Jordan Murphy shyly looked up at reporters as they entered the locker room and made a beeline for his chair. He seemed more than a little embarrassed that we wanted to talk to him first.
For the moment, the dominant forward that had wowed a crowd of 9,570 in Minnesota’s first exhibition game was gone. Murphy was a freshman again, and one with no real off-court ego to be seen.
“I was really nervous at the beginning,” he said. “I think I’m still nervous now, even after the game. I still feel the effects of it.”
None of that showed on the Williams Arena floor on Sunday when Murphy was the highlight of a 74-57 win in which at times the Gophers and their Division II Crookston campus counterparts were indistinguishable.
Murphy, a 6-6 forward from Texas, took a while to warm up under his first taste of the bright lights, but took off in the second half, finishing with 19 points and nine rebounds.
It’s hard to take too much from one game, especially considering the competition, but in our first real glimpse, Jordan Murphy looked like he has the potential to be the best player on the floor. His long wingspan and spring allows him to snatch up rebounds in a way that compelled coach Richard Pitino to call him his best “natural rebounder.” And even playing in the post, as he did through much of the second half, Murphy found success offensively, racking up all but four of his points in the last 15 minutes.
“Coach has been telling me to post up more and so I was just taking his advice.” He said. “I haven’t posted up in a while, so when I got here I was being taught to post up and they were telling me I was at least a little bit decent, so it was a little different, but I got used to it.”
Murphy showed he can in fact post up, and he can hit a three-pointer, and he can dunk on the run and he can rebound out of his area, all very effectively. His only real struggle came at the free throw line, where he made just four of nine shots, but some of that could be attributed to his apparent nervousness.
“Jordan Murphy showed you how good he can become,” Pitino said. “I thought he was really good when we started throwing him the ball in the post… he can hit the three but he’s really good on the block. So we need to look at him more often than we did …He’s got potential in my mind to be a very good freshman, and I’m very excited about him.”
Perhaps in the final exhibition Murphy’s jitters will lessen. But don’t expect him to become a cocky hot shot, despite whatever success he might see on the court this year.
“It was nerve-wracking,” he said of the larger crowd than the one he experienced in the intrasquad game the previous weekend. “The maroon-and-gold scrimmage was cool, but that was a different level. It was exciting too, so all of the freshmen got a little taste of it.”