March 12, 2015
There was never much of a question where Troy Murphy would be if he wasn’t in his Morrissey Manor dorm room when he was a student at the University of Notre Dame from 1998-2001.
Whether the dawn was peeking over the Golden Dome or moonlight was sweeping across the Grotto, chances were Murphy would be firing off jump shots on the Fighting Irish basketball court.
“Troy was the ultimate worker,” Irish head coach Mike Brey said. “I only coached him one year, but I was very fortunate. I had him more as a finished product in his last year, but he was an absolute gym rat.
“We have never had a guy here in my 15 years, work on his game more on his own, off-season, come back to the gym at night during the season … he was amazing in that sense. That’s why he had a long NBA career and is a great ambassador for our basketball program.”
Murphy, one of two Notre Dame men’s basketball players to score 2,000 points and grab 900 rebounds in his career (along with Luke Harangody), was named to the 2015 Atlantic Coast Conference Legends Class and will be honored by the league at a Friday luncheon in the midst of the ACC Tournament in Greensboro, North Carolina.
A 6-foot-11 front-liner from Morristown, New Jersey, Murphy carved out a brilliant career at Notre Dame. He burst onto the scene as a freshman, averaging 19.2 points and 9.9 rebounds a game. He topped the Irish freshman scoring record held by Adrian Dantley.
In his three seasons with the Irish, Murphy led Notre Dame in scoring and rebounding each season. He is one of four players to win the Big East Player of the Year award twice, joining Chris Mullin (St. John’s), Patrick Ewing (Georgetown) and Richard Hamilton (Connecticut) as two-time winners.
Irish assistant coach Martin Ingelsby, a teammate of Murphy’s at Notre Dame, said Murphy often would come back to the court after practice or a game to shoot for hours. “I think Troy is one of the hardest working guys that I’ve ever been around,” Ingelsby said. “He spent so many hours on court, working on his game and making himself a better player. His development really evolved when he was able to step out and shoot some jump shots. By far, the hours he spent in the gym are what I will always look back on as far as what made him a great player.”
Murphy led Notre Dame to the 2001 NCAA Championships, the first NCAA appearance for the Irish since 1990. After that season, he declared for the National Basketball Association draft as a junior and was the 14th overall pick by the Golden State Warriors. He played 12 seasons in the NBA before retiring in November 2012, averaging 10.8 points and 7.8 rebounds in his career. Murphy played six seasons with Golden State, four with Indiana and finished out his career with the Lakers, Nets, Celtics and Mavericks.
“It was difficult to leave Notre Dame,” Murphy said. “I had a great time there. With the NBA, it’s the kind of an animal where these teams see you in college and they can pick apart your game. I was coming out at a time when kids could go straight from high school to the NBA. My year we must have had four or five guys who were going right from high school to the NBA. If those four or five guys dropped you four or five spots, it’s a big deal. My leaving was definitely a product of the NBA.
“I loved being at Notre Dame. There’s a community there that you don’t get too many other places. The people who are there care about you as a student. They care about you as a person. I really have great memories of my time there. Playing there was fun. The support was amazing. The students supported us, the people in town supported us. It was a really great time. I really enjoyed it.”
Notre Dame finished 14-16 in Murphy’s first season with the Irish.
Matt Doherty replaced John MacLeod as the Irish head coach, and the Irish picked up a statement victory early, knocking off a top-five Ohio State team in Columbus on a last-second David Graves shot. A pair of victories against defending national champion Connecticut let the Irish know they were ready for the next level.
In Murphy’s senior season, the Irish rolled to a 20-10 record and ended the NCAA Championships drought. Notre Dame posted an 11-5 mark in the Big East. That was Notre Dame’s first winning record in Big East play.
“Troy had great hands and feet,” Brey said. “He was a highly-skilled big guy, a big guy who could handle the ball, a big guy who could step out and shoot it. He had a nose for the ball, so he could rebound, even against bigger and more athletic guys. There was a toughness about him. He had an edge as a competitor that made him special.”
Although Murphy played for three different head coaches at Notre Dame, he looked at the positive side of the experience.
“I had the opportunity to work with three different coaches and that gave me the opportunity to play three different styles,” Murphy said. “That actually got me ready for playing in the NBA for different coaches. I played for a number of coaches in the NBA who had different styles. I was able to transition to whatever style they were looking to play, and I was able to fit into their system.”
Murphy now is a student again. He’s finishing up work at Columbia University on the degree he started at Notre Dame.
“I always wanted to get my degree,” Murphy said. “It’s different. It was an adjustment at first. It’s a way to push yourself. I was pushing myself physically for years playing basketball and sports, and this is a different kind of discipline and a different kind of exercise. It’s mental instead of physical, and it’s challenging.” When Murphy isn’t studying, he’s catching this season’s Irish men’s basketball team on television as much as he can.
“They are a joy to watch,” Murphy said of the Irish. “Obviously, they have a great player in Jerian Grant, and a guy like Pat Connaughton who thrives in that system the way he rebounds the ball, and Zach Auguste rolls to the basket and tries to dunk everything around the rim. I think (Steve) Vasturia is a good team guy.
“They’re well coached,” Murphy continued. “Coach Brey has a system that works, and he recruits guys who fit that system. They don’t make mistakes, and they shoot the ball well. Notre Dame is a really tough place to play. They get wins in South Bend, and they’ve beaten teams on the road. I’m very proud to watch them. I look forward to a long run for them in March.”
Murphy said he is honored to represent Notre Dame at the ACC Legends ceremony and will always cherish his experience at Notre Dame.
“What Notre Dame did was provide me an opportunity to go to a school that was a top university and the opportunity to combine a great education with a great athletic program, playing on TV, playing in a big conference,” Murphy said. “All those things combined were unique when I was looking for a school. I don’t think too many schools can encapsulate the qualities that I was looking for in the unique way that Notre Dame was able to.”
— by Curt Rallo, special correspondent