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'I proved as much as I could': Duke men’s basketball’s Tyrese Proctor takes on new test after leaving his mark in Australia

<p>Proctor arrived at Duke late after winning the FIBA Asia Cup with the Australian national team.</p>

Proctor arrived at Duke late after winning the FIBA Asia Cup with the Australian national team.

As one of the best players in the country and someone who competed with his national team, preparedness should hardly be a question for Tyrese Proctor. He has more experience than could be asked of an 18-year-old.

In his journey from Australia to Durham, he traveled just about as far as possible on our planet, and he is doing it to continue showing his mettle.

Proctor is just the second Australian player to wear a Duke uniform, and despite the wealth of talent Down Under, his commitment to this Duke team was hardly a certainty. Playing among the nation’s best with Canberra’s NBA Global Academy, he starred on nearly every one of his teams by showcasing his developing shooting touch and smooth handles. 

Unlike plenty of his compatriots and teammates through the years, he chose to play in the ACC and for a first-year head coach instead of staying in Australia and testing its NBL, or even the rapidly growing NBA G League pipeline. 

Duke was already in a state of transition when Proctor announced in April that he would be joining the class of 2023, shoring up a strong second season in the post-Krzyzewski era of Duke basketball. In the two months following Proctor’s announcement, four Blue Devils announced their own moves to the NBA while shooting guard Trevor Keels mulled over his own future. 

Less than 24 hours had passed between when Keels’ decision was made and when Proctor had his own bit of news to deliver.

“[Head coach Jon Scheyer and I] spoke before, a couple of weeks before Trevor announced he was declaring [for the draft], so the idea was there,” Proctor said at the team’s Sept. 27 media day. “And then it was just sort of in the hands of me and my family, and we just felt like it was the best decision to come this year.”

A striking turn for the Blue Devils, Proctor’s reclassification is looking like it will have a major impact on this season.

He was already a dominant combo guard Scheyer was thrilled to have on board, but his momentous big-stage performance in the months to follow elevated his prospects from a somewhat uncertain reclass project to perhaps the most exciting newcomer for the preseason No. 7 team.

Proctor averaged 10.5 points on 40.7% 3-point shooting in the Asia Cup.&nbsp;
Proctor averaged 10.5 points on 40.7% 3-point shooting in the Asia Cup. 

A land Down Under

Proctor was recruited to the Boomers squad for its FIBA World Cup Qualification over the summer, though he was not there for playing time alongside longtime Australian centerpieces Mitch McCarron and Matthew Dellavedova. The veteran team—ranked third globally—had little room for the just-turned-18-year-old Proctor on the court, but he was more than ready to learn all he could since he had announced he would be heading to Durham for the 2022-23 season. Proctor only saw the floor for 2:40 in a July 3 game against China during which he grabed a rebound and blocked a shot in garbage time.

Mike Kelly, the Boomers coach during those qualifiers in Melbourne, said that Proctor, by that point a bonafide five-star recruit, was able to hold his own despite his youth and size. 

“He wanted to play against men,” Kelly told The Chronicle.

Proctor’s teammates often went after him—a slender 175-pound guard—but he did not let physicality get in the way of his successes while representing his country. He was crafty with how he used his body, quickness and length. He was by no means outmatched as he was also selected to the roster for the Asia Cup, set to take place in Indonesia following the qualifiers. With the physical, pesky backcourt leader in Dellavedova—in addition to former Duke forward Jack White—unavailable while resting ahead of the NBA season, Proctor was set to take on a larger responsibility while being the youngest member of the team.

Kelly spent extended time with Proctor through practices and film sessions, remarking about how he was not ordinary in his approach to learning the game.

“When young players come in, I think that they always show a willingness to work,” Kelly said. “But he seemed like he wanted to do all the extras and he did it at a level that was impactful … He showed that he could play at that level and compete at that level.”

A quick look at some of Proctor’s highlights from the tournament show he indeed held his own and crafted an enlarged role for himself off the bench as he continued to play alongside several experienced pros, some of them former NBA role players like the star of his Asia Cup team Thon Maker. Proctor averaged 21.5 minutes while scoring 10.5 points on 40.7% shooting from deep.

Victories against Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Japan and New Zealand pitted the Boomers against Lebanon in the Cup final. 

Up 72-70 and staving off a ferocious comeback from the Lebanon squad, Proctor took to the free-throw line with 8.7 seconds and calmly sank both for Australia before Lebanon was forced into a three-quarters-court shot as time wound down. His squad won the premier Asian international basketball competition and a kid in the midst of just preparing to make the leap to the brightest stage in college basketball was on the floor when the buzzer sounded. 

Talk about making an impression and capitalizing on an opportunity. 

In spite of playing with 11 other players, eight of whom are on NBL rosters, two pros in Japan and Israel, and another, Alex Ducas, playing his senior year at St. Mary’s, Proctor thinks that now is the time to pack up shop and take it on the road—to Durham.

“I proved as much as I could in Australia,” he said, eager to take the floor with the Blue Devils.

After tearing through national competitions, then being named to the Nike Hoop Summit and the Australian national team, he had certainly left his mark. He was just that good.

“Seeing him play against pretty high-level guys, I think basketball-wise, he’s ready,” Kelly said after mere weeks of watching Proctor compete.

He knew he was ready for the leap in June. His performance in Jakarta proved to the world he was right.

Proctor celebrates connecting on a 3-pointer in the second quarter of the Asia Cup championship game.&nbsp;
Proctor celebrates connecting on a 3-pointer in the second quarter of the Asia Cup championship game. 

‘Home away from home’

Proctor’s father Roderick was a college basketball player at Mississippi College in Clinton, Miss., before playing pro in Australia. He is now on the coaching staff with the developmental league in Bankstown, a suburb of Sydney. His mother is the principal of a Sydney-area public school.

Family in America offers Proctor support and a sense of familiarity with the way of life nearly 10,000 miles from his home in New South Wales. 

“I think that’s helped me a lot and then just knowing people if stuff gets hard, I can always go and see them,” Proctor said. “It’s not too far away.”

Experience with the NBA Global Academy, which provided Proctor and his teammates opportunities to travel to top-tier events for high school prospects in the U.S. combined with American influence from his father and his family give him unique perspectives among his peers. That allowed him to engage in some interesting meal-time conversations with Kelly and teammates who had stuck closer to their homes in Australia while abroad in July.

“He sees the world differently than just a young Australian or just a young guy who’s grown up in America,” Kelly said. “He showed that in some of our conversations, talking about the world’s issues and COVID and all the stuff that was going on in America at the time … He didn’t seem like a normal 18- or 19-year-old kid.”

As Proctor developed and inched toward his commitment amid a high-profile recruiting tour, he also made sure to follow college hoops in spite of the 16-hour time difference. A typical evening Blue Devil game that students attend following a day of classes would be on at 11 a.m.

“There’s a couple of weekends that you get to wake up a little bit earlier or sort of late afternoon. Just get to sneak it in,” Proctor said. 

Following his announcement that he would be in Durham and the polishing off of the 2022-23 roster with the final transfers, he joined a team meeting via FaceTime. But the Blue Devils—whom he was mostly unfamiliar with by the time he stepped foot on campus for the first time officially as a Blue Devil—were not the only peers abroad he was in contact with. In yet another example of the tight network that has defined Australian basketball, Proctor has remained well-connected with young NBA players Dyson Daniels and Josh Giddey—his teammates and friends from the Academy—and looks forward to speaking more with veteran guard Patty Mills.

“We talk to each other pretty much every day,” Proctor said of Daniels.

Daniels, a 6-foot-6 wing, was selected eighth overall in the 2022 NBA Draft by New Orleans. Giddey is entering his second year with Oklahoma City after being selected sixth overall in 2021. Daniels and Giddey, unlike Proctor, developed as pros: Daniels in the G League and Giddey in the NBL. Showcasing the myriad routes to the NBA, Proctor’s Aussie counterparts make his emergence and commitment to Duke all the more intriguing.

“These guys are so willing to help each other and it’s a special group of players out here—the people, the Australian guys—so I think that support is good because it just shows the young guys a way, and shows the young guys that they can have success at a very high level,” Kelly said.

But regarding the redirecting of the Australia-to-NBA pipeline via professional leagues like the NBL or G League, Kelly, an assistant coach with the Perth Wildcats in domestic competition, feels some players want to take the next step by dropping class from their schedules entirely.

“It’s fun to play professional basketball, some guys are more suited to practicing two times a day or lifting and practicing, rather than going to school as well. They want to be done when they’re done and then just focus on playing pro basketball.”

A testament to Proctor’s maturity and commitment to learning both in the classroom and the film room, he chose to develop in front of a national audience and packed arenas while still attending class during the week and otherwise enjoying life as a college student. While quickly adjusted to life at Duke, he still enjoys his favorite Australian snack foods, Tim Tams and Caramello Koalas, and has an Australian flag hanging on a wall in his bedroom. He lives in a suite with fellow freshman Kyle Filipowski on Duke’s East Campus where he plays NBA 2K, Madden and FIFA video games—and beats his Duke teammates consistently.

With everything falling into place ahead of the season, Proctor feels at home.

“The community environment—that was one thing that popped out at me on my visit,” he said. “That is one of the reasons why I came here—just like a home away from home kind of feeling.”

The second Australian player to join Duke in recent years—after White, who played in Durham from 2016-20—showcases the reach of the Blue Devils and “The Brotherhood.” Perhaps the two are just the start of something brewing from one side of the world to the other.

Proctor stares through a sea of Duke players at Countdown to Craziness, his first action in a Blue Devil uniform.
Proctor stares through a sea of Duke players at Countdown to Craziness, his first action in a Blue Devil uniform.

‘Doing extra’

As the Blue Devils gathered for the first time as a team, six freshmen and four transfers assembled in the practice gym next door to Cameron Indoor Stadium. The blue team scrimmaged the white team and summer practices rolled on. 

Something was missing. 

Blue Devil veterans would say it was the 2022 NCAA championship banner they were so close to raising. Others would ask where former head coach of 42 years Mike Krzyzewski was on the sidelines. 

But what the Blue Devils were missing until August was Proctor, who returned only after claiming his trophy while his teammates got their start on class work.

A question surrounding Proctor has been how well he has fit in with the team since his arrival Aug. 18, after the first several team scrimmages had already taken place. Proctor immediately established a commitment to learning from players like captain Jeremy Roach, watching film and getting both stronger and more physical.

“Definitely doing extra, that’s a big thing, watch a lot more film,” he said. “I don’t necessarily feel behind. I think I’m on the same page as everyone else.”

Three weeks later, he was receiving votes as the ACC’s top freshman, with widespread praise and rave reviews from his performances in practice. He has yet to shy away from a challenge, and in the Countdown to Craziness scrimmage in October, he flashed his dribble moves when he broke down his suitemate Filipowski before cruising to the rim for the two points. Mostly cheers emerged from the crowd, as Duke scored against… Duke. But that just allows the Blue Devils to get the first-hand experience of guarding him.

“The defense is at his mercy when he has the ball in his hands,” Scheyer said following the scrimmage. 

Kelly corroborates Scheyer’s view. “I think on the basketball floor he’s got some of those qualities of being able to be fluid with the ball and go by guys, score, but also create for his teammates,” he said.

But as Proctor gears up for a season in which Duke faces defending champion Kansas, has a chance to duel Gonzaga and goes to war against a tough ACC slate, he will run into kinds of athletes that he likely has not seen before. The FIBA game and the pace of play are different, as are the types of players who are recruited and opt to play in the rigorous top-flight of college basketball. Players are longer, more athletic and the game moves at a different pace.

Kelly thinks Proctor has the tools to adjust: “The flip side where he’s bringing in something that will translate right away is playing against the physicality—I think that’ll be an edge for him,” referring to his experience with the Boomers and their physical, full-court play.

“I think I’m taking a big emphasis in my defense moving forward. It wasn’t a strong suit in the past. But I think after the tournament in Indonesia, I’ve really stepped up with that,” Proctor said. “The Boomers’ culture really hone in on defense and just being a pest … so I think just giving your best effort on defense is a big thing that I learned from that.”

A combination of a blossoming defensive mindset, increased strength on Proctor’s 6-foot-5 frame and the offensive game of a future NBA star? A coach’s dream.

Scheyer said that his team will place an emphasis on defense this season, so Proctor’s brief but challenging test of defending at the FIBA level—and overall experience with the Australian brand of basketball—could offer his teammates something to learn from and Proctor a chance to lead, despite again being one of the youngest members of his team. 

Whether it is by locking down the league’s top scorers, serving as a leader at 18 years old or helping Duke exceed already-lofty expectations, Proctor is here to deliver a spark.

Editor's note: This article is one of many in The Chronicle's men's basketball season preview. Find the rest here.

Micah Hurewitz | Sports Managing Editor

Micah Hurewitz is a Trinity junior and a sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.


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