Originially bound for Virginia Commonwealth before a coaching change, Jordan Murphy signed with the Gophers and Richard Pitino in the spring recruiting period out of high school in 2015.
Pitino immediately saw Murphy's athleticism translated to the high-major level, but it was a pleasant surprise for the Gophers coach to watch arguably the best player he’s had at Minnesota developing into the soon-to-be top rebounder in team history.
“He’s got great hands, great timing, diving on loose balls,” said Pitino, who is preparing the Gophers to play three games in the Vancouver Showcase, starting Sunday with Texas A&M. “Does the little things really, really well. And still has room to grow, which is exciting. I’m assuming he’ll go down as the leading rebounder in school history. He’ll get that. Obviously, he’s going to blow that out of the water.”
Murphy needs just 20 rebounds to surpass the school’s all-time leading rebounder Mychal Thompson’s 956 career rebounds from 1974-1978. Former Boston Celtics great and Hall of Famer Kevin McHale is just 14 rebounds away from passing in U history for second place at 950.
Thompson, who does radio broadcasts for his former NBA team with the Los Angeles Lakers, tweeted some high praise for Murphy this week, calling him “The BEST Big Man in Gopher hist(o)ry.”
"Had to make sure this was real after I read this," Murphy responded to Thompson on Twitter with emojis that he was shocked and his mind was blown with those comments.
The 6-foot-7 senior from San Antonio came three rebounds shy of 20 boards in one game in Monday’s win against Utah. It was Murphy’s ninth college game with at least 17 rebounds, but his career-best was a 21-rebound performance against Michigan State as a sophomore in 2016-17. Last season, Murphy was the first Gopher since Trevor Mbakwe did it twice in 2010-11 and 2012-13 to lead the Big Ten in rebounding with an 11.3 average.
“I thought he just had his best basketball was ahead of him when we watched him in AAU,” Pitino said. “We thought the biggest thing I noticed was he was a quick jumper off the floor. He found a way to bounce right off that floor.”
Murphy is fifth on the Gophers in scoring with 11.6 points per game, but he ranks second in the Big Ten and fifth nationally with 13.5 rebounds per game. He’s also averaging a career-best five assists.
Fellow senior captain Dupree McBrayer took a little credit for Murphy’s improved passing skills this season.
“Dupree McBrayer’s Passing Academy,” he said. “After practice we just stay in there and show him a little behind the head and behind the back passes. Stuff like that. You might see one of them this week.”
McBrayer and Murphy joined the program together as freshman during a rough eight-win season in 2015-16, so he has watched how hard Murphy worked on becoming one of the top players in college basketball.
“He’s got to be put something in his cereal or something,” McBrayer joked. “He always had the athletic ability. After that (freshman) year, he’s been working on his skills a lot. As you can see he got a lot better. He’s now one of the best players in college basketball. Top 50. He should be top 20 I think. You just got to have the mindset he had to get better every year.”
-- At the end of Monday’s win against Utah, McBrayer started limping and had to leave the game and receive treatment on his left leg. He said at Friday’s news conference it was just a cramp and he was fine for the next game.
McBrayer’s excited to be healthy this season after missing five games and being hampered by lingering leg issues last season.
“People were thinking it was my leg (injury) again, but it was just a cramp,” he said. “I just went over to the trainer. He tried to stretch it out. I was good. I was ready to come in if needed. But I’m glad I’m healthy and it was just something minor.”
-- Pitino called the NCAA denying Pittsburgh transfer Marcus Carr’s waiver a second time after the school appeared the first decision “flawed.”
Carr, a sophomore guard, will have to sit out this season and has three years of eligibility left starting in 2019-20.
“Every waiver you just don’t know what’s going into what,” Pitino said. “They really, really opened up a can of worms when they started doing this waivers. And I don’t think the kids are really protected throughout the waiver process, because you’ve got both schools involved. Both schools have got to support it. There’s so many moving parts to go with it. I don’t think it’s really fair to the kid. Marcus had a very, very difficult experience at Pitt, which is natural. And then the coaches all who recruited there are fired and are all gone. He feels like he shouldn’t be punished. To me, you talk about student-athlete well fare. That’s it right there. He didn’t leave Pitt for playing time. He would’ve been one of their best players.”