From basketball to football – Tom Fullarton and his sporting journey

Submitted by Peter Blucher.

Tom Fullarton will be watching the basketball at the Tokyo Olympics will much interest and perhaps a few wandering thoughts.

Not that he could have been there alongside Australian flag bearer Patty Mills , but the 2024 Games in Paris would certainly have been on his radar.

Had he not done a major back-flip on his No.1 sporting priority in May 2018 and chosen football over basketball he would have been right in the mix for a future spot in the Australian Boomers.

After all, the 200cm 22-year-old was the Australian Under 17 basketball captain in 2016 and had been labelled “Boomers material” by Australian coach Andrej Lemanis after the World Cup that year.

A shooting guard with “all the attributes to be a very effective player at both ends of the court” according to Lemanis, Fullarton rejected approaches from top-end colleges in America and had established himself in the Brisbane Bullets team in the National Basketball League.

An international career with the Boomers was very definitely a chance.

So, after the Olympics got under way in Tokyo last Friday, it was timely that Fullarton produced arguably his best AFL performance for the Brisbane Lions in Q-Clash #21 on Saturday.

He had 14 possessions, six hit-outs, two tackles, three clearances and two goal assists as the Lions overcame a sluggish start to beat the Gold Coast Suns by 49 points at the Gabba.

Most significantly, he also had 10 contested possessions to double his previous best, and two contested marks to treble his career total.

The now eight-game AFL veteran, an athletic 92kg but not yet as strong as he will be, had only taken one contested mark previously.

In terms of possessions it wasn’t quite his best – he had 17 against Collingwood in Round 3 this year – but in his first Q-Clash appearance Fullarton really looked like he belonged.

He did some nice work in the ruck but most importantly was a strong and effective target at centre half forward in a Lions forward line still trying to work out the absence of injured star Eric Hipwood.

It’s not exactly a surprise. In 2014 after the national under 15 AFL schoolboys carnival Fullarton won All-Australian selection with fellow Lions Connor Ballenden, a teammate in the Queensland side, Cam Rayner, who had played for Victoria, and Brandon Starcevich, a Western Australian product.

Other AFL players who were also in the All-Australian team were Hawthorn’s James Worpel, North Melbourne’s Luke Davies-Uniacke, Aiden Bonar (Vic) and Kyron Hayden (WA), Richmond’s Callum Coleman-Jones and Fremantle’s Mitch Crowden (SA), Melbourne’s Charlie Spargo (NSW) and ex-Gold Coaster Brayden Crossley (Queensland).

He had been a standout junior in both sports on the Sunshine Coast but after he captained the national under 17 basketball team at the world championships in Spain he was snapped up as a development player with the Brisbane Bullets for their return to the NBL in the 2016-17 season.

He was elevated to a full contract with the Bullets in 2017-18 before he surprised basketball officials with his return to football as a Category B rookie to begin what has been a nice, steady climb up the pecking order at the Gabba.

A member of the Lions’ 2019 NEAFL premiership side before his AFL debut last year, he had a two-game taste of League football last year and after playing the first four games of this year his recall following the Hipwood injury has given one Sunshine Coaster a chance to lock in a place for the finals at the expense of another.

Fullarton’s strong showing in Q-Clash #21 was matched by Harris Andrews’ outstanding game in defence in which he time and again repelled the Suns, grabbing 15 possessions, 10 one-percenters and five contested marks – one short of a career-best.

Vice-captain Andrews picked up two votes in the AFL Coach’s Association Player Award as skipper Dayne Zorko marked his record-breaking 18th Q-Clash with 21 possessions, goal and six clearances.

The other Queenslander to feature in the Round 19 coaches’ votes was Port Adelaide’s Charlie Dixon, who earned four votes for his strong showing in the Friday night clash with Collingwood eventually played at Marvel Stadium.

Dixon had 11 disposals – and oddly enough 12 contested possessions – plus four contested marks and four goals. Now with 37 goals for the season he ranks 8th on the Coleman Medal leaderboard as the Power look to confirm a top four spot for the finals.

North Melbourne’s Bailey Scott, enjoying the Roos’ good late season form, gathered a career-best 26 possessions – five up on his previous best set on debut in Round 1 2019, when he won a Rising Star nomination.

Scott’s 10 contested possessions in North’s 39-point win over Carlton at Marvel was also a career-best in his 30thgame and, more importantly for the ex-Gold Coast Suns Academy captain, his fourth career win.

Elliott Himmelberg, playing his fifth game of the season and his 24th overall for Adelaide, showed some nice signs in the Crows’ 19-point win over Hawthorn at Marvel. He kicked two goals for the seventh time in his career and took a career-best four contested marks.

Teammate Ben Keays picked up 23 possessions and kicked a goal in the same game to top 500 possessions for the year. The first Queenslander to this mark, he sits 11th on the AFL possessions leader board.


Peter Blucher is a Consultant with Vivid Sport. 

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