The collective Australian basketball conscience may have slightly swayed away from college basketball of late.
Sure, the presence of young Australians on the floor remained as vast as ever and the quality was high, but there's an inclination to focus on NBA prospects, and those players who fit that bill over the past two years were plying their trade in either the NBL or G-League.
The pendulum already looks like it's swinging back, though.
Whether it's a prominent player in a powerhouse program, a fringe NBA prospect leading the way for a low major school, or those projected as the next star locals of the NBL, there's more than enough reason to be invested in the 2022-23 college basketball season from an Australian and Kiwi perspective.
Here are the key players and storylines to keep an eye on, ahead of the season's tip-off on November 8 (AEDT).
Tyrese Proctor is the crème de la crème
A graduate of Canberra's NBA Global Academy, Proctor will be the highest-profile and potentially most prolific Australian going into the new college basketball season.
The combo guard out of New South Wales is getting legitimate first round buzz going into his freshman season with Duke, and there's an expectation he'll play a significant role for Jon Scheyer and the Blue Devils. That may come as somewhat of a surprise, considering the 18-year-old Proctor reclassified to join Duke earlier than expected, and he'll be sharing the backcourt with returning junior captain, Jeremy Roach, but the early returns have been extremely optimistic.
"If you ask the Duke coaching staff, he's been their best player so far and he's been their biggest surprise," ESPN's draft analyst, Jonathan Givony, said. "He's a guy who they point to as pretty much the key to their season. They fell in love with him right away, in terms of what he brings; his leadership, all the winning qualities that he has, how unselfish he is, his feel for the game, the timing and positioning he has defensively. He's just such a great connector for them, between all their pieces.
"Watching him practice, it's like watching a 25-year-old guy, just the way that he carries himself and the way he interacts with teammates. That's what NBA guys have seen... You start going back to what he's done throughout the years, and his track record, and the track record of Australian players. He needs to back it up and there's going to be ups and downs -- he's a freshman, he's 18, and he's going to have a pretty big role on this team -- but he's positioned himself pretty well going into the season."
Proctor has been Australia's most talented 2004-born prospect for some time, exhibiting a level of shot creation that quickly separated him from the pack. The 6'5 guard was the standout player at the 2022 under-20 Australian Junior Championships in April, averaging 24 points and 5.4 rebounds a game, while shooting 37 percent from downtown for NSW. As part of the NBA Global Academy, Proctor played in the NBL1 Wildcard competition, which saw him compete against some of Australia's best professional and semi-professional players; that experience among older players should bode well for how his game may translate to the college level.
The Taran Armstrong and Cal Baptist encore
The best Australian story of the 2021-22 college basketball season was easily Taran Armstrong's coming out party. The Tasmanian was always overshadowed by the likes of Josh Giddey and Dyson Daniels at the Global Academy, but he really came into his own and led from the front for Cal Baptist, emerging as one of the country's best passers and most dynamic lead guards.
Armstrong's 6.3 assists a game was fifth in the entire nation, and he coupled that with 10.5 points and 5.2 rebounds, but had some struggles in CBU's games against top-tier competition. The 6'5 guard's slight frame was also a concern when gauging his NBA potential - he hovered around the 175-pound mark throughout last season - but he's up to 190 pounds going into this campaign, and has impressed scouts that have come through his team's gym this off-season.
"Any time you can pass like that, you have a chance to play in the NBA, for sure," Givony said. "That's what the NBA game is all about; they really value those guys who have size and are elite pick and roll players, and that's what he is. He started off really hot and he kind of faded as the year moved on. He really struggled in their bigger games, against top level competition, and that's normal for a freshman.
"People were not expecting him to be this guy who can carry a team in college basketball from day one. I think the scouting report kind of got out a little bit, and people adjusted. He cooled a little bit but I still think he's a guy that can make a lot of noise this year, and Cal Baptist has a really good team. A lot of NBA guys have gone out to see him, and they had a pro day where he did really well, so he's absolutely a guy that people are going to be watching real closely."
Armstrong is the head of the snake for a Lancers team with a significant Australian presence. His older brother, Tre, is going into his junior year with the program and is coming off a season where he averaged double figures as one of CBU's primary wing options. Sydney's Reed Nottage also returns as a junior after showing really nice flashes in his sophomore year; Nottage and the elder Armstrong are coming off subpar shooting campaigns by their standards so expect that to increase.
CBU's Australian presence hits every facet of the team, all the way to the program's Director of Player Development: Gerard Martin, a Manly, NSW native and former junior national team representative. NSW also happens to be the home state of the team's newest transfer, Hunter Goodrick, who could develop an effective partnership with the younger Armstrong. The transfer from South Dakota should prove to be an effective big in the WAC, so we shouldn't be surprised if he carves out a role for himself on Rick Croy's team.
All NBL eyes on Alex Ducas
When it comes to the Australian most NBL teams will have their eyes on, Alex Ducas would be at the top of that list.
Going into this NBL season, it was the Kiwi, Sam Waardenburg. To a smaller extent, Junior Madut was also a college graduate who had interest from multiple teams. With Ducas, it feels more like the graduating college class that featured Dejan Vasiljevic and Jack White; he has that level of talent and potential early impact.
The 6'7 perimeter player out of Geraldton, Western Australia is coming off a season with Saint Mary's where he averaged a career-high 10.3 points per game, while shooting 38.7 percent from downtown. He followed that up by performing at a high level for the Australian Boomers in their recent FIBA World Cup qualifiers, only increasing his stock even more.
Going into his senior year, Ducas looks primed to, once again, have a significant impact for a Gaels team that had a ton of success in their preseason tour of Australia. His fellow Western Australian, Kyle Bowen, is also in his final collegiate year and will be looking to build off an impressive season, averaging 5.6 points per game on 39.2 percent shooting from deep as a junior. If the 6'8 big-man can replicate those sorts of numbers as a senior, then he'd project as the type of guy who could step onto an NBL roster right away next season.
The Gaels also have an Australian going into his freshman year with the program, with Centre of Excellence big-man, Harry Wessels, joining Randy Bennett's team for the 2022-23 season.
Sacramento State's Australian takeover
There is an obvious and direct corollary between the arrival of Dave Patrick as head coach of Sacramento State and the program's sudden influx of Australian players.
Widely regarded as the best and most thorough recruiter of Australian and Kiwi talent, Patrick quickly loaded up his roster with three players from the Oceania region, led by Oklahoma transfer, Akol Mawein. Out of Sydney, Mawein is an athletic, 6'9 power forward who began his post high school career at Navarro, a junior college in Texas, where he averaged 12.9 points and 5.1 rebounds a game. He transferred to Oklahoma but didn't see the floor regularly, so the move to Sacramento State for his senior year should see his opportunity increase significantly.
Hunter Marks, out of Victoria, also transferred to Sacramento State for his senior year, with the 6'9 big-man leaving Hartford after averaging 11.7 points and 4.4 rebounds as a junior. He shot a career-high 42.6 percent from beyond the arc, on 2.5 attempts a game, so expect him to also play a relatively big role for the Hornets.
Patrick also dug into some of New Zealand's best young talent, poaching from his former school, UC Riverside, to bring in Callum McRae. The 7'1 centre out of Palmerston North is coming off career-highs in points (10.8), rebounds (7.9), and assists (2.4) a game, and will bring that imposing presence to Sacramento State's frontline.
Lachlan Olbrich, Tyler Robertson, Reyne Smith, and some of the best of the rest
- Lachlan Olbrich was extremely impressive for UC Riverside in their preseason game against the NBL's Illawarra Hawks, dropping 19 points and 10 rebounds. The freshman big-man out of Adelaide is 6'10, long, and has really impressive mobility for his size. Outside of Proctor, he projects as likely the highest usage Australian freshman going into the new college season. At Riverside, he's joined by fellow Australians, Wil Tattersall and Flynn Cameron.
- Tyler Robertson was one of Australia's standout collegiate players last season, scoring in double digits in 30 of 32 games for Portland as a sophomore and showing a really rounded offensive skillset. He averaged 15.3 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 4.5 assists a game in his first season as a Pilot, and shot 35.8 percent from downtown on 5.0 attempts a contest. There's every reason to believe the 6'6 wing out of Victoria can take another step forward and perhaps become among all of college basketball's most productive players. At Portland, he's joined by fellow Victorians, Bol Dengdit and Jack Perry. Dengdit will go into his freshman season after a successful stint at the NBA Global Academy, with the 6'11, long big-man likely set to get the opportunity to show off the impressive touch around the rim he demonstrated over his junior career. Perry will enter his sixth year with the Pilots - as a graduate student - after injury cut short his 2021-22 season.
- Melbourne's Josh Bannan made a big leap as sophomore, averaging career-highs across the board for Montana - 15.1 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 1.6 assists a game - as well as upping his shooting splits and showing the skillset of a more modern, rangy big-man. He'll go into his junior year with the Grizzlies and will likely continue as one of Australia's most productive college players.
- Reyne Smith went into his freshman season at Charleston as a three-point specialist and he didn't disappoint, averaging 12.1 points a game, while shooting 37.5 percent from downtown on 7.5 attempts. With Charleston losing their other two leading scorers, look for the Tasmanian to take over a lot of the offensive load, and perhaps even share it with fellow Australian, Evan Kilminster. Out of Newcastle, Kilminster averaged 19.3 points for NSW in the under-20 Australian Junior Championships, and showed impressive shooting flashes for the Centre of Excelled in the NBL1 Wildcard competition.
- Perry isn't the only Australian entering his sixth, and final, year of college eligibility. Sydney's Cameron Healy will do the same when he suits up for Southern Utah, transferring from Central Michigan, where he attended after a volatile time at Albany. At his best, Healy has the potential to be an elite three-point marksman at the college level, shooting 37.5 percent over his career, on 6.6 attempts a game. Healy headlines yet another school with a significant Australian presence, with Deng Dut, Jason Spurgin, Marshal Destremau, and Peter Dadson Jr. all on the Thunderbirds' roster to start the new season.
- Melbourne's Keli Leaupepe became a fan favourite at Loyola Marymount, thanks to his consistency as a utility big, averaging 9.2 points and 4.8 rebounds a game for the Lions. At 6'6, he's undersized for a big-man, but comes in at 240 lbs, so he has the ability to compete really effectively against taller bodies.