Like Australia’s latest NBA product Dyson Daniels, Tyrese Proctor is already well ahead of schedule.
The five-star guard was also initially supposed to be spending another year at the NBA’s Global Academy in Canberra, which has already produced Daniels and Josh Giddey.
Now Proctor is gunning to be the latest Australian graduate to be drafted into the NBA, projected as a first-round pick in the 2023 class.
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What makes Proctor’s emergence even more exciting for Australian basketball is the fact he is taking a different path to Giddey and Daniels, who used the NBL Next Stars and G League programs as a springboard for their NBA dreams.
Proctor, on the other hand, has taken the more traditional route by signing with NCAA powerhouse Duke University — and he is already making an impression.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to go to two practices and I have heard nothing but glowing reviews so far,” said Brendan Marks, who covers Duke and North Carolina basketball for The Athletic.
“Duke has seven freshmen this year and he’s one of them. He’s probably the guy out of all seven that you’ve heard the most positive buzz about.
“I think some of that is the fact that coming from Australia, he’s not as well-known and hasn’t been seen in person by as many people until he got to the States.”
Proctor was not even supposed to be at Duke this soon, having announced his reclassification in June and then arriving late after helping Australia take home the FIBA Asia Cup in the summer.
But the 18-year-old quickly made up for lost time before Duke’s season-opener against Jacksonville, where he shot 0-for-8 in a shaky debut.
Proctor though will only grow in confidence as he spends more time playing alongside junior guard Jeremy Roach in the backcourt.
It was important the Australian got as much time on the court with Roach as possible before the season proper, with that partnership to go a long way to determining Duke’s success.
“Duke really needed him to come here early,” Marks said.
“Duke was looking at potentially having some sort of void in this backcourt. Obviously they had five players drafted in the NBA last year off their team so there was a big hole to fill
They didn’t necessarily have a nice fit.
“So him coming over certainly filled that void and I think for him it lined up with being able to come in and still being in a place where he’s going to be able to contribute right off the bat.”
That is certainly the opinion of Marty Clarke, who has experience in the American college basketball system having worked as the associate head coach for St. Mary’s.
Now Clarke is the technical director of NBA Global Academy, meaning he oversaw Giddey, Daniels and now Proctor’s development first-hand.
“The original projection was he’d be here for another 12 months and then he’d either look to college or NBL or in his case he could’ve gone straight to the draft because he had already finished school,” Clarke told foxsports.com.au.
“But the same as Dyson and the same as Giddey, they put so much time and effort in, they work hard and obviously are talented. The X-factor talent for those guys is that they are really aggressive learners and they make every day count.
“For him [Proctor], the opportunity came up because another kid stayed in the drafts and they actually had a spot for him. You sit back and think, ‘What is the best option here for Tyrese?’, it’s actually best to get going and I expect him to do a really nice job in his Freshman in Duke.”
Like Giddey and Daniels, Proctor was also identified at an early age, with a strong performance at the under-16 Australian National Championships well and truly putting him on the Academy’s radar.
Defence though was and still remains an area of improvement for Proctor, who described it as a “big emphasis moving forward” for his time at Duke.
“For him, his ability to score was never a problem,” Clarke said, adding that “basketball-specific athleticism” was always a strength for Proctor.
It bodes well for Duke that Proctor’s development at the Academy was so well-rounded, with Marks expecting the team to get the 18-year-old to “do a little bit of everything” on the court.
“They’ve needed him to be able to handle his ball, which he has,” Marks said.
“They’ve needed him to be able to score in the pick and roll, which he seems to understand as well as anybody on the team.
“He can defend, even coming in as someone who you thought they would have an extra year before they arrived here, he’s pretty physically imposing and he’s a lot stronger I think than a lot of people thought. He’s obviously got really good size.
“Coming into the season, a lot of people thought that he would be in the mix to be a contributor and somebody who would certainly play a good amount, but maybe not be a star. “Now you are quickly sort of seeing that perception turn in real time to where NBA scouts who I have talked to, who have been to practice, think that he might end up being Duke’s best pro prospect on a team right now, which is certainly not something people thought even four months ago.”
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A lot of that comes back to both Proctor’s education at the Academy and the quality of opposition he has been up against, including at the Asia Cup in the most recent summer.
“I think the thing that he does really well is he understands the game,” Marks said.
“In the States, a lot of times you will have guys who have a lot of talent, but maybe haven’t had to prove them themselves against quality competition.
“If they come from some tiny town in some far-flown corner of the US, they might not be playing against anybody else who’s going to play college basketball, whereas, Tyrese’s experience has been against professional players and has been against people who are older and bigger and stronger and more developed than he is.
“He clearly had to learn how to see the game at a much higher level from a much earlier age and that has shown up in spades.”
Australia has quickly established itself as a point guard pipeline of sorts, with Proctor only the latest talented playmaker to emerge on the global scene.
Like Oklahoma City Thunder star Josh Giddey, Marks said Proctor’s teammates at Duke have already sometimes found themselves caught out by the elite level of his passing game.
“I think probably the thing that I’ve been most impressed with so far is his passing ability,” Marks said.
“Talking to some of the other guys in the team they say it’s sort of a love hate thing playing with him because we love it because he can always find us but we hate it because sometimes so he’ll see a pass and throw it to us and we’re not expecting.
“He’ll be the only person on the floor who can see that angle. The passing is really special.”
If there is any other area of Proctor’s game that could be improved outside of his defence, Clarke said it is his leadership — something all young players learn to develop with time.
“I think the thing I worked with Tyrese more was just learning how to be professional in your approach,” Clarke said.
“Not just to the game but life and everything you do has some sort of influence on how you play and your ability to I guess turn up everyday and give your best effort. And what happens if it’s a bad day? How do I bounce back and not turn a bad day into a bad week?
“One of the big keys [in the NBA] is can you do it day-to-day? Can you do it for 10 months and can you help the teammates around you do it well. That is where we worked with Tyrese.
“How can you be a great leader and you can influence the other guys into being the best they can be. I’m sure that’s what he’ll do at Duke, even as a freshman.”
Proctor joins the No.1 recruiting class in the country at Duke – a “professional pipeline” as Marks put it – and figures to add to the 25 former Blue Devils currently playing in the NBA.
You would think that Proctor would be at some form of disadvantage as the last player to arrive on campus but it is anything but.
According to ESPN’s draft analyst Jonathan Givony, Duke’s coaching staff already see Proctor as “their best player” and “biggest surprise”.
The 6-foot-5 guard from Sydney has just been able to pick up the system so quickly that he has made an even bigger impression than expected.
“The fact that he has made this impact so quickly I think speaks really highly of him,” Marks said.
“He is an NBA player through and through. Teams I think, by the time it comes around for drafting him, they’re going to be fighting for his services.”