Inside Tyrese Proctor’s Journey From Australia’s NBA Global Academy To Duke

Marty Clarke knew the clock was ticking. A coach with a near-30 year career, Clarke’s had a hand shaping the games of every Australian player who has gone on to play in the NBA, and since 2017, in his role as Technical Director of the NBA’s Global Academy in Canberra, watched as Josh Giddey and Dyson Daniels accelerated their own plans to make the jump to pro.

Tyrese Proctor was going to be the same.

“In Australia, we have a talent I.D. system and then there’s a national championship system, and those things run in conjunction with each other but one doesn’t mean you’ll make the other,” Clarke explains over the phone early one morning from the Academy in Canberra, parrots screeching occasionally in the background. “It might be a young big doesn’t make a representative team, but we know he’s going to be good down the track. So we have a program where we can see those guys even though we don’t see them at national championship. So, Tyrese is not one of those.”

Given how small basketball is in Australia relative to the country’s more popular sports of cricket, football, and swimming, Clarke says it’s relatively easy to keep tabs on athletes and their progress. Moreover, that small scale has created a tight knit community of former players and coaches where word of mouth is often the first and best way to learn about potential players that would be a fit for the Academy. Given this, Proctor, even as a skinny 15-year-old, was someone Clarke and his team were “more than aware of.”

“People in Sydney were saying, ‘Oh, Rod Proctor’s kid is going to be really good.’ So we knew Rod — I’ve coached and played against Rod — so you sort of track everyone who’s a really good player and where their kids are at,” Clarke says, recalling Proctor playing in a National Sixteen Championship at 14. “We knew he was coming along the pathway and getting good. So then it was, do we leave him? Do we bring him in?”

With a limited number of total spots — 15 at the Global Academy in Canberra, 24 at NBA Academy Africa in Senegal, and between that range at the league’s other schools in India and Mexico — bringing someone into the Academy is no small undertaking. Staff at the academies meet with the athlete and their families, there’s an assessment of academics, of personality fit.

“We have to be very selective and be as sure as we can be before we extend an invite that it’s a right fit — both from our perspective and from theirs,” Chris Ebersole, Associate Vice President and Head of Elite Basketball at the NBA says.

Ebersole, who joined the NBA in 2013 as a coordinator for its international programs such as Basketball Without Borders, was tasked with identifying the gaps that came out of those programs. Very quickly, those gaps reached out to him directly. Athletes who’d gone through camps and, with access to the coaching and resources of the NBA, saw major improvements in just four days would send Ebersole messages on What’s App and Facebook, asking what was next, inspired to get themselves to the next level.

“That’s really how the concept of the Academy was born,” Ebesole says. “How do we take this BWB model that’s clearly working, we’re seeing the improvements even in these short spans, how do we take that and extend it to a full-time, almost year-round program? Especially for these young players who maybe don’t have access to the same coaching, same infrastructure, as kids in the states or Europe have. That was the lightbulb moment for us that went off in 2015, 2016, when we started kicking around the idea.”

It was a natural symbiotic fit to host the Global Academy, which Ebersole refers to as a “United Nations of Basketball”, within the Australian Institute of Sport. The 66-hectare headquarters has a long history and track record in basketball — Basketball Australia and its Centre of Excellence (CoE) program have been honing their programs there for 40 years, and the Institute has developed athletes holistically over a number of sports. Practically, it offered a CoE team for Academy athletes to scrimmage against, and it would also allow for the multi-prong approach the league wanted to take.

Beyond basketball, which includes strength and conditioning, formal practices twice per day, and nutrition, Ebersole underscores the importance of the off-court companion piece.

“We call it our Performance Lifestyle Curriculum and it’s life skills, mental skills, how they train, their mental wellbeing. It’s leadership, financial literacy, college readiness outside the classroom and off the court but also how they manage their time,” he says, stressing, “Our goal is the feedback we get from their coaches, or college coaches, is ‘Wow, these guys are so prepared.’ And that is the feedback we’ve gotten so far.”

Clarkson, having coached Giddey and Daniels up through that same system, knows a fit when he sees one — they brought Proctor in.

giddy proctor daniels
NBA Academy, Nicole Sweet

July in Jakarta. The Boomers went 6-0 and took gold for just the second time since Australia began playing in FIBA’s Asia Cup, but the second time in a row. The hard-nosed group on the floor, led by veteran Mitch McCarron, was disruptive and scrappy in games head coach Mike Kelly cheerfully referred to as dogfights, and popping up as a cool head in the thick of them was Proctor.

In a game against Indonesia that secured Australia its quarterfinals spot, Proctor dished unhurried from the wing, muscled in for offensive rebounds and second chance points, pulled up smoothly from a fast break for three, and otherwise looked composed, near leisurely. He was, on average, putting up the team’s second most points in the fifth most minutes, all while playing against opponents five years older.

“It was a big one for me. My first major Australian tournament. These are my first big minutes, and I had an impact on the game a bit more,” Proctor says over Zoom one morning, affably admitting he’s also just waking up.

The games were fast, he remembers, notably against Japan where he says he got burned three times. “I was like damn, these guys are quick. So I had to drop back a little bit. The pace was really quick. I haven’t really played pace, but physicality as well, to that extreme. So that was a bit of an eye opener, but I adjusted to it and really enjoyed it.”

Proctor is a versatile athlete. He played basketball, baseball, and soccer as a kid and, when he found himself naturally zeroing in on basketball in a way he described as “gravitational”, he stepped up his training with his dad, former Ole Miss and Australian hooper, Rod Proctor. Beyond his game, but something he recognizes as foundational in it, is the support he got from his parents. He remembers them taking time off to drive him all over Australia for tournaments, fostering his skills “as well as supporting me as a person,” he says. He also credits them with his level-head, his manners, and “just being a good person overall.”

A month before the Asia Cup, Proctor reclassified from Duke’s 2023 class to 2022 when Trevor Keels declared for the NBA Draft. Duke’s coach, Jon Scheyer, called Proctor and his family and presented the option for him to jump up a year. The roster spot with Australia’s national team was a crucial bridge in service to that acceleration.

The Boomers, and really Australian basketball, have hung their hats on defensive prowess and generally being unrelenting on the floor. Think of stalwart bigs like Andrew Bogut and Aron Baynes, lunchpail little-bit-of-everything guys like Joe Ingles, and punchy guards like Patty Mills and Matthew Dellavedova. As the youngest on the roster and second youngest in the tournament, Proctor was consistently up against bigger and stronger players but held his own defensively, happily noting he did a “heaps better job” thanks to guarding McCarron and Dellavedova at training camp. He looked, for all his 18 years, pretty complete.

That was the point.

“When the Boomers opportunity came up, it was like alright, let’s not worry about what he’s doing here, let’s make sure he can get onto that thing because he’s going to be around people that have travelled the path that he wants to travel. And they can help teach him,” Clarke remembers.

In Australian basketball, and especially for its youngest up-and-comers like Proctor, none of that is a euphemism. Clarke notes the alumni feel the Boomers have given that most all of the country’s players who’ve gone on to the pros have been on the team and come through the CoE, and says it’s as close to the U.S. college alumni system as they have in Australia. Older athletes are, in a sense, training up their replacements.

“It makes for a healthy culture, healthy environment. Most pro teams are not like that because you don’t want anyone to take your minutes, let alone your salary,” Clark says.

The foundation of that culture is borne out of a saying that kept coming up in conversations about the Global Academy, but more widely, Australian basketball: Iron sharpens iron.

“The way we, or I see it,” Proctor says, correcting himself though his choice of pronoun already gives a good hint, “is if you’re not woking hard and giving 100 percent, then your teammate’s not going to get that. So it’s sort of like a brotherhood. You don’t only respect yourself, but the people that you’re living with, and trying to see them do well. If everyone wasn’t working hard and doing their best, then the program wouldn’t be as successful as it has been and is.”

“If you go to a club environment you have a veteran or a group of veterans that can be leaders or can teach the next group down, can make sure practice runs smoothly,” Clarke elaborates. “Here, we don’t have that. Our veterans are 18, 19 year olds. So we have to keep instilling in them, if you’re not working hard, the guy that’s next to you is not getting the benefit out of it, so he can’t benefit you.”

The idea is that the harder a person works, the faster they learn, and the more it benefits the group. In an environment like the Academy, for Proctor, he may be asked to give it everything he has every time he shows up, but he gets that back multiplied by ten in any given practice. It also means coaches don’t grill and drill players on specifics or the number of reps they get down any given week, instead, accountability kicks in.

“That was a good thing,” Proctor recalls, “You can’t just sit back and pray your work’s going to get better, your game’s going to get better, you have to do it yourself — your basketball’s up to you.”

“It’s a constant thing we say in here,” Clarke smiles, “If the guy next to you is not pushing you, remind him.”

tyrese proctor
NBA Academy, Nicole Sweet

Clarke and the staff at the Global Academy had been looking for ways to push Proctor since he declared for Duke in April 2022, then in his third year of the program. When he first arrived in Canberra, at the threshold of the youngest athletes the Academy accepts and no longer being the biggest or strongest, Proctor sought out his own challenges, often pitting himself against the older Giddey and Daniels, both of whom he’d grow close to.

Every term, Proctor and other players met with Clarke to talk through what they wanted to do better on and off court. It was a way of ensuring each athlete, in guiding their goals, stayed accountable.

“It was called IDP — Individual Development Plans,” Proctor says, “The NBA guys would talk to Marty, and the CoE guys would talk to [Boomers head coach] Robbie McKinlay. We had a diary sort of thing, so you have this outline from different points in the diary, and you go off them, and then [Clarke] shares what he thinks you need to get better on just from watching. Over that next gap before your next meeting, you try to really hone in on those specifics.”

“I know that diaries and hand writing is kind of uncool these days,” Clarke chuckles. “But the diary is as much about writing down what you’ve done well as areas you need to improve on. I think in this environment it’s kind of a bit of a blend. There’s so much going on and it’s twice a day. Sometimes players forget what they’re actually good at.”

For Proctor that was “firstly, going in and getting stronger,” he says, then dialing in on specifics like finishing, getting his teammates open when attacking the lanes, and pick-and-rolls. Off-court training would follow suit, like watching a lot of film of Chris Paul coming off screens.

“It’s more about the players taking control of their own development, and taking time to decompress. They might’ve had a shitty practice, but let’s get it down on paper, let’s figure it out and solve this problem rather than going back to your room and dwelling on it,” Clarke notes.

The Academy programming, though individualized for each athlete, focuses on mental boosts in reality checks to help maintain a steady level of confidence and belief. There’s an inverting of the whole rookies carrying the bags tradition, which the Academy tends to give the responsibility of to its seniors, knowing younger players have enough going on in their heads as-is. Clarke also gave the example of the Academy’s first year players competing in local tournaments — “So you come in Monday to Friday and have the older guys beat you up, basically,” he chuckles, “and Friday night you can go to a local comp and rip out 50.”

Beyond accountability, keeping a diary helps young athletes slow things down.

Watching Proctor in his games during the Asia Cup, beyond his skill and versatility, the most striking trait is how patient and easy he is. Even the fraction of a second catch-and-shoots under pressure seem unhurried. It springs from a guard’s intuition, but beyond that is rooted in patience.

Asked if he considers himself a patient person and Proctor instantly breaks into sheepish grin.

“I’m definitely more patient on the court than off the court, especially in my mum’s eyes,” he laughs. “But I’ve definitely worked on that on court. Whether that’s coming off pick-and-rolls and playing as patient as I can, as calm as I can. I try not to get revved up or bogged down in being too slow, I try to play in a neutral mindset and play style, which has helped me over the last couple years.”

“Guys that played here have that same on-court demeanor as if they are veterans, because they’ve been put in that situation. We don’t have veterans, you have to assume that mantle both on and off the court so it makes you feel like the lead, and you are the veteran. It’s an ability to slow down, in a world that’s speeding up — everything’s speeding up, we’re trying to slow people down,” Clarke adds, of the way the diaries carry over to the court. “Because on the floor, everyone talks about you need to be fast, you actually need to be slow too. You gotta see what you’re looking for. If you play too quick, you can’t do that. That’s a good hallmark of all our guards, the ability to play slow, and then play quick. Not just quick to quicker.”

Where Proctor did wind up going from quick to quicker was in his development at the Academy. Coming in as a lanky 15-year-old who had always slugged it out against older players, he worked at his strength and game composure, and gained four years worth in just under three, even when a bout with Covid set him back the summer of his third year. When asked if it surprised him, that Proctor wanted to reclassify, Clarke barks out a laugh before the question finishes.

“I had been talking to his dad for maybe six months about, ‘We’re gonna need to find Tyrese something else to keep challenging him, to get the best out of him’ knowing his pathway was another year here,” Clarke recalls.

That path forked immediately when Keels was drafted by the Knicks and the call came from Duke.

“I guess we could’ve easily tried to talk him out of it on a selfish level, said no, we want to keep him,” Clarke shrugs, before turning sincere. “In the end it was pretty obvious that going and challenging himself, putting himself in a new environment, was probably going to be the best thing for Tyrese.”

Even if it was most exacting deja vu — Clarke could recall watching Daniel’s Draft with his Academy teammates, and Giddey’s the year before, all of them realizing these guys were supposed to be there with them — it was the right move.

“If you’re good enough, and you need to, you should move on. It’s the good part of the flexibility here,” Clarke nods, “Tyrese had really made that jump.”

While Proctor’s freshman season has yet to start, he’s taken to Duke for many of the same reasons he was drawn to the collegiate route in the first place. The sense of community, being close to his teammates, the campus, all elements that run parallel to the Global Academy and to the way he talks about his family (including his 14-year-old sister who also plays ball and he got to train with, and razz, before he left), who he’ll be the farthest away from he’s ever been. It was important for Proctor, too, to pick his own path, it just now happens that the last three top prospects who’ve left Australia all went through the Global Academy, and each via their own distinct routes.

It speaks to the versatility of the Global Academy, that as a program it has enough resources to give individualized attention to its athletes and prepares them for a life in the pros as well as off the court, or after it, all of which crystallizes in what mentors like Clarke try to instil.

“When this decision came up it was more about, why do you want to go? What do you think you’re going to get out of it? And what’s your response going to be if things don’t go as planned? Everyone talks about risk and reward,” Clarke says, “there’s actually a third part of that and it’s called recovery. If things don’t go well, how can I recover from it and how much time is it going to take?”

Proctor and Clarke spoke often about different outcomes he might see in his first year at Duke, like being number 10 in a new group and not getting to play. None of it was meant to throw Proctor off before he took his first step in a new direction, besides, Clarke says, Proctor is an adept problem-solver and communicator. This was Clarke giving Proctor advice to focus on the fundamentals he already knew — that the onus of his own development was on him, like it always had been.

“The big advice was once you’ve made this decision, don’t look back. And don’t ever forget this is your decision,” Clarke says matter-of-factly, an earnest smile on his face. “And if you own that decision, you’ll figure it out.”

This was iron, continuing to sharpen itself.