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The college basketball season is back, and Australians are once again involved in a myriad of capacities.
There’s everything from a projected lottery pick whose stock is only rising, some exciting freshmen at powerhouse schools, and the guys NBL teams are keeping a keen eye on.
Of course, we also highlight the programs that have continued to lean heavily into the recruitment of Australian talent.
Here are the key players and storylines to look out for as the college basketball season gets into full swing.
Tyrese Proctor – the next Australian lottery pick
After Josh Giddey and Dyson Daniels were drafted, Australia had a year off producing an NBA lottery pick.
Heading into this college basketball season, Tyrese Proctor looks primed to restart that trend.
Proctor, a 6’5 combo guard out of Sydney, enters his sophomore season at Duke as ESPN’s No. 13 ranked player on the most recent Top 100 ahead of the 2024 NBA Draft, and there’s reason to think there’s scope for that to rise.
Proctor averaged 9.4 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 3.3 assists per game as a freshman, but did so after reclassifying down – so he was one of the youngest players in college basketball – and really picked up his game as his season progressed. Proctor entered Duke projects as a high-level shot maker, and showed impressive flashes of his creation skillset over the course of his first season with the Blue Devils. The 32% from three-point land he shot as a freshman – on 41 3PA – is low, based on how he was expected to shoot, but he went 17/40 (42.5%) from downtown over his last 10 games; a sign of his development over the season.
It’ll be interesting to track Proctor’s production over the start of his sophomore year. Duke’s guard rotation includes senior guard Jeremy Roach, and multiple high-level perimeter players in Jared McCain and Caleb Foster, so there’ll be a desire for head coach Jon Scheyer to share the load. Proctor is still probably the best value ball carrier – from a reliability and skillset standpoint – but there’s a good chance we see the Australian play a connector role at times.
Proctor has good enough positional size, a high IQ and, assuming the shot continues to fall, projects as someone whose skillset can translate to the NBA right away. If all goes to plan, this will be his final year in Durham.
Australia’s exciting freshmen at powerhouse schools
There are a pair of incoming Australian freshmen that are particularly exciting and worth tracking as they progress through their first season with their respective schools.
The first is Johnny Furphy, who seemingly came out of nowhere during July’s NBA Academy Games in Atlanta to announce himself as a high major prospect. The 6’9 wing out of Melbourne would eventually commit to Kansas, joining a program that many are projecting will be the No. 1 team in the country.
Furphy is a big wing whose high-level athleticism – he can jump out the gym – and ability to shoot the ball could lead to him getting opportunities early. He’s only 18, but has the package to be a reliable and consistent backup option on the perimeter, likely behind Kevin McCullar at the three-spot.
There’s no real scope for Furphy to be in the picture for the 2024 draft, but it’s realistic to think that an impressive freshman season in Kansas could see him emerge as a legitimate NBA prospect for 2025.
The other intriguing first-year player out of Australia is Alex Condon, a big-man out of Perth who’ll play his freshman season with Florida.
Now, at 6’11 and 230 lbs – and the physicality with which he plays – Condon has the physical profile to be able to make an impact early for the Gators. He’s a relatively skilled big, and there should be some backup opportunities for Todd Golden’s team. Micah Handlogten is Florida’s sophomore centre who’ll start at that spot, but there’s real scope for Condon to be a significant part of that frontcourt rotation, especially if he’s able to shoot it from deep at the level he’s shown to be capable of.
Saint Mary’s and Sacramento State continue Australian-heavy rosters
If you want to find Australians on a college basketball roster, there are generally two places you’re looking toward: one is Saint Mary’s, and the other is wherever David Patrick is coaching.
We’ll start with Saint Mary’s, who have four Australians on the roster going into the 2023-24 season.
Once again, Alex Ducas should lead the charge for the Australians on that team. He’s coming off a season where he averaged a career-high 12.5 points per game, shooting above 41.4% from downtown, and goes into his senior year in Moraga with the expectation that he’ll continue as a starter and key offensive piece. The 6’7 wing had multiple roster spot offers in the NBL this past off-season, but spurned them to return to Saint Mary’s.
Perhaps the most intriguing Australian set to play for Randy Bennett’s team is Harry Wessells, the 7’1 big-man out of Boddington, WA who just spent a bulk of his offseason in camp with the Australian Boomers. He only got spot minutes at Saint Mary’s last season, but his role should increase going into his sophomore year, and an entire offseason going up against national team level bigs will only have bolstered his game.
Saint Mary’s will have two Australian freshmen going into this season, in Rory Hawke and Jensen Bradtke. Hawke is someone who could get an opportunity sooner than later, with the NBA Global Academy product having already spent a portion of last season around the program. At 6’5, Hawke is a tough-nosed, versatile guard who has the skill level to work his way into the rotation for the Gaels.
Of course, you can’t talk about Australians in college basketball without mentioning Patrick, the Boomers assistant who’s currently the head coach at Sacramento State.
Patrick has consistently been the best recruiter of Australian talent, so it was no surprise the Hornets brought a few in when he became head coach last season.
Akol Mawein is the Australian likely to feature heaviest for Sacramento State, with the 6’9 forward coming off a junior season where he averaged 9.7 points and 5.9 rebounds a game. A versatile defender and high-level athlete, Mawein should feature much more prominently in his senior year at Sacramento State.
Patrick’s team will also have a trio of Australian freshmen in the ranks: Bowen Beatty, Alex Kovatchev, and Bailey Nunn.
Who NBL teams are eyeing
There’s potential for this class of Australians in college to be a fairly substantial one, from an NBL perspective. Multiple seniors project as roster players in the NBL next season, and there’s even scope for some younger guys to be poached early.
We’ve mentioned Ducas and Mawein, and both will have the interest of NBL teams once their respective senior seasons end. Ducas, in particular, will be hot property on the NBL free agent market; likely at a similar level to the interest Josh Bannan earned this offseason.
Keli Leaupepe – a 6’6 forward out of Melbourne – is coming off a career year at Loyola Marymount, and will be one of the most sought after Australians. There was some level of surprise that he returned to college, given the nature of some of the offers he was getting from NBL teams, but this does give Leaupepe to get some high volume reps before turning pro. Leaupepe is a physical specimen – listed at 240 lbs – who, lately, has shown off a really impressive finesse to his game, shooting it at 43.6% from downtown on good volume, while showing off an improving passing game.
Tyler Robertson was another player that NBL teams tried to pry out of college, but the 6’6 wing out of Melbourne made the decision to return to Portland for his senior year. Robertson averaged 15.6 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 5.3 assists per game for the Pilots last season, so it’s no surprise there was a desire to turn him into a pro sooner than later. As a senior, we should probably expect that similar high level of production from Robertson.
Reyne Smith is entering his junior year at Charleston and, every season he’s been with the Cougars, has been among the most impressive and productive Australians in college basketball. The Tasmanian sharpshooter saw both his production and efficiency drop from year one to year two – 12.1 ppg on 37.5 3pt%, to 10.8 ppg on 34.1 3pt% – but his skillset is proven enough that you’d bet on him bouncing back as a junior. If Smith does continue to perform up to the level he’s capable of, he shouldn’t be surprised to get some phone calls from NBL teams trying to get him out of college early.
The final name is Elijah Pepper, who’s flown under the radar as an Australian – he was born in Shepparton, Victoria before his family relocated to Washington – but should be the country’s most productive player this college basketball season. Pepper is a 6’4 combo guard going into his senior year at UC Davis, and is coming off a season where he averaged 22.5 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 3.4 assists per game. Pepper is the go-to guy for the Aggies, and he is already garnering a decent level of NBL interest; as well as some consideration into involving him with the Australian Boomers in some capacity going forward.