At 21, Harry Froling has lived a basketball journey that's defied the norm for NBA prospects his age.
The Queensland native’s quest to the NBA began as most others did, with an NCAA scholarship. For Froling, it was Southern Methodist University in suburban Dallas. NCAA basketball however, didn’t propel Froling into the NBA. Froling spent just one season at SMU before transferring to Marquette University, only to forgo college altogether 12 months later for the NBL.
Froling was 18 when he arrived at SMU. He was a legal adult by Australian standards, placed into a system that caters to maturing teenagers that flood the system annually, and that wasn’t Froling. He was too well-travelled, too experienced and too far removed from where his journey began to truly benefit from restrictive confines of an NCAA program.
“I was coming into college with more of a grown up and international mentality,” Froling told The Pick and Roll in Philadelphia last week.
“I had been living away from home since I was 15, and then I am coming to college and they are treating me like I was 15 years old. That was the thing I struggled with the most.”
Froling’s comments, which he uttered almost three years after debuting for SMU, are revealing across many levels. They give rise to the growing trend that an antiquated NCAA system isn’t always the best option for young prospects. For Froling, they reinforced his professional mindset long before that distinction was bestowed. It’s little surprise then, that an introduction to the world of professional basketball with the Adelaide 36ers worked wonders.
The 36ers era
Froling rebounded from a slow start to his debut season in Adelaide, rising in 2019 to collect NBL Rookie of the Year honours. A burgeoning national competition, one that Froling describes as “a really competitive league,” offered an opportunity to compete against opponents who have excelled across global basketball. The likes of Andrew Bogut provided a test no collegiate contest could, and stimulated a newfound belief for Froling.
“I started off a little slow being a rookie and trying to find my feet, but then I think I had 23 on [Andrew] Bogut and I had 20 on [Shawn] Long,” Froling says. “I started to play those high-level guys and got more confidence in myself and I had a really good year.”
Making his mark on home shores made Froling ready to attack the NBA. He is currently jetsetting across North America, shuttling back and forth from his Miami base, and interviewing with NBA clubs as he attempts to break into the world’s premier basketball league. Froling has already auditioned for the Utah Jazz, Sacramento Kings and the Philadelphia 76ers ahead of next Thursday’s NBA draft, and has done so with confidence, knowing he has what it takes to step up to the American professional level.
Living a professional season alongside one of the NBL’s leading taskmasters in head coach Joey Wright, prepared Froling for a rigorous predraft process and instilled the value of hard work.
“I think the biggest thing with going to the pros [in Adelaide] is that Joey [Wright] told me that if ‘you wanted to get in extra, you can get in extra work; if you don’t then that is on you.’ He told me that ‘if you want to come in at 4am, I will come in with you but if you don’t tell me then that is on you.’
“Just having more self-accountability, that is the biggest thing I learned. I had a really good year last year but I know if I don’t become more accountable, get in the weight room or work out more then I am not going to take another step, and it is going to be a similar year to my rookie year in the NBL.”
Equipped with his newfound mindset, Froling is now sprinting head first into the next phase of his basketball life. He has been training diligently since the NBL season finished and has reduced his body fat percentage five points over the past two months. Regardless of where he ends up next season, the Australian knows that getting in the best physical shape of his life is a necessary next step in his career progression.
What lies ahead
Playing professionally outside of Australia will present Froling with a new set of challenges. He likely won’t have much time to adjust, either. Most draft projections have the Australian going undrafted next week, meaning he will be launched into the hyper competitive world of Summer League tryouts and training camp invites to further prove himself to NBA teams. This is yet another step in the process and Froling believes his versatile talents will enable him to translate away from the NBL.
“I like to pass to ball,” Froling says. “I can put the ball in the hole pretty efficiently. In the NBL there were a couple of games where I had double digit points in a couple of minutes. I can put the ball in the hole pretty quickly so it isn’t about that for me. I can pick and pop and get a bucket.”
Froling raises Nikola Jokic as a source of inspiration. While comparisons to Denver’s All-Star are at the outer limits of what Froling can achieve at the next level, the Serbian’s rapid rise from second round pick to NBA superstar offers a blueprint Froling can attempt to emulate. Jokic, who was overlooked by every NBA franchise in his draft class, has overcome his own athletic limitations to excel with a unique cocktail of talents as a five man.
“I like creating and getting guys open and getting guys shots; that is something I really like,” Froling says. “I am a really good rebounder and love rebounding.
“Another guy is Enes Kanter. He isn’t the most athletic dude. He isn’t the most mobile or athletic dude but he still can get 20 rebounds a game and you wonder how he does that?
“Just watching those guys and how they use their body, despite not being the greatest athletes they are some of the best rebounders in the league. That is something that is really interesting to me and something I want to take forward. Keep on improving my athleticism to help maximise that.”
Two European big men have shown Froling what his role could one day look like in the NBA, but it is a fellow Boomer who has offered Froling a first hand account of life in the Association. Froling developed a close friendship with Thon Maker during his time in Milwaukee while playing at Marquette. The pair of Australians would constantly work out together, with the more experienced Maker pushing Froling to improve all aspects of his game. The former Milwaukee Bucks center would also provide the positive reinforcement needed to get Froling through the final moments of his collegiate career.
“The feedback from those [NBA] guys is that ‘you are an NBA player and you have an NBA skill set’, and that is what Thon [Maker] always preached to me,” Froling says.
“I love that guy and he was really good for me mentally when I was at Marquette. Even though I wasn’t playing and I wasn’t having the best time on and off the court, he kept my head in it and told me I was an NBA player and to stick with it."
Maker’s advice has now been actualised and Froling’s hard work is beginning to pay off. Regardless of whether his name is called next Thursday, Froling is ready to attack whatever comes next in pursuit of his NBA dream. And who knows? Maybe, just maybe, that old adage about it only taking one team to fall in love with a prospect will apply to Froling and make him Australia’s next NBA player.
“Me and my agent have talked. We just need to get in front of guys and see if someone wants to take a chance on me and look at me as a development project; somebody who can come in and help the team,” Froling says.
“If a team wants to put me in the G League. If a team wants to put me on a two-way. If a team wants to draft me and play me this year, or stash me overseas back in Adelaide. Me and my agent are all for it. We are just figuring out who is interested, who wants it and I think I would be a pretty good steal in the draft personally.”
Draft day can't come soon enough for Froling, and for us all.