At 19, Alex Toohey has already built up an impressive basketball resume which includes, being awarded the Youth Player of the Year award for a standout season in the NBL1 East, and his debut as a Boomer in last year’s FIBA World Cup qualifiers.
So it was unsurprising that the six-foot-seven forward’s decision on his playing future attracted significant interest from many in Australia and the United States earlier this year.
However, the allure of the NBL’s Next Stars program proved too strong and led him to sign with the Sydney Kings for season 23/2024 following his decision to decommit from Gonzaga University.
With the NBL season in full swing, the Canberra local spoke exclusively with The Inner Sanctum about how his rookie season has been going so far.
“I’ve been settling in with the team good. The way we’ve been playing has been a lot of fun, and obviously [the Kings] have been doing well this season. So it’s been good,” Toohey said.
He already has eight NBL games to his name, continuing to impress for the Kings each time he steps out onto the court. In his short time in the league so far, he has already produced a number of highlights that have delighted fans right across the country.
However if you ask him about his time on the court so far, he points to the spectators as one of his favourite parts of the experience.
“It’s been a lot of fun. The fans are great in Sydney and seeing the different fan bases around the league has been cool, so definitely enjoying that part of the game,” he shared.
A large part of his appeal can be attributed to his ability to play across multiple positions on the court, something which has helped him garner high-profile praise from the likes of former Sydney Kings player Andrew Bogut and NBA Draft Analyst Tyler Metcalf.
It’s also what helped him attract interest from college coaches with Duke, Michigan, Florida and Villanova reportedly among the NCAA programs that had been interested in recruiting Toohey.
He admits that it was “difficult” choosing between college basketball and coming to the NBL, but explained that he feels at ease with his final decision.
“It was definitely a difficult decision [choosing between college and the league], but I think talking with the NBL and the Kings, and realising that the Next Star program as well [having] the talents that’s come out of that is cool to see,” Toohey explained.
“[At the time] the Sydney Kings had an opening in my position, so it was a good fit for me to be there. I think I definitely made the right decision.”
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Previous coaches who have worked with Toohey in the past have raved about the teenager’s work ethic. One example is Lake Oswego head coach Marshall Cho who went on the record with media about his experience working with the “super coachable” teenager during the Nike Hoops Summit earlier this year.
For Toohey, he credits his upbringing growing up to his parents who both had ties to the military as helping shape him into the type of player he is today.
“I think that’s had a big influence on me. Basketball wise I think I’m a very disciplined player. I know what I do well and try to stick to that,” he said.
“Then interactions with guys on my team, I try to be a leader when I can and help the team to win. I understand that the most important thing is winning. So I try to contribute to that however I can.”
Over the duration of his basketball journey, Toohey has cultivated a weekly habit of studying other players’ highlights and jotting down notes about improving and refining his craft for the week ahead.
As Toohey explained, there are a handful of players that he is “real fond of watching”, particularly during NBA games. Luka Doncic is one example Toohey cited as being “super cool to watch”.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is another for his “control” during games “when getting to his spot”. As too is Klay Thompson as he is someone that “can shoot it” at a similar size to Toohey.
Toohey’s passion for studying the game seems to be paying off. Across those nine games he has appeared in, Toohey is averaging 10.1 points per game whilst shooting at 42 per cent from the field.
“I think it is a big importance. I like watching other players, I like watching the NBA a lot. Obviously, they’re the best players in the world,” he said.
“So seeing the different things that they do on offence and defence, and I try to write some notes on that, then reflect on that throughout the week to see what I can try and implement on my game for our weekend games.”
Toohey has been working his way through the basketball ranks over the last few years, though to get to where he is today, he faced a major crossroads and had to make the decision on what to pursue between his two passions.
“I played cricket at a pretty high level for a little while and loved that. Then it started to take up a bit more time than it previously had. I was playing cricket and basketball [at the same time], so I had to make a decision on what I wanted to stick with,” Toohey explained when asked when he knew that basketball was the sport for him.
“I think just the environment of being around the guys on the basketball court, the different things that you can work on, and how there’s always action happening was definitely something that drew me to [basketball] and then yeah, I never looked back.”
Last August, Toohey was called into the 12-man squad for the World Cup qualifiers and made his debut as a Boomer alongside a host of NBL talents.
It’s an experience that the nineteen-year-old spoke fondly of after being asked about his selection to the national team.
“The Boomers were great,” he said.
“I think being able to hang around those professionals and guys that have been to the Olympics when I was just in high school having to do homework on the way to our games or on a flight, just interacting with them and seeing what allowed them to have such long and prosperous basketball careers was great.
“[I was] picking their brain on things that they should have learnt earlier, things that they did learn which helped them throughout their career and just trying to learn on and off the court.”
It’s always a big achievement for any sporting figure to represent their country. It’s an even bigger accomplishment when you’re one of the two Australian Boomer debutants who were selected to represent their country at the age of 18.
Toohey acknowledged that as someone who was ‘a young guy’ in an environment like a World Cup qualifier, leaning on his teammates was beneficial for him to deal with the pressure of performing at that level.
“Having guys around me that have been in those kinds of situations before and just reading their body language and knowing that they’re comfortable with how they play and what the Boomers are about,” he said.
“So, it’s leaning into that and understanding that anything I can do to help the team is a big thing, especially being a young guy in that environment so making the most of the minutes I get.
“But I think just staying focused at the task at hand and trusting in the game plan and in the coaches, and in my teammates too.
“I think being around the Boomers was a great experience for me and I’d definitely love to represent them again at the next available opportunity.”
Toohey’s start as a Next Star coincides with a new era in Sydney. Five months ago, the Kings appointed former Houston Rockets assistant Mahmoud Abdelfattah as the head coach ahead of the NBL season.
The new addition has already become a favourite amongst the team, including for the young forward himself.
“It’s been really great playing under Mahmoud. The way that he talks to his guys on and off the court, the relationship that he has with the team has been cool to see,” he said.
“The way we’re so tight-knit and the way we’ve been playing shows that as well. Everyone knows their role, everyone knows what they need to do to help the team.”
It’s only his first year in the league, but the rising star already has a clear focus on what he hopes to get out of his campaign with the Sydney Kings.
“I think just try to play my role, help the team win and put myself in a position to have options next year,” he said.
With a chunk of the season already passed, buzz is surrounding Toohey within basketball circles. Though few media outlets have projected him to appear towards the lower end of the draft order at the time of writing, many experts suggest that the teenager’s draft stock is likely to rise throughout the remainder of the season should he continue to impress on the court.
Though Toohey is insistent about keeping his focus on the season ahead. It’s an opportunity that he is embracing wholeheartedly.
Already having won two consecutive championships in the past two seasons, the Kings are on a quest for a three-peat.
With six wins in NBL24 and sitting second on the ladder only behind Melbourne United, the team has put themselves in good stride to have a chance at snatching that silverware once more. In fact, the goal of a three-peat is something that Toohey has in his sights too.
“The main [goal] is to help my team try to win a championship and being in a role where you’re still trying to win as many games as we can and still get there. But it would be cool to get that three-peat.”