As his college basketball career began in earnest last month, Duke freshman Tyrese Proctor watched his shots more often than not fail to find the net, the ball bouncing or rolling off the rim.
Proctor, who reclassified over the summer and joined the Blue Devils from Australia a year early, rarely displayed his disappointment on the court, even while starting every game for No. 12 Duke. He’s trained himself to hide that.
“I try not to get too into my emotions,” Proctor said in October, following a Duke scrimmage. “Being a leader on the floor, you’ve gotta do that, hold everyone accountable and just play your game.”
He’s done that, even when his game wasn’t his best. Channeling that emotion has been a big part of the challenging adjustment Proctor has face while arriving from the other side of the world and becoming a full-time starter.
It has not been an easy path, moving so far from home and enrolling in college a year earlier than planned.
But Duke’s most recent home game, on Dec. 10, offered Proctor a good deal of off-court comfort to go with his on-court success: Having traveled from Australia, his parents and younger sister were at Cameron Indoor Stadium to watch him play in person.
Proctor then dropped 15 points in the Blue Devils’ 82-55 win against Maryland-Eastern Shore.
“I think just everyone being on the same page was big for us,” Proctor said after that game.
Off the court, everyone being in the same building was big for Proctor. The Duke freshman guard said it had been months — “midway through the year” — since he’d seen his family. Their presence, at the start of their extended visit for the holiday season, meant the world to him.
“It’s been a little while,” Proctor said. “It’s good to see them for a long period of time. Obviously I’ve missed them. They’ve missed me. It was just good looking over and just seeing them right there with me.”
Off to a good start
The Proctors saw Tyrese play on an historic day, when he was part of the first all-freshmen starting lineup in Duke basketball history.
Starting, though, is nothing new for Proctor. He’s a fixture in Duke’s starting lineup, though still striving to produce at his highest level.
Normally, those two things don’t coexist for a starter on a perennial top-25 team with ambitious goals like No. 12 Duke. Yet, for Proctor, that’s a reality.
He’s started the first 12 games this season for Duke (10-2, 1-0 ACC), averaging 8.2 points and 2.3 assists per game, having made just 35.2% of his shots from the field.
It’s a decent start for a college basketball newcomer, particularly one who could be taking a gap year but instead came to Duke a year ahead of schedule.
He’s showing signs, though, of playing at a higher level.
In four of Duke’s past five games, Proctor has shot 50% or better from the field. He’s averaged 14 points per game during that stretch, nearly twice his season average. This surge came directly after a three-game slide during which he hit just 3 of 18 shots while scoring 11 points.
“I think just the big thing, for me, is not overthinking it,” Proctor said. “When I play freely, I think that’s best for myself.”
Finding his range
One other aspect to consider when talking about Proctor’s increased scoring is the lack of transition baskets. Of his 60 points over the past five games, only six points came in transition situations, according to Synergy Sports analytics.
That means, rather than making layups or open shots against a scrambling, undermanned defense on a fast break, Proctor found his points mostly in half-court situations. He’s hit 20 of 42 shots in the past five games following that 3-for-18 slump.
Proctor consistently maintained confidence in his shooting, even in those November games when he so frequently misfired. That’s with good reason.
“It’s just a matter of time,” Duke associate head coach Chris Carrawell said. “He missed a lot early. But they haven’t been bad misses. He’s missed a lot that are right there. He’s had a lot of them right there. So we continued to tell him, ‘Shoot the ball, man. When you’re open, shoot the ball,’ because we feel like he’s a guy that once he gets going, he can get hot and we’re gonna need shooting in the ACC.”
High basketball IQ
Proctor has navigated the start of his career playing alongside veteran guard Jeremy Roach in Duke’s backcourt. Roach, a 6-2 junior, is the lone returning starter from last season’s Final Four team.
Either Roach or Proctor can bring the ball up and get Duke into its offense. When Proctor does that, it allows Roach to play off the ball and get in position to score. Roach has responded by averaging 13.1 points per game this season, topping the 20-point mark twice in his past five games played.
When Roach wasn’t in uniform against Maryland-Eastern Shore as he rested a nagging toe injury, Proctor became the main ball handler. The situation provided him a chance to grow his game in actual competition rather than just in practice.
Duke head coach Jon Scheyer came away even more impressed.
“The thing with him, he’s really smart,” Scheyer said. “He’s really unselfish. And the next step is just taking what he knows and talking more. I want him to talk more and to use his voice because he sees things that others don’t or can’t.”
That last trait, Carrawell said, is an important one. It’s one where, if properly developed, could make Duke an even better team.
“He has a high basketball IQ, too,” Carrawell said. “You know, he sees the play. There’s certain guys that (can see) the play before the play. He’s one of those guys. He sees the action before the action. He’s going to be really good, I’m telling ya. Whether it’s this year or next year, he has all the tools to be the next guy.”