College basketball practices start Friday, but Gophers forward Jordan Murphy’s thoughts have been divided between his family’s safety through a major hurricane and getting ready for this season.
Murphy, a 6-foot-6 returning All-Big Ten performer, intensely followed the news of the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico last week.
His grandfather is from Puerto Rico and his mother, Celia, is from St. Croix in the Virgin Islands. Murphy’s uncle, aunt and their family still live in the USVI and had leave their home for shelters to keep safe from the category 5 storm. The eye of the hurricane reportedly passed just 10 miles from St. Croix late Tuesday last week before eventually making landfall in Puerto Rico last Wednesday morning.
“Tuesday was really hard for my family because of Hurricane Maria, which just rolled in (near) St. Croix, where my mom is from,” Murphy said. “My family is going through a lot currently just dealing with the damage and assessing what they have left, what of their lives they have left from their home. What they have in storage and stuff from their homes. It’s important for them to stay positive.”
Puerto Rico was the worst hit and millions of people remain desperate for aid. Power will be lost for months from what CNN reported as the “worst storm in modern history” of the island. St. Croix is in need of major assistance as well. One report stated 70 percent of the homes in St. Croix are damaged. News images reveal trees scattered across roads, buildings heavily scarred by debris and neighborhoods wrecked or destroyed.
“It was still devastating seeing the photos that my mom showed me,” Murphy said. “It’s just of lost and devastation. There were a lot of homes wrecked and a lot of lives altered due to that storm. My mom was just sending information to where my uncle and aunt were. They evacuated. When I first heard that was going to hit I asked my mom if they needed anything, if they needed us to send anything. The whole process was just trying to make sure they were in a safe place in a timely manner. Not doing it last minute because those (shelters) get packed. So they were able to get to a secure area.”
As of late last week, Murphy said he didn’t know if his aunt and uncle were able to return to their home to see what was left undamaged. His mother and father still live in San Antonio, where Murphy grew up and became a star basketball player at Brennan High School.
Murphy has visited his family in the Virgin Islands, and even played for their junior national team leading a FIBA tournament in rebounding in 2013. He's one of the most well-known college basketball players with USVI roots.
"I have really, really deep Virgin Island roots," Murphy said. "Having that connection there and just the culture there when I visited, it was just really cool. People are really nice there. They’re really generous."
Murphy has always been a big fan of the San Antonio Spurs and former All-Star big man Tim Duncan. His mother and Duncan are also both from St. Croix. Duncan, now retired, has been raising money and awareness for helping victims of both Hurricane Maria in St. Croix and Hurricane Irma on the islands of St. John and St. Thomas.
“My mom was very high on that,” Murphy said, “just letting me know to raise awareness for the funding places that need support to raise money. It’s really good to see people like Tim Duncan raising money for his homeland and where he comes from. It’s very important to remind people that it’s not just those two states (Texas and Florida). We have United States territories that were also altered by the storms. It’s really important to raise awareness for that, too.”
Former Timberwolves coach Sam Mitchell has coached the Virgin Islands national team the last few years. He's tried to get Murphy to join the team, but it hasn't worked out yet. Still, the USVI national team played well this summer beating Vanderbilt in an exhibition and Canada in the AmeriCup tourney.
Mitchell visited the islands of St. Croix, St. John and St. Thomas during his time in the Virgin Islands, so he knows many people who are suffering and really need all the support they can get from anyone willing to help.
"When you've lost everything, where do you go?" he said. "It's a tough situation."
HOW TO HELP
People who want to help support hurricane relief efforts in the Virgin Islands can go to USVIRecovery.org and Tim Duncan’s fundraising site. There are several campaigns to help Puerto Rico that can be found here.