Humphries’ Transformation Leads to Higher Expectations

Isaac Humphries doesn’t like using the word “hype,” mainly because he doesn’t believe in it.

That’s probably a good thing because the native of Sydney, Australia, is getting plenty of it this offseason after trimming down his body fat and bulking up the rest of his body. The expectations surrounding Humphries have now grown to heights unheard of during his freshman campaign.

“That just fuels my determination,” Humphries said. “I was already so determined to do well and to prove everyone wrong kind of – well not wrong, but to prove everyone that I did belong on the court. Having it out there just makes it even better because now I can go and they’ll say, ‘Oh, he’s right.’ ”

It doesn’t take long to notice the physical differences in Humphries from a year ago. At 7-feet tall he’s hard not to notice as is, but the slimmed down Humphries now has a real presence to him. On the court in practice, he gets up and down the floor much more quickly and more fluidly.

“My friend sent me a picture the other day of me about this time because I was wearing this shirt that we wore last year on this day,” Humphries said on the day of preseason interviews. “I just look so different. It’s so weird.”

Humphries’ physical transformation isn’t the only thing. Mentally, his approach to the game appears to be a total departure from a year ago when he was a 17-year-old who had bypassed his senior year of high school to reclassify and play a year early on one of college basketball’s biggest stages.

“The crazy thing is he’ll still be one of the youngest players in college basketball (this season),” head coach John Calipari said. “So basically he’s a freshman. He got an extra year last year because of his age.”

Already the big man has played through great highs and great lows in his collegiate career. On Feb. 20 at Texas A&M he went through both after coming off the bench to score six points and grab a career-high 12 rebounds, but was also charged with a technical foul after spiking the ball late in overtime.

That experience gained from Humphries has been invaluable already this preseason. He knows better of what Coach Cal is asking of him and he’s able to share that wisdom to his younger teammates, even if Calipari would like him to do that in a more vocal manner.

“Really intelligent player, intelligent person,” Calipari said. “He’s not saying a whole lot right now. We need him to talk more, but the thing he is becoming is he’s becoming confident, little more self-assured. I can’t help you with that. You either demonstrate performance on the court (or you don’t). He’s got to build confidence where his teammates want to throw him the ball. I can’t just say, ‘Have confidence in him, throw him the ball.’ Well, it doesn’t work that way. So, he’s doing that himself. That’s why you look at him out there and you say, ‘Wow.’ ”

“I learned a lot last season,” Humphries said. “The system, how everything works, what to expect, the pressure and stuff like that, how to handle myself on and off the court. I think just to not get down on things I did wrong and stuff like that, and just have confidence no matter what. I think confidence is such a big thing in college basketball, or basketball in general.”

With the lost weight and better conditioning Humphries is also able to play much more above the rim than he did one year ago. When he first arrived on campus Calipari compared Humphries to former UK forward Josh Harrellson, who until his senior year played almost exclusively below the rim. Humphries was the same way in high school and last season, but that has changed in a big way already this year.

“He’s in great shape,” Coach Cal said. “… Like, he does not lay any balls in. He’s trying to dunk every ball. He’s physically able to run.”

Asked how a game would go between 2015-16 Isaac Humphries and present day Isaac Humphries, the big man said it wouldn’t even be a contest.

“Oh my god. I think I’d run a little bit and then fall over,” Humphries said. “I think I’d just kill last year’s Isaac for sure. Six feet under.”

With all the praise an adulation Humphries has gotten this offseason and preseason from a variety of sources, there is now a level of expectation for the young Aussie who played just an average of 9.1 minutes in each of the 23 games he got in.

He says the praise he’s gotten from his Hall of Fame head coach has reassured him that his hard work both on and off the court isn’t going unnoticed. But as Coach Cal so often likes to tell his players, only the players can build their own confidence and that’s done through demonstrated performance, which Humphries echoes.

“In the pickup games and practices I’ve been so determined to do really well,” Humphries said. “Every game that I do well in everything I do just adds more confidence to me. I’m just laughing from then on. I just feel like I’m unstoppable at some points because you just get in that groove and get that confidence and you just go, really.”

Add it all together and it’s easy to see why Humphries is getting so much hype. And the reason he doesn’t like the word lends one to believe he’s well equipped to handle all that he gets.

“I feel like you are who you are and whatever is around there doesn’t really have anything to do with it,” Humphries said. “Having everyone know about it is good. But at the end of the day I’m just going to go out and play really hard and prove to everyone that what he’s saying is right.”