Ryan Bathie hopes for a spot in the Cats' defence in 2013
GEELONG rookie Ryan Bathie is hoping the retirement of Matthew Scarlett and Tom Gillies' move to Melbourne will open the door for him to make his AFL debut next year.
The former NBL and US college basketballer has spent the past two seasons learning the ropes as a key defender in the VFL, and he remains adamant that he can make it to the highest level.
"I think the last two years have been pretty good," Bathie told AFL.com.au.
"I've developed a lot as a footballer and I think I've shown a lot of improvement.
"I think I showed in the second half of last season that I've made pretty good leaps and I'm almost up to that AFL standard that I've been trying to get to."
After joining the Cats as a 'Category B' rookie in late 2010, Bathie played one NAB Cup match and 17 VFL games for the Cats during 2011 and finished 11th in the club's VFL best and fairest.
He made three appearances in the 2012 pre-season competition, then spent the rest of the year in the VFL, playing another 20 games at that level.
Although the 198cm big man had a few brief runs up forward, he spent most of his time holding down a key position in the backline.
"They put me down there so that the game is in front of me and I can learn to read the play," Bathie said.
"My closing speed is pretty good, so I've used that to get on top of my opponents.
"I wouldn't mind heading down to the forward line a bit more often and kicking a few goals, but I do love playing in the backline."
The 25-year-old was named among Geelong's best players on three occasions during the 2012 VFL season, and he was part of the Geelong team that beat Port Melbourne in the Grand Final.
"He's shown a lot of improvement playing down back in the VFL," Cats assistant coach James Rahilly said.
"He picked up a big forward most weeks and he's really coming along.
"He's very agile, his vision's quite good, which is from his basketball background, and decision-making and ball-use out of defence has improved a lot.
"We're really happy with his progress."
Now in the midst of his third pre-season, Bathie is aiming to be bigger, stronger and fitter by the time the 2013 season rolls around.
"The pre-seasons have been the hardest thing when I compare footy with playing basketball," he said.
"All that distance running and continuous running, instead of the stop-start drills in basketball … it took me a while to get my head around that."
Bathie is hoping that Geelong's off-season list changes will help his chances of being elevated onto the club's senior list at some stage next year.
"With 'Scarlo' gone now and Tom Gillies gone it opens things up for me a little bit, given the position that I've been playing," he said.
"So I think there is a bit of room there for me to get an AFL game in the future, hopefully."
Adam McNicol covers Geelong news for AFL.com.au. Follow him on Twitter at @AFL_AdamMcNicol