How Duke basketball freshman Tyrese Proctor keeping his circle small helped him grow up

How Duke basketball freshman Tyrese Proctor keeping his circle small helped him grow up

Duke’s Tyrese Proctor (5) hits the court with Miami’s Isaiah Wong (2) to secure a loose ball in the semi-finals of the ACC Tournament on Friday, March 10, 2023 at the Greensboro Coliseum in Greensboro, N.C.

Duke’s Tyrese Proctor (5) hits the court with Miami’s Isaiah Wong (2) to secure a loose ball in the semi-finals of the ACC Tournament on Friday, March 10, 2023 at the Greensboro Coliseum in Greensboro, N.C.

rwillett@newsobserver.com

Though early returns left some observers doubting Tyrese Proctor’s play, Duke associate head coach Chris Carrawell was certain of the greatness inside the freshman guard from Australia.

“He’s going to be really good, I’m telling ya,” Carrawell said last December. “Whether it’s this year or next year, he has all the tools to be the next guy.”

When Carrawell made that declaration, the process to transform Proctor from a player just learning the college game into one who could help Duke to a championship was under way.

From the first week of December through the first week in January, Proctor’s mother, father and sister visited the U.S. They watched him play at Madison Square Garden, at PNC Arena and, of course, Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Duke’s Jeremy Roach (3) and Dariq Whitehead (0) talk with Tyrese Proctor (5) during the second half of Duke’s 85-78 victory over Miami in the semifinals of the ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament in Greensboro, N.C., Friday, March 10, 2023.
Duke’s Jeremy Roach (3) and Dariq Whitehead (0) talk with Tyrese Proctor (5) during the second half of Duke’s 85-78 victory over Miami in the semifinals of the ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament in Greensboro, N.C., Friday, March 10, 2023. Ethan Hyman ehyman@newsobserver.com

From a tough three-game, 3-for-18 shooting skid that left him at 35% shooting from the field over his first 12 college games, Proctor grew to become the player who hit 6 of 10 3-pointers during Duke’s ACC tournament wins over Pittsburgh and Miami last week en route to the league title.

The belief he received from his Duke coaches and teammates played a role, of course. But his family played a huge factor in getting him through the rough patches, as well.

“Just keeping my bubble really small and just listening to voices I’ve listened to my whole life,” Proctor said. “Obviously, I had one of the worst shooting slumps I’ve had coming into the season, after having a pretty good preseason. That set me back a little. Just the connection I had with everyone in my bubble was so important.”

It’s no surprise, then, that minutes after Duke cut down the nets following a 59-49 win over Virginia in Saturday’s ACC championship game at Greensboro Coliseum, Proctor made a video call to his mom and family.

“It was great to see their faces,” he said.

More than scoring

Having played in every Duke game this season, starting all but two, Proctor’s play will in many ways dictate how successful the Blue Devils’ NCAA Tournament experience will be. His season averages of 9.2 points, 3.2 assists and 38.1% shooting only tell part of the story.

He’s established as Duke’s point guard, which has allowed junior Jeremy Roach to mostly move into more of a scoring role. Roach, of course, scored a career-best 23 points in the win over Virginia.

From a player that produced five points and four turnovers when Duke lost 84-60 at N.C. State on Jan. 4, Proctor is now a steady performer who had 18 assists and five turnovers while scoring 31 points in Duke’s three ACC tournament wins. He played 33 minutes without a turnover against Virginia’s fierce defense.

“That’s what college does to you,” said Duke graduate student guard Jacob Grandison, who helped Illinois win a Big Ten championship before transferring to Duke this season. “It forces you to grow up and I’m very proud of him. People make mistakes all the time. Things can happen over and over and you’ve got to make a decision to get better at it and cut it out. The coaches are honest with him. We’re all honest with him. He’s taken anything we’ve said and worked on it.”

Duke’s Tyrese Proctor (5) drives to the basket past Miami’s Bensley Joseph (4) during Duke’s 85-78 victory over Miami in the semifinals of the ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament in Greensboro, N.C., Friday, March 10, 2023.
Duke’s Tyrese Proctor (5) drives to the basket past Miami’s Bensley Joseph (4) during Duke’s 85-78 victory over Miami in the semifinals of the ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament in Greensboro, N.C., Friday, March 10, 2023. Ethan Hyman ehyman@newsobserver.com

Proctor has averaged 10.2 points per game, hitting 42% of his shots overall, during Duke’s current nine-game winning streak. He’s hit 15 of 35 3-pointers (42.8%) during that stretch.

Defensively, he’s locked down older, productive offensive players like Virginia’s Kihei Clark, Virginia Tech’s Hunter Cattoor, N.C. State’s Terquavion Smith, Syracuse’s Joe Girard and Louisville’s El Ellis.

Proctor’s length at 6-5 makes him tough to score against, making him a key cog in the effective man-to-man defense Duke has played all season.

That will be important when the Blue Devils play Oral Roberts in Thursday night’s NCAA Tournament first-round game at Amway Center in Orlando, Florida. Golden Eagles guard Max Abmas, who averages 22 points per game, will be a focus on Duke’s perimeter defense.

Duke’s Tyrese Proctor (5) makes a steal from Virginia’s Francisco Caffaro (22) during the first half in the championship game of the ACC Tournament on Saturday, March 11, 2023 at the Greensboro Coliseum in Greensboro, N.C
Duke’s Tyrese Proctor (5) makes a steal from Virginia’s Francisco Caffaro (22) during the first half in the championship game of the ACC Tournament on Saturday, March 11, 2023 at the Greensboro Coliseum in Greensboro, N.C Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

Proctor’s importance to that plan signals how strong his development has been since he arrived on campus last August, having reclassified to enter college a year earlier than originally planned. Part of a Duke starting lineup that features four freshmen, he can’t afford to be young any more.

“I definitely don’t think we feel like freshmen anymore,” Proctor said. “We don’t get treated like freshmen anymore. I think it’s just us playing our best basketball, just staying together but I certainly don’t feel like a freshman anymore.”

He’s done all that while moving from the other side of the world, leaving his family behind except for their holiday visit and regular video calls.

It’s all prepared him for the season’s biggest games.

“As a point guard, you have a lot of responsibility,” Grandison said. “He doesn’t shy away. That’s who he is.”

Steve Wiseman has covered Duke athletics since 2010 for the Durham Herald-Sun and Raleigh News & Observer. He placed second in both beat writing and breaking news in the 2019 Associated Press Sports Editors national contest. Previously, Steve worked for The State (Columbia, SC), Herald-Journal (Spartanburg, S.C.), The Sun Herald (Biloxi, Miss.), Charlotte Observer and Hickory (NC) Daily Record covering beats including the NFL’s Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints, University of South Carolina athletics and the S.C. General Assembly. He’s won numerous state-level press association awards. Steve graduated from Illinois State University in 1989.

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