The level of local hoops talent strutting its stuff in American collegiate basketball is at a never before seen level.

4 Jan
By Dan Woods for

This season’s crop of local first-year pros is perhaps the greatest seen in the history of the NBL.

The likes of Josh Bannan, Sam Mennenga, Lachlan Olbrich and Kyle Bowen all called time on their storied collegiate careers to turn professional, while Ben Henshall and Next Stars Rocco Zikarsky and Alex Toohey are leading the way for those in the local development pathway.

Basketball in Australia and New Zealand has never been stronger, and with one eye now starting to turn to Finals basketball and pre-season signings, Olgun Uluc and Peter Hooley discussed some players who could be ready to make an impact in the NBL next season.

Johnny Furphy and Alex Condon
“We list these as potential Next Stars because the hope is the Next Stars program – the NBL – can reach out to these guys and tell them ‘you are probably one and done after this season, or you very well could be’. I’m looking at a Johnny Furphy in Kansas right now, a 6’9” wing who can really shoot it and a high-level athlete. I’m looking at Alex Condon, a 6’11” skilled big who can shoot it a little bit. These guys are making an impact for these powerhouse college program right now, and they could end up getting draft – not this coming draft but the one following. That’s something the NBL can bring forward to them and say ‘you’re basically a one and done guy right now, come and do it here’.” – Olgun Uluc

Zikarsky and Toohey were teammates alongside Johnny Furphy and Alex Condon with the NBL1 East’s Centre of Excellence last season, going 20-2 in the regular season.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">A couple of spot up triples from Johnny Furphy on debut. <br><br>Opportunity the big question mark when committing to the projected #1 team in college basketball. 17 minutes on debut a good start. <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; Michael Houben (@michaelhoub) <a href="">November 7, 2023</a></blockquote> <script async src="" charset="utf-8"></script>

“We speak about how enticing it is for college players who are further into their careers, whether they’re juniors or seniors, and we think Next Stars and so many of us think they’re Americans or Europeans, because we’ve seen how well they’ve come through, but we forget guys like Alex Toohey, these young Aussies come in and have the opportunities to do that. Now it’s established and it continues to grow this year, for Furphy and Condon these conversations are real. Are you going to do another year of college? Will you develop more in that year of college or will you come in to play against men in the Next Stars program to enter the draft?” – Peter Hooley

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">WA freshman Alex Condon impressed in his first game with the Florida Gators.<br><br>The big man had 13 points in 17 mins, flashing his 3pt range and motor.<br><br>This year is stacked with Aussie NBA prospects across NBL/NCAA - make sure you don&#39;t leave Condon out of the discussion! <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; Michael Houben (@michaelhoub) <a href="">November 7, 2023</a></blockquote> <script async src="" charset="utf-8"></script>

Alex Ducas
“He played the pre-season games here when Saint Mary’s came down. In terms of body being ready and he knows how Australian basketball is played, he came into those games and averaged nine and four. He’s a WA kid which is going to be an interesting thing, because they didn’t get Kyle Bowen, they got Ben Henshall. Alex Ducas is one a lot of teams will be picking up the phone to saying “we need you to come in and be that three-year type deal”. Where that is, I’m not so sure, but he’s one who looks ready to make the NBL leap.” – Peter Hooley

“Many NBL teams offered him this past off-season, they wanted him to come now ... he graduated so he could have come now and most NBL teams were surprised he didn’t. He’s around a 40 per cent three-point shooter through his time in college and he’s someone who can come in and make an impact now – he’s got the size, he’s got the skillset.” – Olgun Uluc.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Alex Ducas with the driving basket ??<a href=";ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#GaelsRise</a> <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; Saint Mary&#39;s Hoops (@saintmaryshoops) <a href="">December 30, 2023</a></blockquote> <script async src="" charset="utf-8"></script>

Keli Leaupepe
“One that I like is Keli Leaupepe. He’s out of Loyola Marymount. 6’6”, 240lbs. He doesn’t have the height, but he’s ready to make an impact right now, he’s a solid guy. It’s not just that and his ability to bang down low, he can shoot it a little bit and he showed that last season, and he can pass it a little bit too. There’s a skillset there a lot of NBL teams like. There were NBL teams that offered him rotation spots last season and they were surprised he went back as well. He is someone to keep an eye on, he’s someone who can come in now and make an impact like Kyle Bowen.” – Olgun Uluc

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">LMU’s Keli Leaupepe is an absolute legend. Coolest player in college basketball. @stoolbenchmob <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; Barstool Sports (@barstoolsports) <a href="">November 28, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async src="" charset="utf-8"></script>

Elijah Pepper
“One other name I do want to bring up is one a lot of NBL teams prior to this season really didn’t know about – it’s Elijah Pepper. He is ostensibly an American kid. He was born in Shepperton, but his family then relocated to Washington. A lot of NBL teams weren’t aware that this was a potential local candidate. He is a 6’4” combo guard at UC Davis, he’s top 30 in scoring in the country, at just under 20 points per game. He’s a legitimate star of college basketball and so he’s the kind of guy who can come to the NBL and maybe turn into a star level guy. There aren’t many guys who average 20 points per game in college and then come to the NBL – we don’t see that often. When guys do that, they’re usually imports, so he’s someone who a lot of teams, their ears are pricking right now. Brian Goorjian, I spoke to him about Elijah Pepper as well and he’s figuring out how to get him involved in the Boomers program as well , because everyone’s just realising this is an Australian kid.” – Olgun Uluc

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">ELIJAH PEPPER ??<br><br>? <a href="">@ESPNPlus</a><a href=";ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#GoAgs</a> | <a href="">@ucdavisaggies</a> <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; UC Davis Men’s Basketball (@ucdavismbb) <a href="">December 30, 2023</a></blockquote> <script async src="" charset="utf-8"></script>

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