HARLEY Balic didn't want to choose between basketball and football at the start of last year, but knew he had to pursue one sport properly and leave the other behind.
Football, in some ways, chose him, when he was selected for the Sandringham Dragons' team early in the year as a bottom-aged prospect. Then he decided to quit a promising basketball career and focus on his aspiring footy career.
Balic did enough last year as a 17-year-old to win a spot in the level two NAB AFL Academy group, and this year represented his state for the first time at the under-18 championships.
A couple of standout games, including his 27-disposal effort in the opening round of the carnival, saw him named an All Australian before wrist surgery later in the year ruled him out of testing at the draft combine.
Balic is able to play in three different parts of the ground – as a dangerous half-forward, a smooth midfielder and an attacking half-back. At certain stages this season he was moved into all of those roles and showed exciting promise.
Generally, however, Balic is a half-forward who switches into the midfield. His versatility is an attribute, as is his capacity to mark well. Despite his wrist problem this year, which occasionally forced him to double grab marks on the lead, he still attacked the ball hard.
That's another thing Balic will bring to an AFL club: his desire to tackle, run hard at an opponent and give his all. He's able to make an impact as an inside player, and doesn't mind the physical nature of the game. He also played throughout the year with a wrist injury that required surgery, highlighting his resilience.
Although Balic has left basketball, there are still elements of his game that look to have been carried over to footy. He's agile in tight spaces, sees the game unfold really quick and makes things happen when he's around the ball.
Despite generally looking unhurried on the field, Balic isn't especially quick, so relies on his composure rather than his breakaway speed to get out of trouble. He is also learning to use his aerobic base more in games, having recorded a 15.3 beep test last year.
Balic has also spent significant time refining his kicking, knowing recruiters have seen it as an area for improvement. He tends to not take too many risks with his kicking, but throughout the championships he did show signs he was adding penetration and depth to his kicking, including a long 50-metre goal after the siren in round one.
With his stretch in marking contests, fight at ground level and competitive instincts across half-forward, Balic shares some comparisons to North Melbourne youngster Taylor Garner. In time both might move up the ground as their running continues to develop.
Balic looks likely to be a first-round pick in three weeks when names are called at the Adelaide Convention Centre. Some clubs have him among their top dozen or so selections, while others view him around the 20-25 range in their rankings.
Balic is an exciting prospect who can influence games. He offers clubs a slightly unique set of skills in this year's pool: he's versatile and agile, dangerous and dynamic, and can have a say on a contest without needing to find heaps of the ball.