The seven-footer eyeing a place in the AFL

Like a plethora of basketball players before him, Mate Colina has decided to start the process of becoming an Australian rules football player.

In what may become a trend, though, the seven-footer isn't completely closing that basketball door just yet.

On Thursday, Colina signed with the Richmond Tigers as a Category B rookie, with the 21-year-old edging closer to a career in the AFL; a move that could make him the tallest player in the league's history, and see him join a growing list of athletes who quit basketball for Australian Rules football.

However, as a centre for the University of Hawaii's men's basketball team, Colina still has two years of his degree to finish -- and two seasons of Big West basketball to play -- and sees his signing as a way of keeping his options open upon graduation.

"Especially with the way the world is at the moment, you've got to be adaptable, and you've got to have options open," Colina told ESPN. "The biggest thing for me is following my basketball dream and repaying Hawai'i for investing in me. I'm grateful for all the support I've had from Hawai'i up to this point, and looking forward to the future. I'm really just investing in myself, and making sure, either way, that I'm ready to go for what I do decide down the track."

During his time in Melbourne, Colina hit the Richmond training ground and clearly did enough for the team's decision-makers to offer him a contract. In basketball, Colina is regarded as a back-to-the-basket big-man who can run rim-to-rim and finish in and around the paint; part of that skillset, Colina says, carries over to football, and he believes would help him if he decided to ultimately choose that route.

"A lot of the skills and athletic ability in basketball do transfer over, and I think it's important for any athlete to be adaptable," Colina said. "My running ability, and my athletic ability; being able to jump and launch at the ball, being able to cover the ground. Then, also, being able to work, find the ball in tight spaces, and do the types of things basketballers are renowned for."

Colina represented Australia at the 2016 FIBA under-17 World Championships in Zaragoza, Spain, playing alongside two other former basketball players who are now plying their respective trade in the AFL.

Tom Fullarton was one of the key players on that side, and recently made his AFL debut for the Brisbane Lions, while former guard Patrick Bines is working his way up the West Coast Eagles' ranks.

Colina has kept in contact with both as he tip-toes closer toward joining them on that path, but, while his code-hopping counterparts closed one door and opened another, he's opening a new door while keeping that first one ajar.

The big-man's plan is to focus entirely on the next two seasons he has at Hawai'i, while using the time in between to work with the Richmond club, with the hopes of honing his skills in the sport and using the experience to help make his final decision.

"Right now, the thing is, I've still got two years to complete my journey in Hawaii, which I'm incredibly focused on," Colina said."I'll have my summer break, which will allow me to go down into Richmond, have me train with the group; put myself in a really good position to get better physically, and learn the skills and the craft of the game."

That decision may come down to opportunity. Signing as a Category B rookie allows Colina to be around the workings of an AFL franchise that clearly sees potential in him, but there's a chance basketball could swoop in and present a more desirable future.

But, what does that look like?

"It would have to be something that would blow me away, in terms of maybe playing over in Europe or an NBA stint," Colina said of what would keep him as a basketball player after his time in college is over. "Something along the lines of that, where it'd be too big of an opportunity not to take.

"Right now, I'm incredibly focused on completing my journey here at Hawai'i, and trying to win some silverware for the program, and have success which any athlete chases. That's the main reason I play: to win."

Colina does have a European passport, as well as Croatian citizenship, so the potential of playing basketball abroad is a genuine possibility for the budding centre. If that opportunity doesn't present itself, though, or if Colina ends up fully committing to football, he would have the upper hand of having been with an AFL franchise for at least two years, possessing the sort of upside that made Richmond jump at his signature in the first place.