Murphy's home on the road
Published: Sunday, January 6, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 5, 2013 at 10:45 p.m.
Senior forward Erik Murphy never had any doubts about playing so far from home when he signed with Florida.
Who: No. 13 Florida (9-2) at Yale (4-10)
When: 5:30 p.m.
Where: John J. Lee Amphitheater, New Haven, Conn.
On TV: NBC Sports (Ch. 33, Cox)
Radio: 103.7 FM, AM-850
“I didn’t live at home during high school,” said Murphy, who played prep basketball at a boarding school (St. Mark’s) in Massachusetts. “I’ve always been fine being away.”
The soft-spoken, 6-foot-10 Murphy will have his own personal cheering section today when the Gators play their final non-conference game at Yale. His four-year college career has had its share of peaks and valleys, which will make the game in front of more than 100 family members and friends at Yale’s campus in New Haven, Conn., even more special.
The homecoming game at the 2,500-seat John J. Lee Amphitheater is 84.5 miles from Murphy’s South Kingstown, R.I., hometown. Murphy’s father, former Boston College and NBA forward Jay Murphy, has rented a bus, which will drive 70 friends and family members from Rhode Island to the game. Close to 50 family members also are expected to show up from Jay Murphy’s hometown of Meriden, Conn., about a 20-minute drive from New Haven.
“It’s exciting,” Murphy said. “There are going to be some people at the game that I haven’t seen in awhile. It’s cool to have them all come down.”
Jay Murphy said all along that Florida was his son’s dream school. But success for Murphy didn’t come right away. There were two years on the bench and an embarrassing offseason incident following Murphy’s sophomore year that caused him to realize how important basketball was to his life.
“Erik probably had more patience than we did,” Jay Murphy said. “Everybody probably thinks their son is going to play right away, but when you look at the guys that were in front of him, they are all having success either in the NBA or overseas.”
As a sophomore, Murphy bided his time behind an all-senior starting frontline of Alex Tyus, Chandler Parsons and Vernon Macklin. The experienced trio helped lead the Gators to an SEC regular-season title and Elite Eight appearance.
“It took a level of patience, also combined with the fact I wasn’t good enough then to play a lot of minutes, so I think the combination of both of those things,” Murphy said. “But I think in that situation, with those guys in front of me, obviously I had to be patient and wait my turn.”
Then, shortly following his sophomore season, Murphy was arrested outside a bar in St. Augustine with former teammate Cody Larson and former UF student manager Josh Adel after he was spotted slumped over someone else’s parked car. Murphy was 20 and had been drinking underage.
Initially charged with felony burglary, Murphy and Larson’s charges were reduced to misdemeanor criminal trespass. Murphy pleaded no contest and received probation. He was suspended indefinitely from the Gators, but was reinstated shortly before his junior season began in October.
“Still having the chance to be here after all of that, made me appreciate basketball more,” Murphy said.
During his summer in limbo, Murphy trained hard in Rhode Island with former New England prep prodigy Chris Herren, who served as a mentor. Herren’s substance abuse problems derailed his promising college and pro careers.
“I just tried to do the right things off the court, and the same thing on the court,” Murphy said. “Just work as hard as I’ve ever worked before and just focus on all aspects of my game and just try to come back as a better player.”
Along the way, Murphy received support from both his family and Florida coach Billy Donovan.
“Erik did all of the work,” Jay Murphy said. “Billy was the one that supported him and gave him a second chance.”
Said Murphy: “Coach always said it didn’t affect the way he looked at me as a person. It was just a mistake.”
Murphy returned focused his junior season, shooting 42.1 percent from 3-point range while averaging 10.5 points and 4.5 rebounds. Murphy showed the promise Donovan first saw in him when he began recruiting him as a high school sophomore.
Donovan compared Murphy’s recruitment to another former Gator and New England standout, Matt Bonner. A New Hampshire native, Bonner had a down senior season of high school. So did Murphy, but it was due to a knee injury.
“I had the chance to see him play enough when he was younger that I knew he was going to be a terrific player,” Donovan said. “I think his ability offensively to shoot the ball, score from the low post. He’s a great kid, he’s a great teammate, he’s a good worker. He’s about the right things. I think all of those things stood out to me.”
Murphy is coming off one of the best games of his career, scoring 22 points on 8-of-10 shooting to earn Orange Bowl Classic MVP honors in UF’s 78-61 win over Air Force. Murphy also led the Gators in rebounds (7), assists (4) and blocked shots (3) in the Air Force game.
But what has impressed Donovan most about Murphy is his willingness to sacrifice.
“If less of Erik means more for our team, he’s always going to do that,” Donovan said. “He’s never been a guy since I’ve been here, that has ever displayed anything else but whatever is best for our team.
“A lot of times players can talk that winning is really important, but the winning when it becomes part of them having to sacrifice minutes or points or things like that, then maybe the winning part of it doesn’t become so important anymore. I don’t think Erik has had that philosophy or attitude. He’s always been about the bigger picture.”
FLORIDA PROBABLE STARTERS
G Kenny Boynton, 6-2, Sr., 12.5 ppg, 4.0 rpg
G Mike Rosario, 6-3, Sr., 11.6 ppg, 2.6 rpg
G Scottie Wilbekin, 6-2, Jr., 8.7 ppg, 4.1 apg
F Erik Murphy, 6-10, Sr., 12.1 ppg, 4.7 rpg
C Patric Young, 6-9, Jr., 11.1 ppg, 6.9 rpg
YALE PROBABLE STARTERS
G Michael Grace, 6-2, Sr., 4.9 ppg, 2.9 apg
G Austin Morgan, 6-2, Sr., 12.5 ppg, 2.6 apg
G Armani Cotton, 6-7, So., 3.9 ppg, 4.2 rpg
F Justin Sears, 6-8, Fr., 10.7 ppg, 6.6 rpg
C Jeremiah Kreisberg, 6-10, Jr., 7.1 ppg, 3.1 rpg
Notes: Florida is 6-2 all-time against Ivy League teams. However, this will be the first time in school history Florida has faced an Ivy league team on the road. … Florida downed Yale 90-70 last season at the O’Connell Center. ... The Gators have held six of 11 opponents under 50 points and rank fourth in the nation in scoring defense, allowing just 51.3 points per game. … With 282 career 3-pointers, Kenny Boynton is three shy of passing former teammate Erving Walker (285) for second on UF’s all-time list and six shy of Lee Humphrey’s UF record (288). … Florida is averaging 18.6 points per game off the bench. … Coming off a 61-54 win at Holy Cross, Yale will be playing its fifth game in 10 days on Sunday against the Gators. … Morgan is averaging 2.3 3-pointers per game for Yale while shooting 34.8 percent from beyond the arc.