Men's Basketball Headline
GatorZone.com Senior Writer
NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- Skilled but thin. Not as tall, but pretty quick.
And always around the basket.
That was the version of Erik Murphy that his future college coach first watched while scouting a spring AAU tournament six years ago.
“You know what happens,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “The biggest guy at your school is not someone those guys want stepping out and shooting the ball. They want him underneath.”
In time, Murphy’s coach at Southborough (Mass.) St. Mark’s let his big guy step out and take some long ones, but it would have been difficult then to imagine the lanky, long-armed kid from Rhode Island would evolve into one of the matchup nightmares in all of college basketball.
So consider Sunday’s game at Yale, a little more than an hour south on Interstate 95 from Murphy’s hometown of Kingstown, Donovan’s way of saying “thank you.”
When the 13th-ranked Gators (9-2) take on the Ivy League Bulldogs (5-10) at the intimate 2,500-seat John J. Lee Amphitheater, they’ll do so as something of a tribute to Murphy, the 6-foot-10 senior captain who has been a frontcourt anchor for the program and one of the team’s most consistent performers since arriving on campus in the fall of 2009.
Donovan has played these regional “salute” games for players whose families may not get a regular chance to see the Gators play live. He took UF to West Virginia for Brett Nelson’s senior year (a loss), to tiny New Hampshire for Matt Bonner’s final season (a win) and to American in Washington, D.C. for Virginia native Vernon Macklin (a win).
Murphy expects a Kingstown caravan of folks -- most notably his immediate family, led by father Jay Murphy, one of the greatest players in Boston College history -- to make the 84.5-mile trip
“It’s really nice,” Murphy said Friday. “You appreciate what Coach is doing.”
The feeling is mutual.
“He’s a great kid, great teammate and a good worker who’s about the right things,” Donovan said.
It’s a combination that has served Murphy remarkably well, especially the last two seasons after playing sparingly as a freshman and sophomore.
Think about this: Murphy did not attempt a single 3-point shot in his 2009-10 college rookie season. As a sophomore, after an offseason of individual instruction that greatly improved his long-distance stroke, he averaged 4.3 points and started being worked in as an option in UF’s pick-and-roll sets.
By the start of Murphy’s junior year, Donovan knew he had a truly unique weapon; a 6-10 post player with incredible range and whose mere presence outside the arc had to be honored, thus stretching the defense, sending a post defender to the perimeter and spacing the floor for dribble penetration.
But what’s stood out every bit as much for the Florida coaches along the way has been Murphy’s willingness to adapt -- and accept -- his role; however it was defined.
“I think Erik is very, very unselfish,” said Donovan, who won a recruiting battle early for Murphy over the likes of BC, Providence and Connecticut. “He’s one of those guys who will always sacrifice himself over the team. If less of Erik means more for our team, he’s fine with that. ... He’s always been about the bigger picture.”
When Murphy was slowed by an ankle injury his sophomore year, his minutes in the rotation suffered. Even after working back to full health, Murphy’s playing time had been cut significantly as the Gators found a rhythm en route to the Southeastern Conference regular-season title.
“Obviously, it took a level of patience. That combined with I also wasn’t good enough to play a lot then,” Murphy said. “There were guys in front of me. I had to wait my turn.”
He was needed, though, in the second half of a second-round NCAA Tournament game against UCLA in Tampa and answered with seven huge points to help the Gators advance to the Sweet 16.
“Perfect example,” Donovan said. “Never complained. When we needed him, he was ready.”
The demeanor never changed. Neither did the work ethic. That’s why Murphy’s minutes rocketed to 25.9 per game as a junior and his scoring average nearly tripled to 12.1, thanks to 48-percent shooting from the floor and 42.1 from 3-point range.
With the Yale game representing the final warm-up before SEC play starts next week, Murphy is right at that 12.1 mark of last season, but making 57 percent of his shots overall and 45.2 from distance.
Against Wisconsin earlier in the year, Murphy went 10-for-10 on his way to a career-high 24 points. Last time out he scored 21 points (on 8-for-10), grabbed seven rebounds to go with four assists and three blocked shots on the way to being named MVP of the Orange Bowl Classic in a win over Air Force.
Now comes a homecoming.
“I won’t get too wrapped up in that,” he said.
His teammates will vouch.
“For a freshman [it might be a factor],” said senior guard Kenny Boynton, who has played in four games at Sunrise, Fla., less than minutes from his hometown of Pompano Beach. “Erik is always the type of player who is going to take what the defense gives him, whether he has five shots or 11 or 12. I think he’ll have a great game regardless.”
Should be a fun one, too.
“I get to see some people I haven’t seen in a while,” Murphy said. “It’ll be exciting to have them all there.”
No. 13 Florida at Yale
Tip-off: Sunday, 5:30 p.m. (John J. Lee Amphitheater, New Haven, Conn.)
Records: Florida 9-2; Yale 5-10
TV: NBC Sports Network (w/Randy Moss and Dalen Cuff)
Radio: Gator IMG Sports Network (w/Mick Hubert and Mark Wise) -- Click here for affiliates) / Sirius 134/XM 199
Game notes: Florida notes; Yale Notes
Need to know: The game marks the first time in the history of the UF program the Gators have played a road game against an opponent from the Ivy League. ... Florida and Yale are playing for the second time in just over a year. The Gators defeated the Bulldogs 90-70 on New Year’s Eve 2011 in Gainesville. ... UF is 6-2 all-time against the Ivy League, including two wins over Pennsylvania in the 1994 and ’99 NCAA Tournaments. ... The Gators, who two weeks ago led the nation in scoring defense, have dropped to fourth at 52.2 points per game. UF ranks sixth nationally in opponent’s rebounds (28.1), seventh in scoring margin (plus-20.5) and 11th in opposing field-goal percentage (36.2). With no games since last Saturday’s 78-61 defeat of Air Force at Sunrise, Fla., Coach Billy Donovan and his staff focused the last week on trying to get back to the kind of defense the Gators were playing early in the season. ... Florida has four starters averaging in double-figures, led by senior G Kenny Boynton (12.5 ppg, 4 rpg), who is trying to shake out of a six-game slump when he’s averaged 9.5 points per game, while shooting 27.8 percent from the floor (17 of 16) and 17.9 percent from 3-point range (7 of 39). ... UF will continue with the three-guard starting rotation its used the previous two games, with Boynton, senior Mike Rosario (11.6 ppg), junior Scottie Wilbekin (8.7 ppg, 4.1 apg) in the backcourt, and junior C Patric Young (11.1 ppg, 6.9 rpg) and senior F Erik Murphy (12.1 ppg, 4.7 rpg) up front. ... Florida fans that remember Yale playing the Gators tough for a half last year can rest a little easier knowing 7-foot C Greg Mangano, who had 26 points and went 5-for-7 from 3-point range, is playing professionally in Turkey. ... The Bulldogs are paced by 5-11 G Austin Morgan (12.5 ppg, 2.6 apg) and 6-8 F Justin Spear (10.7, 6.6 rpg). ... Yale’s best opponent to date has been St. Joseph’s in the NABC Coaches vs. Cancer Classic (lost 61-35). Before Friday night’s win at Holy Cross, the Bulldogs dropped three straight road games at Nevada, St. Mary’s and Iowa State, and earlier lost to the likes of New Hampshire, Hartford, Vermont and Western Illinois.