THE AFL has made no secret of its desire to grow the competition in China.

A home and away game was first played in Shanghai three years ago, and Melbourne took on Brisbane in an exhibition match there back in 2010.

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But the best way to grow a sport in China is by having a genuine marquee player - just ask NBA purists what Yao Ming did for basketball in the communist state during his hall-of-fame career with the Houston Rockets.

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The AFL has never had anyone with a Chinese background become a genuine star. 

But Eastern Ranges product Connor Downie could change that.

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Part of Hawthorn's Next Generation Academy, the left-footed wingman says it would be ideal to land at the Hawks in next week's NAB AFL Draft.

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But several clubs have expressed interest in Downie and there are no guarantees he will be playing under four-time premiership coach Alastair Clarkson next year.

He is also destined to be drafted when Australian-Chinese relations are at an all-time low. 

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The 18-year-old is proud of his heritage - his mother moved to Australia from China when she was 24 - and it has always been a big part of his life.

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"I've grown up half-Chinese, half-Australian," Downie said.

"Last year I thought about it a lot and if I get the chance to be drafted, I want to make it one of my goals and share the game overseas and sort of be an ambassador for footy in China.

"Hopefully I can encourage more Chinese people to play AFL and multicultural people (to play). 

Connor Downie of the Eastern Ranges in action during the 2020 NAB AFL Draft training day at Highgate Recreation Reserve in Melbourne on December 2. Picture: Michael Willson/AFL Photos

"With mum being Chinese, I've been there a couple of times, a lot of my uncles still live there."

If Downie does end up at Hawthorn next year, one of his biggest role models during his stints with the Academy won't be. 

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Premiership star Isaac Smith left Waverley Park during last month's Trade Period and signed with rivals Geelong. 

"What I learned from (Smith), he's a great leader, and taught me a lot about being yourself and trying to lift others up," Downie said.