Jordan Murphy’s parents were only able to attend one of his home games in his first two seasons with the Gophers. With his career blossoming this season, they wanted to see more.
So Bernard and Celia Murphy saved up. Not just for a few more trips — they moved from San Antonio to the Twin Cities for the season.
The plan was to be front and center for a fun ride, a run like last year’s trip to the NCAA tournament. Murphy’s mother and father, though, witnessed a rough year instead and have spent the past two months helping their son deal with the frustration of the Gophers’ struggle with injuries, defeats and off-court issues.
“We came right when the Reggie [Lynch] thing happened,” Celia said, referring to Lynch’s suspension in January. “We felt he needed some extra support here through the end of the season.”
Amid the struggles, Murphy is finishing his best season. The 6-7, 250-pound Texas native earned All-Big Ten second team honors Monday, while averaging a team-best 17 points and Big Ten-best 11.4 rebounds.
The Gophers (15-16, 4-14 Big Ten), who play Wednesday against Rutgers in the Big Ten tournament at Madison Square Garden, did not have many constants this season, but two of them were Murphy’s dominance down low and his leadership. Supporting him along the way were his parents.
“For them to be able to stick around was pretty cool,” Murphy said. “Having my parents here to talk to actually in person was good. I think what we went through just made us stronger as a team. It was most important for everyone to have someone to talk to — and I definitely did with my parents.”
The Murphys arrived in Minneapolis in January, going from temperatures in the 70s in the San Antonio area to the frigid Bold North.
“My dad loves it, but my mom isn’t really a big fan,” Murphy said.
They live about 20 minutes from campus — it’s a temporary relocation, as they plan to return to Texas after the season — and stop by Murphy’s apartment every so often.
Like his mother, Murphy loves to cook. He’s made his parents chicken dishes and pasta. He gets some home-cooked meals in return. Favorites are roasted pork and baked mac ‘n’ cheese, which is gone before his roommates get a taste.
“I’ve had a lot of baked mac ‘n’ cheese,” Murphy said. “I couldn’t share that.”
While his life off the court is steady, no Gopher had more pressure on them to carry the load shorthanded than Murphy, who has played the past 15 games without Lynch in the frontcourt. Lynch, a 6-10 senior, was averaging 10.1 points, 8.0 rebounds and 4.0 blocks before his suspension for his role in an alleged sexual assault. His primary replacement, Bakary Konate, has put up 1.7 points and 3.5 rebounds per game.
“It’s changed a lot,” Murphy said. “It definitely added a lot more pressure.”
Murphy battled constant double teams. He played as an undersized center more than at any point in his career. He improved as a passer out of the post and defensively, but Murphy saw his production drop significantly in points (19.1 pre-Lynch to 14.9 post-Lynch) and slightly in rebounds (12.6 to 11.4) per game.
Still, Duke’s Marvin Bagley III and Arizona’s Deandre Ayton, two projected top-three NBA draft picks, are the only major conference players besides Murphy averaging at least 17 points and 11 rebounds. Murphy’s 24 double-doubles leads the country and set a school record, a run that started with him tying his idol Tim Duncan’s mark of 17 consecutive double-doubles to open the season. The regular season ended with him breaking the U record for rebounds in a season with 352.
Murphy was rewarded with his second consecutive All-Big Ten selection, coming off a third-team honor last season.
“He’s got terrific timing and really good hands,” Gophers coach Richard Pitino said. “The progression has been really good. We need it to go into him having a really good senior year.”
You can bet Murphy’s parents, since they’ve weathered this winter, wouldn’t want to miss his final collegiate season.
“It just means a lot that they came up here for this long,” he said. “I was proud that they were able to save up that much money to come up here. They’ll probably do the same thing next year and be here for my senior night and for some of the season if they can.”