JAMES Aish was in a corner of the gym with a dumbbell wrapped in each hand.

After more than 30 hours in transit from Melbourne to Italy, the AIS-AFL Academy's first point of call on Sunday was a quick workout session at Varese's European Training Centre.

Aish, almost four months after a shoulder reconstruction, was away from the main group but underneath the watchful eye of recruiters and on-lookers, all leaning over the room.

The 17-year-old carefully followed his prescribed rehabilitation program, lifting one weight then another and then another, each movement a tiny step closer to getting full mobility back into his right arm.

While others yelled or backslapped or changed the song on the stereo, Aish kept at what was in front of him, quietly doing what he knew he needed to do but without a fuss. It tends to be his way.

"I'm not the loudest person," Aish told AFL.com.au.

"I think with me I don't naturally say the big things like 'Come on boys, let's do this'. I try to make sure whatever I say I make count."

As perhaps the most craved-for player of this year's NAB AFL Draft, Aish makes a lot of things count.

On the field he holds the ball as long as he can, and waits for the right option to arrive. When it doesn't, he thinks quick to work out what to do next.

He is known for barely missing a kick, and he's dangerous around goal because it only takes him one chance to make you pay. Teammates get the ball to him because they know he isn't going to waste it.

He's also made the most of being on the sidelines.

Aish had a "disheartening" two months after surgery in December, with lots of hard work showing no real signs of progress.

That was before about a month ago, when something clicked and he moved into longer weights and training without pain.

That's meant more running, which in turn has made him even more ready for this season than his outstanding 2012. "I think I'm probably fitter than this time last year," he says. "I'm feeling really good now."

Last week, when the AIS-AFL Academy played at the MCG against Collingwood, Aish was the team's runner. He says it was tough to watch his mates play on the ground he has watched on television and attended so many times before while he was in the runner's gear delivering messages.  

"Hopefully I don't get too familiar with those colours," he says.

He aims to fast-track his recovery on the trip so by the time he gets back in Adelaide, he's only three weeks away from joining contact drills, and then only a matter of time before getting back into games.

Aish is in the top handful of prospects this year after his brilliant last season. Then, as a 16-year-old, the smart midfielder won NAB AFL Under-18 All-Australian selection for his showings for South Australia.

He then topped that by starring in Norwood's senior SANFL premiership, even kicking a memorable running goal during the Grand Final at AAMI Stadium.

He says the push to go back-to-back is enough to keep him focused this season, as well as having a better national carnival and "knocking off Victoria".

Improving individually is a big goal as well. Consistency is his overarching aim but there are other elements his wants to bolster, too, like breaking the lines more, improving his kicking penetration, and becoming a more damaging player.  

Over time he'd like to build up his body – he lost four or five kilograms after his shoulder operation but has quickly put them back on – although his coaches at the Academy, including Michael O'Loughlin and Mick Ablett, have reminded him it's a gradual thing.

"They said just keep doing what you're doing but just imagine what it'd be like with some extra size as well," Aish said.

"When I'm out on the ground it's always in my mind [about getting bigger] and I think it's something to look at positively.

"Like, look at what I'm doing now and then I work out, with a bit of extra muscle, what I might be able to hopefully do in the future."

The interest around Aish won't dissipate this year and that doesn't bother him. He reads and hears what people say, and takes it as a compliment, but he knows that won't be getting him any closer to an AFL club.

In meetings with recruiters he has got his head around some trickier questions, and how to give a balanced response.

"You obviously don't want to be arrogant but you want to show some confidence as well. It's a bit of a fine line," Aish said.

They need only ask why he wants to play at the top level to find out a little more about him.

"Obviously it's something you love and to get a chance to do it professionally…it makes sense it'd be a really good thing," he says.

"But just training, getting the best out of yourself and then hopefully being able to play in front of 90,000 people on a Friday night. That would be an amazing thing."

Follow AFL website reporter Callum Twomey on Twitter at @AFL_CalTwomey.