Jordan Murphy showed glimpses as a freshman of being an all-conference caliber player in the future.
So what type of sophomore season can we expect?
“Being All-Big Ten is definitely the goal,” Murphy said. “I have really ambitious goals and that’s one of them. I think that’s really a possibility.”
Murphy, Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ, Indiana’s Thomas Bryant, Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan and Maryland’s Diamond Stone made up the Big Ten all-freshman team last season. All of them except for Stone return. He was drafted by the Los Angeles Clippers in the second round of the NBA Draft.
Murphy ranked second on the team with 11.6 points and led the Gophers with 8.0 rebounds in 2015-16. His nine double-doubles were tied with Happ for most in the Big Ten.
But when you look at preseason All-Big Ten and even All-American teams, Happ, Bryant and Swanigan are names being mentioned for breakout sophomore seasons. Murphy’s name is absent. What do the others have in common? Not surprisingly, they all are playing for Big Ten title contenders.
Being overlooked nationally might not bother Murphy. But he’s motivated to have a big year to help the Gophers become relevant again. And that will help raise his profile as well.
“There’s a look in his eye that, I think he had a good individual year, but obviously he wants more,” Gophers coach Richard Pitino said. “He wants to be part of something big.”
Murphy’s undersized for a power forward at 6-foot-7. But he makes up for it with a 7-foot wingspan and a powerfully built frame that now carries 240 pounds.
He had 45 dunks last year. Most of his offense came from offensive rebounds and in transition. Coaches emphasized for Murphy to work on his post moves in the offseason. He showed off a jump hook in Tuesday’s practice.
Pitino jokingly called the San Antonio native “low motor Murph” and “high motor Murph” last season. He’s playing more aggressively now. On a play Tuesday, it only took a few seconds after the whistle blew to start for Murphy to throw down an emphatic alley-oop dunk on his defender.
“It’s getting better,” Pitino said of Murphy’s motor. “I think young guys don’t necessarily know how to play hard. He’s getting better from it. He’s learning from it. We talk a lot about what have you learned? That’s the biggest thing is how to play hard, how to compete.”
Former Gophers guard Andre Hollins was the last sophomore in the program to earn All-Big Ten honors. Hollins’ second year was highlighted by a 41-point performance against Memphis and a 28-point game to beat UCLA in the NCAA tournament in 2013. He was selected all-conference third team after averaging 14.6 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.4 assists as a sophomore. Those numbers were up from 8.7 points, 2.1 rebounds and 1.8 assists as a freshman.
Can Murphy have an All-Big Ten sophomore season? That will likely hinge on the Gophers’ success.
-- Murphy had a chance to play for former Timberwolves coach Sam Mitchell on the Virgin Islands national team that competed internationally this summer. Murphy decided to stay in Minnesota to work on his game. But his mother is from the Virgin Islands and he played for their junior national team in high school.