Jordan Murphy comes to the twilight of his memorable career with Gophers
DES MOINES, Iowa — With a casual gait, Jordan Murphy led the Minnesota Gophers men’s basketball players onto the court for the team’s shootaround Wednesday, March 20, at Wells Fargo Center. The senior forward also was the last to leave.
This isn’t a surprise. During his four seasons at Minnesota, Murphy has never missed a practice. Not for a twisted ankle, dislocated finger, a random bout with the flu, or most likely, the accumulation of bumps and bruises (or something worse) from the banging he exchanges in the post across en route to his perfect attendance for 131 career games.
While he’s often at the top of opponents’ scouting reports, Murphy could afford to coast in practice once a while or take a maintenance day like an NBA veteran. Instead, he rarely relinquishes the team’s “I practice harder than you” jersey.
This is just one token of appreciation for Murphy’s memorable career as it closes in the NCAA tournament. The 10th-seeded Gophers (21-13) will look to keep Murphy’s career and their season alive against seventh-seeded Louisville (20-13) in a first-round game at 11:15 a.m. Thursday.
Gophers coach Richard Pitino has been reluctant to talk about Murphy’s sterling durability, wary of jinxing it. But Pitino has been effusive on what Murphy has meant to the program, imploring fans to not take his play for granted before it’s gone.
On Wednesday, Minnesota had a tight 40 minutes to go through its paces before facing the Cardinals in the tournament’s first game. As the session wrapped up, Murphy and teammates threw gold T-shirts into the crowd. Only Murphy hustled back to grab more to throw.
Murphy then stopped for every autograph and photograph with Gopher fans. But with the 15th-seeded Bradley Braves ready to come out of the tunnel for their practice, Minnesota staff lightly insisted Murphy wrap it up and help the NCAA keep its tight practice schedule.
“MURPH!” a Gophers fan then shouted. The man was holding a wide-eyed young kid in one arm and Minnesota’s media guide in the other. Murphy stopped to sign that as well.
The media guide was open to page 16, the first of three pages dedicated to Murphy’s career achievements, which with a banner senior season, will need a rewrite of the program’s career records on page 56 as well as Big Ten’s records kept in Chicago.
Murphy’s 1,300 rebounds rank first in Gophers history and second in Big Ten history, behind former Ohio State star Jerry Lucas’ 1,411 from 1959-62. His 1,784 points are fifth in U history and just 17 behind Andre Hollins for fourth.
Spencer Tollackson, the Gophers’ radio commentator, believes Murphy’s resume should lead to his number being retired and hung in the rafters of Williams Arena.
“There’s certain charm in the guys that are up there, from the old cliches of ‘back when I was a kid, I watched Willie Burton, and he was so great,’ ” Tollackson said. “In 20 years from now, people will say that about Jordan Murphy. He’s been doing it for so long and has been so consistent, we are stuck in a rut of taking it for granted.”
Tollackson didn’t see this coming when Murphy was a freshman. “He’ll be good but he’ll never be an all-Big Ten type of player because I thought he was too small,” said Tollackson, in his 10th year on air. “I thought he was undersized for that (power forward) spot in the Big Ten. Clearly, he’s made up for that.”
Out of San Antonio, Murphy signed with Virginia Commonwealth in 2015, but he was released from his letter of intent when coach Shaka Smart left for Texas.
Murphy went to Minnesota and was named to the Big Ten’s all-freshman team in 2015-16. Though the Gophers went 8-23 overall and 2-16 in conference games that year, he said he never thought about leaving.
“You can’t abandon your real family when you guys are going through something, so why would I abandon this type of family when we are going through something?” Murphy said Tuesday. “That wouldn’t be right, and that wouldn’t be something that I could sleep well with at night.”
As Murphy developed into an all-Big Ten second-team player as a sophomore and junior, he often asked Pitino how he could get better.
“He is a thinker,” Pitino said Wednesday. “He’s not one of those guys that you can yell and scream at. He’s analytical. You more need to talk to him about the game because every big guy in the country has an identity crisis.”
That typically comes in a desire to become a “stretch four” player, who steps outside the paint to shoot more 3-pointers.
“Murphy can do that, but he knows where his bread is buttered and we’ve talked a lot about that and do what you do well,” Pitino said.
Page 2 of the Gophers’ media guide is the first time you see Murphy listed at 6-foot-7. That is inflated by an inch or two.
“He’s that short, huh?” Louisville coach Chris Mach said Wednesday. “I haven’t been next to him, so I don’t know that. He looks like he’s 6-11 on film.”
What Murphy’s lacks in height for a power forward, he makes up for with his hands, his leaping ability, timing and hustle. Tollackson said it’s his quick-twitch muscles that allow him to get off the floor again quickly on a miss around the basket.
Pitino has ribbed Murphy that his rebounding numbers are somewhat inflated because he grabs a fair amount of his own misses. That can be a factor in some of his big games, but it’s so much more than that.
Big Ten Network’s Shon Morris has been one of the many commentators to rave about Murphy’s hands.
“When you are that relatively small, you are not necessarily going to be able to reach over somebody … so when you get your hands on the ball, you have to make sure you get it,” Morris said. “He’s often able to get two hands on it and bring it in.”
Tollackson added: “It’s probably his best attribute other than his ability to quickly leave the floor.”
Purdue coach Matt Painter tried to neutralize Murphy with defense from 7-foot-3 center Matt Haarms, but Murphy scored 27 points and grabbed eight rebounds in Minnesota’s 75-73 win over the Boilermakers in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals in Chicago last week. That victory sealed the Gophers’ inclusion in March Madness.
“He knows where (his shots) are going and he can get those balls back, whether he gets fouled or dunks it or gets a layup,” Painter said. “He’s a really good player, and I’m happy to see him leave.”
Murphy is, in fact, on his way, and he says his proudest moment doesn’t have to do with just himself.
“The thing that I’m most proud of is going to two (NCAA) tournaments,” he said. “Obviously, its been a bit of a roller coaster for my career here in two years that we didn’t do so well and years that we did really well, so just going to two tournaments and bringing that accolade to the school.”