Dec. 19, 2000
by Bo Rottenborn
Troy Murphy fidgets around, clearly not comfortable with what is going on before him. He shifts his weight from side to side as the Brazilian photographer, who is having some type of disagreement with his two assistants about exactly where this light stand should be or how that candle is supposed to be placed, is becoming ever more irritated and impatient.
His attention next turns to yet another person retreating from the deafening power generator and bright light stands that have invaded the peaceful silence of the Grotto on the campus of the University of Notre Dame.
A visible shiver runs down his back as the cold, wet rain beats down just outside of the grandly illuminated alcove in which he is standing.
It is at idle moments like this that unwanted thoughts tend to creep into the Morristown, N.J., native’s head, like the amount of homework he still has to complete or which member of the media will have left a message on his voicemail requesting an interview when he returns to his dorm room or when he’ll finally get to sleep after yet another exhausting day. Unfortunately for Murphy, there are not many of these idle moments.
Such is the life of Notre Dame’s first consensus men’s basketball All-American in nearly 25 years. This moment occurred nearly a week ago during a photo shoot for an upcoming issue of Sports Illustrated.
On this particular day, Murphy awakens at 9:00 a.m. to get in the shower. He then goes to the dining hall to have breakfast and follows that up with a haircut. At 11:15 a.m., he travels to the Sports Information Office for his weekly teleconference, an event set up this year so that he can talk to the media all at once. Immediately after that, another reporter wants to speak with him on a one-on-one basis and finally Murphy does a radio interview.
After all this, he heads back to Morrissey Manor for the first part of the Sports Illustrated shoot. He arrives to find his cramped single room even more cluttered than usual, with light stands and boxes of equipment in the hall, but no photographer, only one of his assistants.
Taking advantage of this small moment of peace, Murphy dashes to the dining hall to get a “Grab and Go” meal, which is the alternative for people who have no time to eat at Notre Dame.
Upon his return, the photographer is milling around, trying to get everything as he wants it. After this photo shoot, which turns out to be over two hours long, Murphy goes straight to the Joyce Center to get ready for practice. The time is now 2:00 p.m. At 5:15 p.m., practice ends and he changes into a sweater and jeans before heading off to his evening photo shoot for SI. This is the one at the Grotto. After nearly two more hours of posing, he is given a reprieve and Murphy picks up something to eat.
It is now, at 8:00 p.m., that he begins doing some homework for his three classes the following day. This lasts until about 11:30 p.m., when he changes clothes and heads back to the Joyce Center for a solo shootaround. Finally, at 1:00 a.m., he heads back to his room to shower and retire for the evening, setting his alarm for 8:00 a.m. the following day.
According to Murphy, this type of day, jammed wall-to-wall with obligations, is not abnormal any longer for him.
“It’s just packed every day. The older I get, the more typical days like that are becoming. In my freshman year, I wouldn’t have been able to handle it. It would have taken me two weeks to recover. But now I just go to bed and I’m ready to go the next day. I’ve gotten better at reacting and preparing for it.”
In today’s world of increased awareness of the incredible competitiveness of athletics, most people would assume the BIG EAST Player of the Year would spend nearly all of his day practicing hoops, the trade that has made him a well-known figure and that will probably one day make him millions of dollars. Although Murphy does spend nearly every extra minute on the basketball floor, his day is filled just as much with writers and television anchors as hook shots and layups.
“I always hoped to become a better basketball player, but I didn’t take into account the stuff that went with it,” admits Murphy.
“I didn’t think about the media things and stuff like that. I just thought about getting better each day, but as I’ve gotten older and better, more and more just keeps happening. It’s been interesting.”
The latest thing to happen to him was his first SI article and photo shoot, something that obviously means a great deal to any athlete.
“It was really great,” says Murphy.
“I think that’s the highest you can go as far as sports magazines. I’m really lucky to have a story in Sports Illustrated. I don’t think I ever conceived that I could get in there, but I think it is pretty cool to be in Sports Illustrated. But honestly, I never thought I would ever actually be in it.”
Being in it proved to be an “interesting” experience for Murphy – not at all what he had expected.
“They said Sports Illustrated was going to come to take a couple pictures, but I didn’t think it would be anything like it was. There was a photographer with two assistants and he was coaching me through the pictures. He wanted me to smile, but I ended up laughing the whole time with the way he was talking to me. It was an interesting day.”
Murphy’s list of accomplishments on the court made him an obvious choice for an SI story. The junior forward is a consensus All-American, the first at Notre Dame since 1976. He was named BIG EAST Player of the Year a season ago and BIG EAST Rookie of the Year as a freshman, marking the only time a player has claimed those honors in back-to-back campaigns.
Murphy has led the Irish in scoring and rebounding in each of the past two seasons. A year ago, he helped Notre Dame win 22 games, the best Irish campaign in 13 years. This season, his team is ranked in the top 15 of the Associated Press poll for the first time in more than a decade. He entered 2000-01 as the 16th leading scorer in Irish history and has already moved up to 11th on the all-time list after just four games. His place in the Notre Dame record books is very secure.
So what is left for Troy Murphy? If you ask the media he converses with every day, they’ll say the national player of the year award. They’ll say that is the only thing he still needs to accomplish to make his collegiate career a success. They’ll assure you that is the only reason Troy Murphy is still at the University of Notre Dame.
If you ask Troy, it’s a different story.
“I don’t think player of the year is a goal. I can’t even consider something like that,” says Murphy. “But I think it would be a big deal to play in the NCAA tournament. Anything that comes along with that would be nice.”
In such an age of individual accomplishment in sport, it is amazing that someone so talented is still concerned more with the success of his team than personal accolades.
An NCAA tournament appearance would be rather special for the Notre Dame program since the Irish haven’t been there since 1990. But then again, there have been only three players in Irish history to win a player of the year award.
“If you play, you want to be consistent and you want to be as good as you can,” asserts Murphy.
“You want to keep working for that goal. You eventually want to be one of the top guys. You always want to be the best. But as far as awards go, I can’t even comprehend that.”
The success the Delbarton High School graduate has had collegiately is due in large part to his perfectionist nature on the court, which keeps driving him to be closer to that goal of perfection every night.
“I take so many shots that to miss one in the game is frustrating sometimes after standing on that spot the day before or an hour before the game and taking a couple hundred shots. While some people might think it’s a tough shot, because I practice them so much, I expect to make those shots. You do expect a lot from yourself after awhile, even stuff you might not be able to do.”
If there has ever been a person that would be susceptible to change his priorities because of the constant onslaught of individualistic and selfish messages the media tends to endorse, it would be Troy Murphy because of the omnipresent media. But it seems the tremendous media blitz has not done this at all. Instead, he is concerned about improving as a basketball player, helping his team win and above all, he is concerned about others. This was never more apparent than during that Grotto photo shoot.
In true Troy Murphy fashion, the primary concern on his mind in that scarce idle moment is not his busy schedule or the trials of the upcoming season or even how long he could continue holding the candle meticulously propped in his hands for the shoot. Instead, the only thing that Murphy is truly worried about is the disturbance the photo shoot is causing.
“It’s tough because people count on the grotto as a place to go and pray,” relates Murphy.
“They (photographers) had the generator there making all sorts of noise. I know from when I’m down there that you can normally hear when someone is even just walking up behind you. I can’t imagine with all the lights and the generator going, it was easy to say any kind of prayer. I felt really bad.”
Troy Murphy, it appears, is one well-known athlete that, against all odds, has kept his priorities right where they should be.