Marcus Windhager: pick-and-rolls and kicking goals
By Marcus Uhe
When AFL clubs are searching for a point-of-difference in this year’s draft pool, they must consider the credentials of Sandringham’s Marcus Windhager.
At 15, Windhager represented Australia in the 2018 FIBA Under-15 Oceania Basketball Championships, averaging 9.2 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.2 assists across the tournament, as Australia went-on to claim gold in a nail-biting finale against New Zealand.
While it’s not the bright lights of the NBA, there wouldn’t be too many 15-year-olds that could claim that they have competed in international tournaments, and for Windhager, it served as an eye-opener into what it takes to mix it with the best.
“I think that being at that level, it puts into perspective how much work’s required to get to that level,” Windhager said. “I think that’s what I pride myself on, hard work and embracing that you have to put in a lot of hard yards to get to where you want to be.”
Despite playing basketball at such an elite standard, football has always been his first priority. A shift in schools from St Bede’s College to Haileybury College in 2020 brought with it the demands of Associated Private School (APS) football, ultimately putting basketball on the back-burner.
“I guess I just came to enjoy footy more.
“I think moving to Haileybury, everyone’s focus is just footy all the time and I enjoyed that, and enjoyed the hard work that’s required in footy.”
On-top of moving schools, Windhager’s rupture of an Anterior Crucial Ligament (ACL) when playing school football for St Bede’s was another critical factor in his decision to step-away from basketball.
While there is hardly a good time to suffer such a devastating injury, Windhager was able to see the positive of recovering during Melbourne’s brutal COVID-enforced lockdown in 2020.
“…being locked-down, I had a lot of time to get my knee strong and make sure that that sort of injury doesn’t happen again. I did a lot of training, worked with a few people to strengthen and make sure I was confident in my knee, and make it strong to come back and play footy again at a high level.”
“When I was coming back, it was (at the back of my mind), like I guess it was something I was scared of.
“Now it’s something that doesn’t even cross my mind when I’m playing, because I have confidence in the rehab I did that my knee is strong now and there’s nothing really to be worried about.
“It was a pretty big hurdle to get over and I guess, confidence in myself, just to get over such a daunting injury, and to continue to work, (be) diligent with rehab and don’t cut any corners.”
Playing a midfield/forward role, Windhager knows where the goal are, finishing second in the SMJFL 2019 Under 16s Division One goalkicking table with 23 majors from 10 games playing for Beaumaris, including a bag of 11 against Bentleigh.
Like many who have crossed-over from the hardwood, he possesses that explosive first step, and can navigate through traffic with the best of them.
And while football is much more free-flowing and more difficult to implement set plays compared to basketball, Windhager’s ability to process and interpret what’s happening around him gives him a leg-up when considering the tactical X’s and O’s.
“Yeah it’s definitely helpful when learning new concepts or strategies from a coach, because I think that’s such a main part of basketball, being able to execute those strategies.”
Competing in both the NAB League and in the APS competition for Haileybury in 2021 has presented him the opportunity to work on winning more contested possessions, an area that he identified as a goal for this year.
When thrown into the middle against Tasmania in round 11 of the NAB League, his breakaway speed and the ability to hit targets out of a stoppage stood-out in the 38-point win.
His excellent start to the season has been rewarded with selection in the Vic Metro squad for the 2021 Under 19 National Carnival, alongside seven other Dragons including Dante Visentini, Luke Cleary and Caleb Lewis, where he will have an ideal opportunity to best showcase his talents in front of the footy world against the best of his age group from across the country.
He says his connection with his teammates has helped push him to level he’s at today.
“I’ve have a good group of mates, most of them from Dragons and from school that even over lockdown last year and the one that we just had, nearly every night we’re down at the footy oval in Parkdale, doing contested work and it would be full-on. We’d go full-on at each other and have competitions and pushed each other and we all share the same goal so that helped a lot. “
Meeting elite standards and participating in high performance programs from such a young age has meant that he’s been forced to make some difficult sacrifices over the journey. Come the end of the year, he’s hoping that all the hard work and commitment will be justified.
“The end goal is getting drafted, that’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time and it’s definitely a goal of mine, a dream of mine. I think that’s the biggest motivation I guess. It’s why I put in a pile of work, just to get there.”