Feb. 5, 2001
by Bo Rottenborn
First there are the challenges of being a college student, taking classes that sometimes require more reading and writing than seems humanly possible, handling the minor crises of friends and attempting to maintain a semblance of a social life -- all while attempting to live on your own for the first time.
Then there are the challenges of being a college athlete, including trying to balance your athletic schedule with the rest of your life while trying to improve as a player. Plus, there is the large
microscope under which college athletes live, with most of the free world able to scrutinize every jumpshot made by every 20-year-old kid.
These pressures can be a great burden on any athlete if he does not have stabilizing presences in his life. In reality, this life would be nearly unbearable for most people if they were alone in the endeavor.
But all of these can become quite manageable, according to Notre Dame's All-American forward Troy Murphy. The 6-11 junior is one college athlete who has learned to get by with a little help from his friends.
"Being close to my teammates has helped me in everything," says Murphy.
"You go away from home and you're far from your parents and then things don't go your way sometimes. When you're halfway across the country from them, it's great to have some guys who are going through the same things. These guys are just like you Ð they think the same way as you because you all grew up playing basketball your whole life. It's natural to develop a bond with them."
In Murphy's two and a half seasons at Notre Dame, he has had to deal with much adversity, including injuries, being the focus of every opponent defense and learning the system of a new coach each season.
"The thing that has made it easy for me is the guys on the team," says Murphy.
"We're very close and we've been through a lot. We've been
there when there were 4,000 or 5,000 people at the games and when we lost to Division II teams. But we've also been there when we beat UConn on the road. We've been through the highs and lows. The guys on this team are close. We share something that will never be broken."
The other players on the Irish basketball team are not just acquaintances to Murphy. He has built a bond with them that causes them to spend nearly every waking hour together.
"You're with them all the time," says the junior sociology major.
"We hang out. We see each other in class. Then we practice with each other for three hours. We eat all our meals together and then we end up going to somebody's apartment to watch a game. We stick together through the thick and thin."
One of the most difficult things most athletes will tell you is
adjusting to a new and unfamiliar system. That is often why first-year players take some time to become comfortable.
"There is adjustment involved. Coach (John) MacLeod ran the program a certain way, right down to the meals we ate before games. Coach (Matt) Doherty ran it a completely different way. Coach (Mike) Brey runs it another way. Everything, down to the practices, is a little different."
One of the things that made it easier for Murphy to become comfortable in his new surroundings was how quickly he built a bond with his teammates.
"You have to trust them. You're thrown right in there and teammates are the people you really trust because if you don't trust them, who can you trust?"
With the help of his teammates, the Delbarton (N.J.) High School graduate did not take long to initially adjust to the college game.
Murphy stormed onto the scene two and a half seasons ago with an impressive debut, scoring 19 points and grabbing six rebounds in his first collegiate game versus Miami (Ohio). Murphy went on to perhaps the best freshman season in the history of Notre Dame basketball. He finished 1998-99 as the leading scorer and rebounder on the Irish, averaging 19.2 points and 9.9 rebounds per game while starting every contest in which he played. He earned team most valuable player honors and set many first-year marks. He reached double figures in scoring in each of the first 12 games of the year and 26 of the 27 contests he played in -
both school records for freshmen. He also broke Adrian Dantley's school record for points as a freshman as Murphy registered 519.
In '98-99, Murphy was also a terror for opposing teams in the BIG EAST Conference. He matched the conference record for points in a BIG EAST debut when he finished with 30 points and 11 rebounds against Providence. Throughout the season, Murphy led the BIG EAST in rebounding (the first freshman in history to do so), field-goal percentage and defensive rebounding and was in the league leaders in three other categories. Murphy was named BIG EAST Rookie of the Week eight times before being named the conference's top newcomer at season's end.
In adjusting to a new system last season, Murphy didn't seem to miss a beat on the floor. The 6-11 forward became the first consensus first-team All-American from Notre Dame since Dantley in 1974-75 and '75-76. Murphy averaged 22.7 points and 10.3 rebounds, making him the only person in the nation to rank in the top 10 in both categories. He was named to both the preseason and postseason NIT all-tournament teams.
In the BIG EAST, Murphy was named player of the week six times, matching the conference record initially set by Syracuse's John Wallace in 1995-96. He became the first player in conference history to lead the league in both scoring and rebounding and the first since the inception of the BIG EAST to win conference player of the year the season after being named rookie of the year.
This season's performance by Murphy has been nothing short of exceptional, yet seemingly ordinary when taking into account his career. Through 18 games, Murphy is averaging 23.1 points and 9.4 rebounds per game. He has scored 20 or more points in 12 of 18 games and has poured in 30 or more on four occasions, including a career-high 37 points versus Rutgers on Jan. 3. Murphy has also had eight double-doubles, highlighted by a 25-point, 20-rebound performance against Seton Hall.
In his career, Murphy averages 21.6 points and 10.0 rebounds per game. He has started 81 of the 82 games he has played in and has scored in double figures 81 times as well. Murphy has scored 20 or more points 46 times and he has had 16 games of 30 or more. Number three also has 40 career double-doubles, tops among current collegiate players.
Murphy has posted an incredible career, especially considering he has played under three different coaching regimes and every opponent's defense is keen on stopping the New Jersey native. The one thing that has helped him through the changes more than anything else has been the close bond he has with his teammates.
"We're like a big family. It's a lot of fun and we've got each other's backs on and off the court. I think that can be attributed to the stuff we've had to go through."
In typical Troy Murphy fashion, the junior player-of-the-year candidate views his three seasons as nothing other than a learning opportunity.
"It's been interesting year to year to see the kind of systems that each coach runs and then adapting to that," says Murphy.
"I think it's made me a better basketball player, playing for three different coaches. I didn't just fall into one system and figure out the ways I could excel. I've had to be crafty and creative throughout my career."
Actually Murphy had the chance to see the coaching styles of another pair of coaches this past summer when he was a member of the USA Men's Select Team that played against the USA Basketball Men's Senior National Team on Sept. 2 in Honolulu, Hawaii. For that time, Murphy played briefly under St. John's coach Mike Jarvis and Cincinnati mentor Bob Huggins. Against the Bearcats earlier this season, the New Jersey native scored 30 points in helping the Irish knock off 18th-ranked Cincinnati by 18. Tonight Murphy faces the other coach from that team as the Red Storm visit the Joyce Center.
After playing for so many different and prominent coaches, you may think Troy Murphy knows enough to hang up his sneakers for a pair of dress shoes and a tie, but the fun-loving Morrissey Manor resident isn't so sure.
"I don't know if I could coach. I'm not going to say I'd never coach, but it would be hard. It is amazing to me that these guys, grown men with families, have their livelihood based on guys like me. But it's a nice profession. It's nice to be involved in basketball, so maybe I'll take that road one day."
For now, though, Troy Murphy is a basketball player and an excellent one. More than that, though, he has proven that he is able to adjust to anything that comes his way and be successful.
Difficult in itself, the way Murphy has gone about this task is notable. In the ever-more individualistic sport of basketball, Troy Murphy has kept his game at a high level the old-fashioned way Ð by trusting and relying on his teammates to always be there.
Although Murphy doesn't normally ask, "What would you do if I sang out of tune?" to his teammates, he has taken the Beatles lead in that he does "get by with a little help from his friends."