetres and with sporting experiences from several different countries including an NBA pre-season game for the Kings against the LA Clippers last year.

AFL national talent manager Kevin Sheehan said Wilson was in the same under-16 group as Jacob Weitering, Josh Dunkley and Aaron Francis and was rated highly at the time.

Grbac recalled Wilson being a strong overhead mark and someone who possessed great skills and the ability to make space in tight situations.

“He was picked in the best 30 boys at the time,” Sheehan said.

“He had poise with the ball, very composed and a good decision maker while being able to win the ball across half-forward.

“He has grown a fair bit since then, so he could potentially be a terrific size for AFL.”

Wilson is expected to shortly take up a multi-year offer with an AFL club as a category B rookie and he told SEN on Tuesday morning he hoped to be playing football later this winter once he built up his conditioning.

“It’s going to take a bit of time to build my body up to scratch and build my base,” Wilson told SEN.

“Wherever I end up, I’m sure they will sort out a plan for me and how that best looks for me moving forward but I’ll hopefully be playing some footy in the VFL or for a second side somewhere this winter.”

Various reports suggested Collingwood, Geelong and Gold Coast are the front-runners for Wilson.

Although NBL fans didn’t get to see too much of Wilson in the past two seasons, he was among the best players in last year’s SEABL season, winning the men’s MVP award and he made his Australian Boomers debut in February and had 16 points against Iran in Tehran.

But all the while Wilson has kept his love of Australian rules and had people in the sport keep in touch with him, Geelong allowed him to use their gym in recent years while he was at his girlfriend’s beach house in the area.

Wherever he ends up both Sheehan and Grbac believe his football talent will still stand up as long as his club shows patience in developing his fitness, as Adelaide did with Hugh Greenwood and former cricketer Alex Keath

“For years you hear of these boys who leave and comeback to the game and we always talked about whether Tom Wilson would think about going back,” Grbac said.

“It’s good to hear he will give it a go.”

Roy Ward is a Sports writer for The Age.

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