Comparisons between Jordan Murphy and Eric Curry have been frequent this fall.
Curry, a 6-foot-9, 235-pound freshman, is a taller version of Murphy, a 6-7, 240-pound sophomore starting power forward for the Gophers. The Memphis native is long, athletic and ready to compete physically in the Big Ten, just like Murphy was last season.
Gophers coach Richard Pitino’s glowing remarks about Curry in his latest blog Monday is proof of how much of surprise the freshman has been so far.
“Really excited about Eric's potential,” Pitino wrote in the new blog. “Plays hard, runs great. Makes a lot of terrific moves but has struggled to finish them. That will improve. I anticipate him being a major contributor.”
Last week, Curry was one of the most vocal players on the court in the practice opened to the media.
He displayed great basketball IQ and wasn't afraid to correct older players if they were in the wrong place. His passes weren’t always caught. And he didn’t always finish his athletic moves near the basket. But Curry’s vision and offensive skill are apparent.
Pitino has three talented freshmen this season with Curry, former Hopkins star Amir Coffey and former Rochester John Marshall standout Michael Hurt. But Coffey and Hurt are pretty familiar to Gophers fans after finishing 1-2 for Minnesota’s Mr. Basketball award last season.
Curry is a bit of an unknown. There aren't many highlight videos on his senior season. But the four-star recruit played well during the Nike EYBL circuit for the Arkansas Wings last year. He took official visits to Arkansas and Iowa State before committing to the Gophers in September 2015.
“I said it before, I think he’s a 6-8, 6-9 version of Murph,” Pitino said. “I think he’s pretty underrated. I know Amir obviously gets the hype being local. And Michael is local. But I think we got a steal there. He’s got a chance to be special. He makes some moves and doesn’t finish them, and that’s where being a freshmen comes in. But he makes some moves, where you go, ‘Wow.’”
Murphy (11.6 points, 8.0 rebounds and nine double-doubles) was definitely special last year. He had the best freshman season for a Gophers player since current NBA veteran Kris Humphries averaged 20 points and 10 rebounds to earn Big Ten freshman of the year honors in 2004.
But there are things Curry can do that Murphy couldn’t as a freshman. Murphy was an offensive rebounding machine and strong finisher (led the team with 45 dunks). Curry attacks the glass and dunks often, but he can also face the basket, shoot and put the ball on the floor.
“I think he might be a little more skilled than I was at that age,” Murphy said. “He’s really, really coming a long way. He’s really skilled, really bouncy, really athletic and really smart, too.”
Curry will play mostly behind Murphy at power forward, but there’s a possibility he could play center in a smaller lineup this year, Pitino said.
In his senior year at Southwest Christian Academy in Arkansas, Curry suffered a hip fracture in January and missed the rest of the season. But he’s healthy now -- and he could give the Gophers another impact freshman post player.
“I can be a post presence,” Curry said in the spring. “I can score in the post, play very good defense in the post and on the perimeter, wherever you need me to. I can bring a lot to the table with effort, rebounding and playing hard. Whatever the team needs. I’m going to surprise a lot of people.”
-- With junior forward Davonte Fitzgerald out for the season with an ACL injury, Pitino said in Monday's blog that sophomore Ahmad Gilbert and Hurt will have to "step up."
Gilbert averaged 3.4 points, 1.9 rebounds and started six games last season. Hurt could be the best shooter on the team.
"Much like JR, Mike needs to improve his foot speed," Pitino wrote in the blog. "His shooting continues to be a valuable asset for us. Tough to rival his work ethic."