Rising Stars of Aussie Hoops: A look at Isaac Humphries & Tahlia Tupaea

When one thinks of the future of Australian Basketball and the young talent coming through the junior ranks, it’s not hard to start thinking that it’s looking as bright as ever. The hype that surrounds 18-year-old Dante Exum continues following his declaration for the 2014 NBA Draft, and 17-year-old Ben Simmons is the leading scorer and captain for Montverde Academy (FL), a school that runs one of the most established basketball programs in the US. It seems inevitable that both of these young stars are destined for the bright lights of the NBA, adding to the growing number of Australian’s already in the league which currently stands at four.

So when the inevitable becomes a reality and we see the likes of Exum and Simmons progress to the next steps of their respective careers, it begs the question; who is next?

When I think of the best junior basketball talent that’s currently coming out of Australia, there are two players that immediately come to mind, both who coincidentally hail from the New South Wales metropolitan area; Isaac Humphries and Tahlia Tupaea. So let's take a look at these two promising junior stars and see what they may have to offer.

Isaac HUMPHRIES (2016)

Isaac Humphries is the type of talent that doesn't come around too often. The recent Basketball Australia Centre of Excellence (CoE - formerly known as the Australian Institute of Sport) scholarship recipient has just come off dominant performances at the U16’s Nationals and the Australian Schools Championships as he prepares to begin his stint at the at the CoE.

Humphries is a 7-footer who possesses mobility and agility that is unrivaled at his size. Over the last few years he’s developed a post game that looks to have become second nature to him, having the ability to show off an array of moves down low. He has the ability to put the ball on the floor and has great touch around the rim, being able to finish with both hands. His unique skill-set for his size is what make’s him so appealing to scouts and coaches alike.

At the 2013 U16 Australian Junior Championships, Humphries put up number’s that have never been seen before:

20.4 pts | 12.4 reb | 2 blk |, 2.3 st | 65% FG | 24.6 min

He was able to continue his efficient play with a great showing at the Australian Schools Championships late in 2013:

20 pts | 10.5 reb | 2 blk | 58% FG | 80% FT

2013 was a huge year for Humphries, where his achievements far exceeded just impressive statistics and tournament play. In August, Humphries was chosen to be a part of the Australian Boomers Training Camp as they prepared for their series against New Zealand in the 2013 FIBA Oceania Championships. At only 15 years of age, he’s tied with Dante Exum as the youngest player to participate in a training camp with the National Team. During this time he also received individual training from Aussie Basketball Legend, and Boomer’s Assistant Coach, Luc Longley.

2014 will be a huge year for Humphries, from both a developmental standpoint, and a performance perspective. He’s proven that he can step out to around 18 feet and shoot with relative consistency, but it’s still a work in progress. There’s no doubt that being at the newly formed CoE will help his game tremendously, while also improve his athleticism and conditioning. With the success that he’s had over the past year, combined with his high level of play, it seems as though Humphries is a lock for the U17 squad that will represent Australia in August at the 2014 U17 FIBA World Championships in Dubai, a tournament that will prove to be huge for him as high-major colleges in the US continue to admire his body of work.

The size is there, the skill-set is there, and the potential is immense. High-major colleges have already been in contact with Humphries and he’s shown the drive to continue to work on his game, hence the move to the CoE where he’ll look to add size to his frame and work tirelessly on honing his game. The NBA is something he aspires to, but he knows the work that needs to be put in to get to that level. It’s a long way down the road, but Humphries very well could be a lottery pick when it’s all said and done.

Tahlia TUPAEA (2016)

Tahlia Tupaea truly is in a class of her own and it is simply a privilege to watch her play. To tell demonstrate as to just how good she is, at the 2014 East Coast Challenge held in early January, I had the choice of watching the Men’s U18 Grand Final (a game that boasted 5 Australian Representatives) or the Women’s U18 Grand Final; I chose the latter to watch Tupaea. Her presence on the court is endearing as she draws you in with her ability to dominate on both the offensive and defensive end.

Tupaea in action - Courtesy FIBA via Basketball Australia

She made her WNBL debut with the Sydney Uni Flames at the tender age of 15 and has re-signed for the 2013/2014 season. The 5’9 guard recently led the Australian U17 team at the FIBA Oceania Women’s Championships to a 3-0 series win over New Zealand, leading the team in scoring with 10.7 points per game to qualify for the U17 FIBA Women’s World Championships in June.

Tupaea was also the youngest member of the Australian U19 team that won a bronze medal at the 2013 U19 FIBA Women’s Championships in Lithuania. Despite being one of the youngest players in the tournament, Tupaea’s consistent play kept her in the rotation, her performance capped off by an 8 point and 4 rebound effort in the Bronze Medal game against Spain.

Many people would be shocked not to see her name on the media release of the new Basketball Australia Centre of Excellence (CoE) scholarship recipients, as her potential alone would make her a front-runner for one of the positions. Her strong relationship with her family has kept her from joining the prestigious CoE program in the past, and credit to her for continuing to maintain her family focus throughout all of her success.

She’s been touted as a future Opal; already participating in several training camps with the national team, a team that’s currently ranked 2nd in the world in the FIBA Rankings for Women.

Tupaea has the ability to get to the paint at will, and has extremely great touch around the rim. She has range out to the 3-point line but her forte is getting into the paint and finishing strong. Her strength is unmatched at the level she’s currently playing, a trait she uses effectively on both ends of the floor.

Just like Humphries, Tupaea has ways to go before she becomes the player she’s capable of being. There’s no doubt that the WNBA is in her future, she’s shown she has the potential to be a quality player at that level. It simply is a joy to watch her play, for her to be a member of a WNBL team at the age of 15 is a testament to her overall talent and commitment to perfecting her craft.

These are two names that you’ll hear quite frequently over the next few years as both players aim to impress at their respective U17 FIBA World Championships. It’s likely you may have heard their names scattered around recently, as they both were a part of the most recent Australian Development Camp held at the CoE. It may seem premature to speculate, especially given the small number of Australian talent that is currently in the NBA and WNBA at the moment, but both of these athletes are talents that you don’t see everyday. I’d suggest you keep an eye on them; they’re bound to do some special things.