When we think of the tallest AFL player one name comes to mind – Fremantle Dockers great Aaron Sandilands, standing at 211cm. However this may no longer be the case. At 211.4cm Collingwood Magpies rookie Mason Cox is the officially the tallest player ever to be measured at an AFL combine.
Hailing from the US and never having even heard of what AFL was until he Youtube’d it last year – we had the opportunity to chat to Mason about his “crazy whirlwind” experience from his college basketball days, to landing a job at the no.2 company on the Fortune 500 list (2014), well, to leaving it all behind to play Aussie rules footy.
Plus 2: Possible to tell us a bit about your background, in particular your college basketball days.
Mason Cox: I went to Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Oklahoma; it’s a small town, a little bit north of Oklahoma City. I got there in 2009 and I actually went there for education, to get a mechanical engineering degree. When I first got there I started playing pick up ball, it was actually the first time I had picked up a basketball after having played soccer my whole life, and eventually the women’s team asked me if I could start helping them out with practices and training with this girl named Brittney Griner, she’s actually one of the top prospects over in the WNBA. And then obviously the men’s team and the women’s team train at the same place and like a year after that the men’s team caught my eye and asked me if I could play with them.
I was technically a walk-on for the men’s team, and ended up actually playing there for three years, and yeah, started at the very bottom and worked my way, all the way up, and by the end of it I was playing sixth man for the men’s division one basketball team, but I never played basketball growing up or anything like that – it’s pretty wild.
I was part of a team that won a tournament in Puerto Rico, traveled overseas to the Canary Islands and Barcelona, and all over the United States, and have been to the NCAA tournament twice – lost both in the first round unfortunately. But yeah, that’s kind of the way it goes. We won some big games, played some huge teams, and people like Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid, and all them. I’ve also got a few friends that play in the NBA now, Markel Brown for the Brooklyn Nets and then Marcus Smart who plays for the Boston Celtics. It’s just been kind of a crazy whirlwind I guess.
P2: It sounds like you have a knack for picking up sports relatively quickly?
MC: Yeah, I mean growing up I did all kinds of sports from football to baseball, to whatever you name it. I have two older brothers, so you can imagine the roughhousing we’d do and all those sports and stuff we’d play, that mom would drive us to. We were all pretty naturally gifted at whatever we would play. We just picked it up quite easily, and then kind of ran with it, and the more we played, the better we got. So yeah, it’s just kind of one of the things where I played soccer and then basketball and now I’m playing footy – it’s a crazy, crazy experience. I never could have imagined it.
P2: Is the whole family tall?
MC: Yeah, my mom’s built like 6’0-6’1, my dad’s built like 6’1-6’2, and my brothers are 6’6, and 6’8. My 6’6 brother, he walked on to the Oklahoma State’s basketball team too. I think it was in 2009 and he played there for a year also. We actually got coached by the same coach, which is pretty neat.
P2: What was your biggest highlight from your college basketball career?
MC: Probably Kansas, they are ranked like one or two in the nation and we ended up beating them at home one year. Actually, it was my senior year and my last year. We had a bunch of players playing in the NBA now, and top 5 picks and stuff like that – playing with them was pretty wild. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Scott Brooks their coach were all at the game, and it was kind of a crazy ordeal to have that many people in one gym at the same time, and you know, be part of the whole experience. I was sixth man and playing center against Joel Embiid, he’s hurt right now but he was drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers.
P2: Crazy, and so after college you went and got yourself a job?
MC: Yeah, I had a couple of offers from different companies, ExxonMobil was the one that I actually accepted to go work in Houston, in their main office. They asked me–and gave me an offer, and I took it and everything.
P2: And so when did you first hear anything about Australian Rules Football?
MC: It was around April/May I heard from this guy Jonathan Givony, from NBA Draft Express or something like that. He must contract out to the AFL and finds guys that are probably not going to quite make the NBA, and sends them a message saying, ‘hey, there’s a viable option if you wanna go out and try, you will fly out to LA.’ You know, and since it’s paid, just give it a crack, and if you like it, you’ll like it; and if not, you know, no hurt feelings or anything. So it started off like that.
And of course the first thing I did after that was Youtube Australian Rules Football and some video of ‘worst hits’ came up of some guy getting his head taken off, I was just like; ‘yeah, okay, so that’s what it is.’ Because, yeah I had no idea what it was so just did some research of my own and ended up talking to some guys that work within the AFL in the US and one thing lead to another.
So from there I went to LA and did really well, and there were 4 or 5 clubs that were interested. The AFL actually ended up flying me out to Australia after that for a week, and my brother actually got to come over too. It was really cool, and it was like all-expenses paid to Australia for a week. And got to see 4 of the 5 clubs, and it was a really neat and unique experience to be able to have the opportunity to come out here and do that.
P2: Was there any defining moment where you decided to leave everything behind, travel to the other side of the world and play a sport you knew very little about?
MC: Yeah, my brother came out here for a week with me and at the airport after it all, we were kind of chitchatting about it, when he kind of gave me this one neat word of advice, and he’s been working in the real world for six years now. And yeah, he just kind of sat me down and said, ’10 years from now you’re going to look back and think that was a really cool experience, or wow I took the safe route and I’m really glad I’m still behind this desk working for a company, who has plenty of money, who’s not going to be hurting if I’m not there,’ and he just said, ‘you know, if you were to take the job, in six months from now, you’re behind the desk, would you be thinking about ‘what if’ in Australia, or would you be in Australia and thinking ‘what if’ Exxon?’ So I was like well obviously you would be thinking ‘what if’ I’d taken that opportunity in Australia and just done something really crazy with my life, and yeah, just took that leap and, you know, took the risk and hopefully reward comes.
P2: Yeah, absolutely. So what was it like when you picked up a footy for the first time?
MC: It was a bit weird. I mean, it’s like a [American] football, but not, and it’s like a rugby ball, but not. I remember the first time we, well, picked up a footy over at the combine in the states,
we all tried to kick it, oh gosh, that was a scene. I’m telling you there was footy’s left and right and no where near where we were trying to kick it. It was just hilarious, we all had a good laugh about it because no one was even near decent at kicking one of these things. And yeah, I was pretty horrible at it.
P2: How did your first AFL game go?
MC: Yeah, so the NAB game against Carlton, I played the second-half there and I did really well from what people are telling me. To be honest with you, I didn’t know anything about it until some of the people in media and some of the boys came up to me after and were saying ‘good job’ and what not. But it was good, I got out there, played ruck for most of the game, and I think I had 16 hit-outs or something like that within the half, so it was pretty decent. We unfortunately ended up losing the game, but it was a good experience to get out there. And I think it was the 5th and 6th quarters I’ve ever played of footy in my lifetime, so it’s been pretty crazy how it’s the 5th and 6th quarter of your life, and you’re playing against a professional team, that have played their whole life. It was just a great experience to get out there with the boys and have a kick and get the whole experience from it, and understand that it’s going to be a lot faster than what you expect and to take it in, and run with it.
P2: How are you finding Melbourne so far? Anything you miss from back home?
MC: It’s good. I haven’t become a ‘coffeeholic’ yet! [laughs] Something that I really miss from back home is I guess Southern barbeque, ’cause I’m from Texas, so there’s quite a big barbeque influence down there, like big smokers where they smoke all the meat and all that kind of stuff. Yeah, I probably, would have a good meal of that once a week, and have not had it since I’ve been here in Melbourne. So it’s been pretty tough as far as that and also finding sauces that I’m use to. The first time I actually went to a grocery store, I was pretty lost on what I was doing, so I had the dietician come with me and look through it all and try to understand what was going on.
P2: How have you gone in the past finding clothes that fit your taller stature?
MC: Yeah, it’s been pretty tough, there are big and tall stores, but it’s never just tall, so it’s more, you know, you’ll get the length, but you also get 6XL or something like that. I kind of just wear basketball clothes that are pretty baggy back in the States. I’m always working out in basketball shorts and stuff like that. There’s no real chance, to really have a say on what you want to wear, how you want to wear it, but the tall tees you guys sent out actually all ended up fitting me really well.
We wish Mason all the best for the year ahead. You can stay up to date with his progress on twitter and instagram @masonsixtencox