In October 2014, Jordan Murphy fell in love with an on-the-rise basketball program, a skinny young coach with six NCAA tournament appearances and a Final Four under his belt and a red-brick campus on the edge of the James River.
Virginia Commonwealth, he knew, would be his new home.
Then, this spring, everything changed.
Rams coach Shaka Smart accepted a $22 million contract to coach at Texas. Murphy’s coach was gone.
More than a month later, Murphy committed in mid-May to the Gophers, where the 6-6 San Antonio native now has already wowed fans with his attack at the rim, his rebounding ability and his athleticism, particularly in a breakout 24-point, 10-rebound performance in Monday’s 89-83 victory over Clemson.
“I think it was the best thing that ever happened,” said Jordan’s mother, Celia Murphy. “He’s flourishing.”
This promising start — he’s averaging 9.3 points and 6.1 rebounds off the bench heading into Saturday’s game vs. South Dakota — is happening nearly 1,000 miles from Richmond, Va.
Following Smart’s departure, the Murphys were in shock. One day, his future was mapped; the next, his path was a question mark.
Three days later, after talking through every angle with his parents, Murphy got the release from his national letter of intent to VCU and reopened his recruitment. He hoped some second “perfect” school would still have the desire and the room, months after the fall signing period came and went.
“In the beginning, it was scary because it was like, ‘What are you going to do now?’ ” said Bernard Murphy, Jordan’s dad. “I was a little worried there wasn’t going to be anything available.
“But then the phone started ringing.”
Oregon and UNLV, two of Murphy’s original finalists, were both back in, and other schools, including Boston College and Indiana, got involved.
One school that didn’t make a serious push? Texas, Murphy’s big home-state school, and the new home of the coach to whom he committed.
Murphy’s parents said Smart and the rest of the Texas coaching staff communicated with him throughout the transition, but after picking one other former VCU recruit, the Longhorns’ scholarships were all full.
Finally, Celia texted Smart with a message: Coach, if you don’t have it, please just let him go.
Murphy saw it as fate.
“It was interesting to think about it, I guess, but I knew it wasn’t realistic,” he said of Texas, which was also loaded with size. “I’m a pretty realistic person, and I knew I probably wouldn’t fit in there so I kept my options open.”
Richard Pitino wanted to be one of those options, and shortly after Murphy got his release, the Gophers coach, along with assistant Ben Johnson, put on the full-court press. The Gophers watched Murphy at an AAU event in Indianapolis and then started calling and texting him almost daily.
After a trip to Boston College, Murphy officially visited Dinkytown in May. Both he and his parents were blown away, they said, by the academics, the workout facilities, the opportunity for Murphy to make an impact right away in Pitino’s fast-paced system and the coaching staff.
“They made me feel like I was already part of the family,” Murphy said. “They made it a really safe leap of faith. They made it easy to trust them with four years of my life.”
The feeling was mutual.
“Sometimes when you recruit guys, you think you’re going to get a special kid,” Pitino said. “We thought we were getting one with him, and he’s showing it.”
Murphy canceled his impending Indiana visit and committed to Gophers, a school he had barely thought about a month earlier.
“Jordan is one of the most humble big-time players I’ve ever been around,” said Tommy Hines, his former coach at Brennan High School. “He was looking for, not necessarily the flash and glitz of a UNLV or something like that. He was looking for a program where he could go, fit in, build relationships and feel like he was really wanted.”
He had fallen in love with another young program, a campus on the Mississippi River, another skinny young coach with a dream.
“It was a crazy month,” Murphy said. “I didn’t exactly picture all that happening. But I’m glad it did, honestly. I think I ended up exactly where I’m supposed to be.”