What about that technical foul you got last season at Texas A&M, Isaac?
“I swear, I will never live that down,” the 7-foot, 255-pound sophomore would say in his Australian accent.
If one of the best days of your career has ever turned into one of the worst in about seven seconds, then you can identify with Humphries’ trip to Texas A&M last Feb. 20.
In a game where a UK front line depleted by injury was being massacred on the glass — at halftime, A&M had 15 offensive rebounds, Kentucky one — Humphries was playing his way into Big Blue folk hero status.
Over 20 minutes, the Sydney, Australia, product grabbed 12 rebounds. He hit a jump shot, scored on a put-back and cashed two pressure-packed foul shots with 1:50 left in the OT, too.
It was an affirming performance for a player who, coming into the game, had produced only 27 points and 33 rebounds all season and had begun to doubt whether he even belonged at Kentucky.
“For me, it was a breakout game,” Humphries says. “I got so emotional and so excited because it was a breakout game.”
That emotion overtook Humphries with Kentucky up 76-75 and only 9.4 seconds left after he blocked a shot, grabbed the defensive rebound and was fouled.
In an act of exultation, Humphries slammed the ball to the floor with authority, sending it high above the Reed Arena court.
Referee Pat Adams called Humphries for a technical foul.
“I’m really not like that at all, so I don’t know where it came from,” Humphries said. “It was just a very weird, spur-of-the-moment decision.”
Long story short, A&M made two technical foul shots, Kentucky made 1-of-2 free throws to tie it, then the Aggies won the game, 79-77, on Tyler Davis’ put-back at the buzzer.
For Humphries, what had been one of the sweetest basketball moments of his life had turned disastrous.
In the UK locker room, “I was beside myself,” Humphries says. “I was very upset for the team. Not even for me, it was more for the team. But everyone had my back. They actually started getting mad at me because I kept apologizing. They said, ‘Stop apologizing. We wouldn’t even have been in that position (to win) if it hadn’t been for you the whole game.’”
During the rehash, some college basketball observers thought Humphries had gotten a raw deal. Since he acted out of exultation and clearly had not been trying to show anyone up, many believed it would have been better officiating to “look away” and not to call the technical.
Regardless, had Humphries not spiked the ball, he and UK would not have been at the mercy of a referee’s judgment.
“Obviously, it was wrong. I’ve learned from that,” Humphries says. “It won’t happen again.”
In Kentucky’s next game, against Alabama in Rupp Arena, John Calipari gave Humphries a start. In pregame introductions, the big Australian got a rousing roar from the Rupp crowd.
“That was a special moment,” Humphries says. “It just showed the coaches, my team, the fans still had my back (after) that unfortunate experience.”
If the scuttlebutt coming out of the Wildcats’ camp this preseason is to be believed, Humphries may be a focal part of the UK storyline for positive reasons far more often as a sophomore. “He doesn’t even look like the same guy,” Calipari says.
Though Humphries is a sophomore, he is actually younger, 18, than Kentucky freshman big man Bam Adebayo, 19.
Deep down, Humphries says he wasn’t sure a year ago he could play on the big stage that is UK basketball. This year, “my confidence is up, my body has changed and I feel like I belong on this stage now,” he says.
As for what he carries into this year from last season’s bittersweet night in College Station, Texas, Humphries says he learned three things.
1.) He can play well against good teams.
2.) Valuable wisdom — “I have to control my emotion,” he says — can be discerned from an adverse moment.
3.) There are advantages to being a citizen of a country that is oblivious to American college basketball.
“I can’t preach enough how much people don’t care about basketball in Australia,” Humphries says with a grin. So, Down Under, “no one even knew about my technical foul.”
7 p.m. (SEC Network)