Jordan Murphy’s name cannot be found among the 21 Big Ten non-seniors officially listed as declaring early for the 2018 NBA draft. The Gophers forward decided not to submit his name this spring following his All-Big Ten junior season.
But Murphy did stick his toe in the NBA waters.
There are different degrees of “declaring for the NBA” these days. If a player is all-in, he declares for the pros and hires an agent. If he’s halfway in, he submits his name but doesn’t hire an agent, keeping the door open to return to college. Murphy didn’t have to do either to get feedback from big-league minds, though.
Instead of joining the hundreds of players who tweeted this spring they were “testing the waters” of the draft, Murphy just applied to the NBA Undergraduate Advisory Committee to hear what it had to say about his stock. The information gathered in this process is private.
“If you’re thinking of going early and you’re unsure about where you’re going to get drafted, I think that’s where the advisory board helps,” Gophers coach Richard Pitino said. “It’s his life and he’s always got to consider everything. But he seems pretty focused on having a good offseason and a great year next year.”
It’s a step that has been in place for college non-seniors since 1997, a much more quiet step than the other options. The advisory committee consists of nearly two dozen NBA personnel who speculate on where players could be drafted, if at all. The deadline to apply was April 14. Last spring, there were just over 100 players who requested the evaluation, including former Gophers Nate Mason and Reggie Lynch last year.
“I don’t think Nate and Reggie were educated on things they already didn’t know,” Pitino said. “Guys know where their strengths and weaknesses are in the game. But I think the more information you can have and you can give these guys, the better. I do think it’s moved in that direction.”
Using the advisory board is optional. The Commission on College Basketball, headed by former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, proposed last month the NCAA require non-senior players to use the advisory committee first if they want to declare early.
“That could be doable,” ESPN college basketball and draft analyst Fran Fraschilla said. “I think the committee is very useful. College coaches and people who follow college basketball really don’t have much of an idea of how good the league is. So when you utilize a handful of general managers, player personnel guys or scouts and evaluate college players, they’re usually on the mark and give good advice.”
Two years ago, the NCAA extended the deadline for non-seniors to remove their names from the draft from late April to May. NBA teams can begin workouts with any players who have declared for the draft later this month, including at the four-day draft combine that starts May 16 in Chicago. May 30 is the deadline to withdraw from the draft to maintain college eligibility.
All five of the Big Ten first-team players were non-seniors this year, and all declared for the NBA draft, including Ohio State junior forward and Big Ten player of the year Keita Bates-Diop. Bates-Diop, Michigan State forward Miles Bridges and Penn State guard Tony Carr hired agents.
Murphy, the 6-7, 250-pound San Antonio native, led the Gophers in scoring (16.8 points per game) and the Big Ten in rebounding (11.3) this past season. He earned All-Big Ten second-team honors after being an early favorite for conference player of the year.
The strides Murphy made as a go-to scorer and dominant rebounder were evident, but he wasn’t able to display his improved perimeter game as much as expected. Injuries to forward Eric Curry, guards Amir Coffey and Dupree McBrayer and the expulsion of Lynch forced Murphy to play center at times and made him the focus for opposing defenses.
“I think he was having a really, really good year and we lost some guys,” Pitino said. “With Jordan, it was hard for him in the end, and it wasn’t his fault. Every step along the way has been good for Jordan. … Hopefully, he can have a terrific senior year.”
Although he has decided to stay in school, Murphy made it clear this season that despite being an undersized post, playing in the NBA is his goal.
“I’m a firm believer that height doesn’t really matter,” Murphy said. “You look at the smaller players in the NBA who made a name for themselves just because of their heart and how hard they work. I think that paves the way for guys like me to possibly make the NBA one day and possibly play at a high level.”
As other NBA hopefuls consider whether to go all-in for the draft this month, Fraschilla said Murphy made a good decision to at least use the advisory option.
“The worst thing a guy like Jordan Murphy could do is get bad advice,” he said. “The prevailing wisdom is, ‘Go back to school and try to be an All-American.’ ”