Meet the Wildcats: Music takes backstage as Humphries’ basketball career takes next step

A new season brings new players and new stories to tell. Over the next several weeks, CoachCal.com will be profiling Kentucky’s newcomers in its annual and exclusive “Meet the Wildcats” series. Each story will be accompanied with video. Next up is the laid-back 7-footer from Australia, Isaac Humphries.

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7-foot basketball player from Australia is walking around the Kentucky campus, but he’s not at the Joe Craft Center. Instead, he’s walking around in the UK music department looking for something specific: a piano.

He hasn’t played in a while at this point, and he’s looking for an outlet, a way to clear his mind. Finally, he finds a piano and puts out a little “jam” and all is well again.

Basketball wasn’t Isaac Humphries’ first love. The performing arts were — and continue to be — something he is passionate about.

It started when he was 5 years old. His older sister, Claudia, danced a lot, and while he never got too into dancing, he did pick up playing music and singing.

Bio Blast

Position: Forward/Center
Date of birth: Jan. 5, 1998
Parents: Michaela Humphries
Hometown: Sydney, Australia
High school: La Lumiere School
Nickname: Ice
Twitter: @IsaacHumphries7
Instagram: n/a
Favorite TV show: Family Guy
Favorite food: Steak
Favorite superhero: Superman
Favorite player: Kevin Durant
Favorite hobby: Singing or playing piano
Favorite movie: Napoleon Dynamite
Favorite artist: Beyoncé

“I remember going to a school near my house and it didn’t offer any kind of music stuff,” Humphries said. “I didn’t even know I liked it, but apparently I did. So, my mom moved me to a different school, kind of a performing arts elementary school.”

From there, Humphries, then a “normal-sized human,” as he says, began doing plays such as “Oliver” and “The King and I.”

“I think I was better at singing,” he said. “Acting kind of comes with it, but if you don’t do it enough you get kind of embarrassed and it’s kind of weird. Singing just came so naturally. I’ve never really had a singing lesson in my life. I guess I’m pretty good. I think I do alright for how little preparing I’ve had.”

At 12 years old Humphries hit a major growth spurt and stood at 6-3. With his newfound height, friends told him he should start playing basketball. While the sport isn’t as popular in Australia as others are, it was something he quickly picked up and continued to improve upon. Eventually, Humphries earned the opportunity to train with the Australian national team and played a vital role in leading the country’s under-17 team to a silver medal placing at the 2014 FIBA U17 World Championship.

At the 2014 FIBA U-17 World Championship, he helped guide Australia to the finals against USA by averaging 18.9 points, 11.6 rebounds and 3.3 blocks in seven games. His 18.9 points and 11.6 rebounds per game each ranked third in the entire tournament, while his 3.3 blocks per game were tied for the second most.

Isaac Humphries was more interested in the performing arts as a young kid, but then got into basketball after hitting a major growth spurt.

Isaac Humphries was more interested in the performing arts as a young kid, but then got into basketball after hitting a major growth spurt.

During Australia’s run to silver, Humphries scored 41 points and grabbed 19 rebounds against now-teammate Jamal Murray’s Canadian team. In the finals against USA, he logged eight points and seven rebounds. His efficiency of 25.6 was the highest in the entire tournament field.

“The feeling of representing your country is kind of indescribable because, like I said, it’s such a big deal over there,” Humphries said. “Even though basketball is not that big, as soon as you mention you’re an Australian athlete, it’s just, I don’t know, kind of a respect just because of how big of a deal it is in that country.”

Now living on the opposite end of the world from his home country, the 17-year-old Humphries, who reclassified from the class of 2016 into 2015, talks and acts like someone perhaps 20 years older than himself. His maturity has allowed him to deal with the distance from home in stride and given himself confidence that he can excel on the biggest stage in all of college basketball.

“I watched Isaac when he first came over to the United States in high school in Indiana, and was impressed with his skill and size. He reminded me of a much bigger Josh Harrellson. He’s very skilled, has great hands and is a great passer. To have a 7-footer who just turned 17, he has a lot still in front of him and the best part is he wants the challenge of playing at Kentucky.” – Coach Cal
“I think age is a number,” Humphries said. “Inside, I’m 37 in my head. That’s a joke my family and I always talk about. If I was an immature 17-year-old, I would think that yes, age would matter. But for me, personally, being 17 isn’t going to matter because I think I’m definitely mature enough to handle the expectations and the pressure and everything that comes with Kentucky basketball.

“I grew up being very independent just because I had to be. My mom had a very big influence on us, but she had three kids so she couldn’t really do everything, but she tried. It feels like she does everything. Having that kind of experience and learning from all that, I think I just kind of taught myself how to live and become a person, really. I think it’s more I want to be a good person, to treat people right.”

At this point in his life, the acting and singing aren’t something he plans on pursuing while attending Kentucky, but it is something he wants to do again at some point later in life.

The soft spoken, laid-back Humphries is focused on his basketball career, and his addition is a welcome sight for a UK frontcourt in need of some depth, if not fine tuning.

“I think I can bring some aggressiveness and power,” Humphries said. “I’m a very fundamental player, so I think being able to bring a different style of play in the post … will contrast well.”

It wasn’t until he played for Australia’s U17 team that he realized “Oh, I can probably do this.” Still more than three months shy of his 18th birthday, Humphries allows himself to self-reflect on occasion to think back on how wild and crazy his journey has already been and how promising it could be – though he says he only judges himself on what he has already achieved.

“Sometimes I just sit there and think, ‘Woah, I’m only 17 and I’ve done some pretty cool things in my life,’ ” Humphries said. “Now I’m about to start this journey that most people would love to do. It’s crazy to think that this is my life now. Everybody always talks about Kentucky and watches Kentucky. I never in a million years thought I would be here, and I’m here now and it’s just going to be such a crazy experience.”

Just 17 years old, Humphries believes his maturity should overcome his youth, and he's ready for the Kentucky basketball experience.

Just 17 years old, Humphries believes his maturity should overcome his youth, and he’s ready for the Kentucky basketball experience.

His mom will venture stateside during the season to watch him play in games, and his grandparents are also trying to come and watch. Despite the 14-hour difference in time, Humphries still talks with his mom on a daily basis.

While all athletes have goals, both personal and team related, Humphries’ vary. They don’t involve him earning first-team all-conference honors or winning specific awards. Instead, his drive – what gets him up in the morning each day – is to make his mother and his family proud, no matter how cliché he says that sounds.

“I know they’re super proud of me already, but to be able to do this for my family because they’re so supportive and they love everything I do,” Humphries said. “To be able to do this and for them to be able to watch me play for 25,000 people is going to be crazy. The thought of seeing them in the crowd is insane.”

“When I was making my decision I was talking to my mom and she said, ‘You should fly with the eagles instead of walk with the turkeys.’ Why would I go to a school where I would be such a big fish in such a little pond? Or I could come here and kind of learn every day, develop and be a normal sized fish and the same as everyone else.” – Isaac Humphries
His mother, who has had the biggest impact on his life, was also one of his biggest influences in deciding to come to Kentucky rather than another school. The Wildcats had already signed star forward Skal Labissiere, one of the top two prospects in the country, and return forwards Marcus Lee, Alex Poythress and Derek Willis to a lineup expected to be ranked somewhere in the preseason top five.

Humphries, a consensus four-star recruit, had a tough choice that many UK recruits must also ask themselves: Do I go to Kentucky and be one of many stars, or go somewhere else where I can be the man and get as many shots as I want?

“When I was making my decision I was talking to my mom and she said, ‘You should fly with the eagles instead of walk with the turkeys,’ ” Humphries explained. “Why would I go to a school where I would be such a big fish in such a little pond? Or I could come here and kind of learn every day, develop and be a normal sized fish and the same as everyone else. To be able to play against, in training, the guys here is going develop me so much, let alone the games. It kind of scares me to just think how much I’ll learn here. And I just thought why not come to the best place? I have the opportunity to, why not do it?”

His addition was a welcome one for the Wildcats, cementing their 2015 class as the best in the country by bolstering a frontcourt that was previously perceived to be lacking depth and a true center to take blows in the paint. It was also a bit of a surprise to many.

While most recruiting classes had been finalized for at least a month, if not longer, the addition of the Australian big man wasn’t announced until Aug. 20, just six days before the fall semester began at UK. Now that he’s in Lexington, his focus is on helping Kentucky become the best that it can be.

“I think everywhere I go I indent a type of pride,” he said. “This is what I’m wearing across my chest, so I’m going to play as hard as I can for that. I think (fans) can expect me to play for Kentucky, play for them, and do as best as I possibly can.”