Jumping at the Chance: From the Court to the Field, How NBA Hopefuls are Changing Australian Rules Football

The true story of how professional Australian Rules Football found an unlikely new source of talent in the United States.

Though most Americans automatically think “rugby” when they hear or read the phrase “Australian football,” the two sports actually have very little in common besides tackling and kicking. “Footy,” as this unique sport is known in Aussie circles, bears more resemblance to American athletics, requiring the skill and grace of basketball combined with the physical toughness and endurance of American-style football. The only thing it apparently didn’t require was actual Americans. Until now.

Scouts from the Australian Football League (AFL) realized that a key position on their teams—called the “ruckman”—required both the height and ball handling skills readily found in American basketball players. What began as an unlikely experiment of cross-breeding sports talent has led to a growing expedition of NBA hopefuls from NCAA athletic programs—including Oklahoma State, Morehead State, and the University of Arizona—looking to make their way in a game most of them had never even seen played before.

In Jumping at the Chance, longtime Aussie football fanatic Gil Griffin delivers a riveting account of these American athletes who go to the other side of the world in search of their dreams of glory. From learning an entirely foreign sport from the ground up, to coping with what it means to be a team member in a different culture, to gaining not only acceptance but ecstatic support from the rabid footy fans, their stories are much like Australian Rules football itself—sometimes humorous, sometimes heartbreaking, always inspiring.


“Gil Griffin has more passion for Australian Rules football and those who play, coach, live and breathe it than people who have grown up surrounded by it. He has been there for every step of the ‘American Experiment’, and his care and respect for his subjects comes through in his writing. The AFL will be an even more exciting sport if he is following them for many years to come.”

Emma Quayle, award-winning sportswriter and author of THE DRAFT: INSIDE THE AFL'S SEARCH FOR TALENT

“Australian Rules is the game played by all Australians, and may derive in part from the Indigenous Australian game of Marngrook. But our African-American brothers have the skills and athleticism to make our game theirs too. Gil Griffin has told the remarkable story of the first American athletes — a number of them African-American — to come to Australia and play in our top leagues. It won’t be long until the floodgates open and more US athletes take up this great game. Nothing would be more exciting than seeing an African-American, as captain of an AFL team, holding the Premiership Cup aloft after a Grand Final at the famous MCG.”

Grant Hansen, creator and host of Australia’s National Indigenous Television network program, “The Marngrook Footy Show”

“It is important for Australian football supporters to understand the few key developments in our game over the years that have made a significant contribution to the way the game has developed. This book describes in vivid detail the pioneering days of one such major developmental change to our game, which saw the influx of international athletes from a range of different sporting backgrounds. These athletes added a new dimension to our game, introducing new skills, a move that today seems such a logical and natural development.”

Ross Oakley, Australian Football Hall of Fame inductee, author of THE PHOENIX RISES: THE AMAZING STORY OF THE SALVATION OF AUSTRALIAN FOOTBALL

“Gil’s knowledge and passion for the game is clearly evident as he expertly articulates the stories of those American athletes brave enough to tackle Australia’s national game [...] I highly recommend JUMPING AT THE CHANCE to anyone who loves sports, anyone who likes to be inspired and to anyone who has dreamt of going ‘all in’ in the pursuit of their dream.”

Peter Bell, Australian Football Hall of Fame inductee

“An extremely insightful piece written by a true believer in US athletes playing Australian Rules football, the toughest game in the world. A must-read for any genuine sports fan.”

Michael Ablett, Australian Football League Academies Development Manager

Awards & Accolades