His tweet was concise, and to the point. Only 21 words, and then he was gone:
“Lex it’s been real.
Thank you to everyone. On to the next chapter in life…where ever that may take me.”
Then a hashtag: “#BBNforever”
Isaac Humphries added a jet plane emoji, just to make sure anyone interested would understand that he was heading for home (Australia), followed by parts unknown (the rest of his basketball career).
In danger of becoming a mere footnote to the 2016-17 season, Humphries saved his best for what turned out to be his last – pouring in 12 points and grabbing five rebounds in only 21 minutes, helping to breathe new life into a Kentucky attack that was flagging in the Elite Eight showdown with North Carolina.
Humphries’ sudden burst of offense not only helped the Wildcats forge a lead that would disappear only because of heroics done by the Tar Heels, it helped convince him that the thoughts he’d been entertaining for several weeks were legit.
It was time to go and seek his fortune in professional basketball.
“Toward the end of the season I tried to think about all the opportunities I had,” he said on a recent edition of the “Big Blue Insider” radio show, “but I definitely did not think, ‘Wow, I had one great game. Now I’m going to go pro.’ Fortunately that helped catapult my confidence to the next step.”
And that step was first to hop-scotch across the Pacific and head back home to Australia, where his career may eventually lie. There is professional basketball in his homeland – not nearly as lucrative or eminent as the brand they play in the NBA, but an option nevertheless – IF he doesn’t latch on to a team in the states.
“It’s definitely an up-and-coming league in the world,” Humphries said. “It’s come a long way the last couple of years. There’s good opportunities for Australian college players to go home and have opportunities there. I think Australia is growing as a powerhouse in the basketball community. The fact that our league is getting better is a bonus as well.”
He’s thought it through. He has a plan, which of course includes a shot at the NBA, although he fully realizes there’s a good chance he won’t hear his name called on draft night. He also knows a seven-footer who can shoot is likely to hear his cell phone buzz with more than one offer of a free agent contract and a chance, at least a chance, to make a team.
“I’m not being delusional or anything like that,” Humphries said. “I have other options. I’m definitely going to explore the NBA, but I’m fortunate enough to have options all over the world, being an international player.”
And as such, he’s used to being far from home. The thought of playing in Europe doesn’t daunt him; and of course if he can find work in America, be it in the NBA or the G-League, he’s already found a comfort level here – first as a high school senior in Indiana, and then Lexington, which he now calls his “second home,” the first being his native Sydney.
“I’ve only been here two years but it’s long enough to fall in love with the city,” Humphries said. “My teammates… and the people I met off the court had an impact as well. Being so far from home, the fans welcomed me so well. Everyone kind of took me in. I just had a great time.”
He’s had to explain the level of passion Kentucky fans have for their team and its players to his “mates” back home. “That’s something we don’t do in Australia,” he said.
He has few regrets. Naturally, falling short of a national title was one of them. Another? It happened on a visit by his best Aussie friend, who was mad for Kentucky Fried Chicken and saw his trip to Lexington as a chance to sample the mother lode.
The problem? Humphries couldn’t find a store, even though there are five in the city. “He was here for a month and never had it,” Humphries said with a laugh. “I feel really bad about it.”
(Evidently, the thought of punching “KFC” into a cell phone and then following Siri’s commands never presented itself).
Of course, balancing school and hoops didn’t leave much time to explore the town, looking for the familiar visage of The Colonel. Humphries was busy developing the kind of low post game most seven-footers play in America.
“I liked being in the paint, banging for rebounds,” he said, “but my outside game was developed when I was young. It was really fun in the North Carolina game, stepping out like I was used to.”
It’s a skill that will make him a bit more marketable, wherever he lands, whoever is evaluating his skillset.
“They’ll like my outside game,” he said. “As an international player, I developed an outside game quite young. I have an inside post game but the difference with me is the outside game I bring. “
He also carries the full backing of John Calipari, who gave Humphries his blessing.
“He made it clear any decision we make will be fine with him and he’ll accept it and be happy for us,” Humphries said. “He was positive, helpful. There was never any sourness or anything”
No sourness, just sweet memories of the time he spent in his second home – just a spec in the distance now as he heads back Down Under, just for the time being.
That’s because Isaac Humphries, the seven-footer who can bang inside and sink jumpers from outside, could emerge practically anywhere in the world.