Junior big man Jordan Murphy has been a beast this season for the Gophers men’s basketball team, averaging 20.2 points and 13 rebounds in Minnesota’s first 12 games. The Gophers are 9-3 but have lost three of their past five games. Murphy chatted recently with the Star Tribune’s Michael Rand.
Q: There are big expectations for this year’s team. Is that a different feeling to have than in past years, and how are you guys dealing with that?
A: It’s the kind of thing where we have to find the balance between having that swagger of a good team while not having the overconfidence that we can just come in and beat everybody. We have to have a good mix between the two, knowing we’re a good team but also knowing we have to work for every win that we get because every team is going to give us their best shot. I think being a ranked team [added] that pressure, but it’s a pressure we need to get accustomed to because we are a good team.
Q: Does swagger come naturally from being a good team, and did it start to develop last season when you made the NCAA tournament?
A: I think so. That type of swagger is definitely earned, and it’s something we’ve worked to earn. But we’re not really living up to it right now.
Q: What’s the personality of this year’s team?
A: I don’t think we have one yet. It’s not defined. We have a bunch of personalities on the team, but I don’t think we have that one defined personality. We have a bunch of good guys that want to work hard, and we know what we have to do. That’s one of the most important things.
Q: Not everybody here went through the struggle you saw two years ago. How much more does that make you appreciate where this program is now?
A: It makes me appreciate this a lot more. I’ve lost 24 games in a season. That’s not exactly common. We have to improve off each loss, but I can’t panic because I’ve been in a situation where it’s been far, far worse.
Q: Whatever the low point of your time here was, what was going through your head then?
A: Just that it was time to get back in the gym and work harder. When things happen, you just have keep your head down and make sure you’re working on your game.
Q: What have you added to your game so far this year?
A: For sure trying to stay out of foul trouble and rebounding. I’m trying to improve my all-around game and making sure my mentality is right. There are a lot of mental things I’ve been trying to work on.
Q: You talked about swagger. There is a freshman on the team, Isaiah Washington, who doesn’t lack it. You were a freshman once. What do you tell him?
A: I tell him all the time just find the moments where you can let that stuff out at appropriate times. There are definitely times in games when you can find an outlet for that swagger, but you can’t let it consume your whole game. That’s just something he needs to balance. I think he’s doing a better job of doing that.
Q: Is that a hard thing to learn?
A: For sure. It took me a while to adjust, and it was something I had to think about and make a conscious effort to do.