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Sam Alabakis: An unexpected journey

Go behind Sam Alabakis' unique journey to the AFL.
I was literally sitting in a camping chair with dad and I got this Instagram DM saying ‘Hey mate, are you interested in playing football?’
Sam Alabakis

Sam Alabakis has called many places home.

Dubai, Malaysia, Louisiana, Florida and Perth have all featured on the 21-year-old’s extensive list.

But now, RSEA Park is where the former college basketballer belongs.

“I love it here, there hasn’t been a bad day honestly,” Alabakis said.

While Alabakis’ worldly upbringing is more than enough to describe his journey into the system as unconventional, his limited exposure to AFL and diverse sporting pathway is equally unique.

The Malaysian-born footballer was based in Dubai for 14 years, in which he played rugby – alongside bouts of tennis and indoor snowboarding – before making his first code conversion to basketball at 15 years of age.

With a change in code came another change in country, with Alabakis returning to his native Perth to board at Hale School.

And it was there where he put his imposing 211cm to good use.

His natural sporting prowess, height and athletic ability on the basketball court thrust him into the gaze of talent scouts, with Alabakis spending time with the Perth Wildcats development squad in his final year of schooling.

Soon after, the then 18-year-old was offered the opportunity to play college basketball at the University of Louisiana Monroe, where he spent two years with the Warhawks.

READ: Sam Alabakis is with St Kilda

Yet during his time at Hale School, Alabakis’ interest in Australia’s game developed, in tandem with his growing success on the basketball court.

A brief stint in Melbourne as a child had introduced Alakbakis to Aussie Rules via the Auskick program, and while his West Australian parents followed the footy abroad, it was never a strong focus for him growing up.

“I wanted to play football, but I couldn’t because I was committed to basketball every day,” Alabakis said about his tastings of AFL while at Hale School.

“The only real chance I had was to kick the footy with my mates; ask them to go to the oval after school or before we had dinner.”

Two games in the Year 10 B-reserve side eventually culminated in a rolled ankle, bringing a premature end to his footballing prospects.

“It was a bit of fun at the time, all the boys would rip into me and so I continued with basketball,” Alabakis said.

With such little experience with the oval ball and a promising basketball career on the rise, it seemed highly unlikely Alabakis would soon be pulling on the red, white and black for the Saints.

But while the youngster was shooting threes in America and catching the attention of basketball recruiters, Alabakis was attracting interest from St Kilda thousands of miles away.

And he had no idea his life was going to change forever.

Back at Colorado 🏀, thanks to @b_englander for the vibes 👌🏽

A post shared by Sam Alabakis (@salabakis) on

 

Not many people are given a personal invitation to try out for an AFL side.

But for college basketballer, Sam Alabakis, a simple Instagram message turned his life upside-down, kickstarting his AFL career at St Kilda as a Category B rookie.

Alabakis, an avid fisherman, was shark fishing in Perth the day he received the life-changing message from St Kilda ruck coach, Adam Skrobalak.

“I was literally sitting in a camping chair with dad and I got this Instagram DM from Scrob (Skrobalak) saying ‘hey mate, are you interested in playing football?’,” Alabakis said.

While it all began as an unexpected inbox for Alabakis, behind closed doors at RSEA Park, Tony Elshaug and Skrobalak were keen on acquiring the prospective basketballer’s services.

The former Warhawk was scouted out by Skrobalak, and with references from Perth Wildcats’ Andrew Vlahov, arranged for the 211cm giant to be put under the microscope.

Meeting with Matt Hornsby and Danny Sexton prior to St Kilda’s clash with West Coast in Round 11, Alabakis was put through his paces as his physical capabilities and ball skills were closely assessed.

The duo liked what they saw, as a few weeks later, Alabakis was thrust into rigorous training sessions, nurturing his rucking skills and under the watchful eye of Skrobalak. 

After following a demanding program to build his fitness base upon returning to Louisiana Monroe, Alabakis ticked all the boxes to warrant a contract from St Kilda.

Now into his second month at RSEA Park, the 21-year-old has started to adjust to the rigours of his new code.

“In the few weeks I’ve been here I’m starting to pick up everything a lot better,” Alabakis said.

“I’ve got to work on everything really – ball-work, body-work, fitness and theory around the game – but I’m doing work with Scrob every day so I’m trying to get to that point where it’s all natural to me.”

Sam Alabakis

Under the tutelage of Skrobalak and guidance from fellow ruckman, Lewis Pierce, Alabakis has been able to draw parallels between basketball and AFL, fast-tracking his growth as a player.

“With the centre bounce it’s like a lay-up; you’ve got the whole right-left movement and sticking your arm up like you’re going for the hoop but instead you’re tapping it down,” Alabakis said.

Externally, however, the youngster is eager on meeting fellow basketball convert, Mason Cox, to learn about his progression into a key player for Collingwood.

 “I’d like to have a chat and see what his experience was like when he first started and how he handled the adversity and issues that popped up at the start of his career,” Alabakis said.

“Comparison-wise I’d hope to get to the same level he’s at now, if not earlier than it’s taken him.”

But for Season 2019, Alabakis has his eyes set nailing the fundamentals and giving himself a solid foundation as an AFL player.

“I want to have a solid understanding of the game, skill-wise, theory-wise, body-wise,” Alabakis said.

“I’ve just got to trust the process.”