(Image – Mary Lysaker)
Late last night, the NCAA granted Trey Murphy a waiver for eligibility for the 2020-2021 college basketball season. Murphy and Virginia originally applied for the waiver after he impressed in early practices. Despite concerns about Murphy’s strength and guarding ability, he put those concerns to bed in practice and, from there, the waiver process began. After weeks and weeks of waiting, the verdict came back positive last night while the team was at Mohegan Sun preparing for their contest against Towson. In fact, Murphy was only able to make the trip to Connecticut because he was applying for the waiver — transfers who sit out aren’t allowed to receive travel expenses from the university.
Kenny Murphy, Trey’s father and AAU coach, emphasizes that, before Trey arrived at Virginia, “my thoughts [on the waiver] were mixed. I first thought of our plan of getting bigger, stronger, and more athletic and then bursting on the scene in 2021-2022.” But, he notes that “in hearing he was doing very well in practice,” he reasoned that “there’s nothing better than on the job training. Strength matters but what matters most is what you do on the court.”
Kenny emphasises that, in regards to Trey’s strength and athleticism, after “working with Mike Curtis since early August, [Trey] has made considerable strides in that area.” Additionally, Murphy’s teammates have been awestruck by his jumping ability on the court.
For Trey, Kenny points out that “he really wanted to play this year with this team. He feels it can be special.” He continues, saying that, for Trey, the goals are “to compete and get better everyday,” adding that, “in doing that, the team will be in a position to win an ACC championship and repeat as National Champs.” From there, Kenny says, “everything will take care of itself.”
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The Significance of Murphy’s Eligibility
Murphy’s eligibility gives Tony Bennett an additional weapon for a roster that is already considered to be a top-five team in the country. Murphy, a third year transfer from Rice University, provides a dynamic offensive skill set along with positional versatility as a 6’9” wing.
For a team that struggled shooting the ball last season, Bennett and co. will welcome Murphy’s proficiency from behind the arc with open arms. In fact, in his two season career at Rice, Murphy shot 39.5% from three on 5.8 attempts per game and displayed the ability to hit shots from well behind the arc. Additionally, Murphy has always had a fairly consistent handle, posting low turnover rates of 11.8% (162nd nationally) and 13.2% (313th nationally) in his two years at Rice. As a former shooting guard who has grown a foot since his freshman year of high school and five inches since he graduated, the next step for Murphy is to expand his game and utilize his burgeoning athleticism to be a force on both sides of the ball.
His Development Into An NBA Prospect
“I’ve always said that the strength part is where he had to develop,” says Murphy’s high school coach, Lason Perkins. “As he got bigger and he got stronger… he’s got that ability to make shots, and the question that is going to come is his ability to guard,” adds Perkins. “That’s what – coming out of high school – he had to get better at. Also, when he got cut off offensively, to drive and finish to the rim.” Fortunately, over the last two years Murphy spent at Rice, he’s been able to bulk up and grow his game.
Kenny Murphy adds that, for Trey to take that next step, he needs to start taking the ball to the rim more than he did at Rice. “He didn’t do a lot of that at Rice,” says Kenny. But, at Virginia, “he’s doing more of that now. If he can do that, there’s not many people that can guard him, because they have to play up on him [because he shoots so well]. So, when he starts doing that it’s going to be a bad day for a lot of people.”
Antonio Daye, Murphy’s childhood best friend and AAU teammate emphasizes that, in high school, “[Murphy] was a spot up shooter, but at Rice he’s played every position and he’s become more versatile. He can score at all three levels. He can defend more. I think literally every part of his game really improved as he’s become more of a pure scorer and a real two-way guy now.” In fact, in his second year at Rice, Murphy put up impressive numbers. Averaging 13.7 points and 5.5 rebounds per game, Murphy also boasted a crazy 58.1% true shooting percentage (244th in the country), a low turnover rate of 13.2% (313th lowest in the country), and an individual offensive rating of 110.4 which was a whopping 4.6 points higher than Rice’s team rating of 105.8.
Kenny Murphy says that since his son got to college “his size, shooting ability, and athleticism, even since he got to UVA, have all gone up so much. He’s so much stronger.” That strength development has played into the decision to request an eligibility waiver, as, before Murphy got to Charlottesville, there were concerns that he wouldn’t be able to hang with the physicality of the ACC. But, after impressing in practice, those worries were quieted. Additionally, there were concerns that Murphy would struggle defensively guarding quicker or stronger players. But, it’s become clear that he’s had no such struggles and that he’s impressed the coaching staff as a defender on the wing.
He’s had significant success over the last few years, but while Murphy has had a few big growth spurts, it’s more than just open growth plates that have made him an NBA prospect after two seasons. “He is so immersed in the process,” notes Kenny, “that’s what has made Trey into the person he is today. He’s going to be the hardest worker on any team.” Perkins adds that Murphy “does the right thing every time, always wanting to work hard. That’s just Trey. He was at every [offseason] workout [in high school]. He would not miss a session and he was constantly asking ‘What can I do to get better?’ That tells me a lot about his character right there.”
With his development over the last few years come expectations. But, according to Kenny Murphy, personal ambitions aren’t the priority. “The way he is wired is that he is always going to expect the best things out of himself,” Kenny says. “But the number one thing is that he wants to win and whatever he can do to facilitate that, that’s the most important thing for him. The rest will figure itself out.”
Fit in Charlottesville
As a transfer who is going to play right away, Murphy’s fit and adjustment to the Virginia program and system will be put to the test. That said, both his skill set, and the schemes he’s played in the past suggest he’ll quickly adapt to this new environment.
With a 7’1.5” wingspan, a consistent shooting stroke from deep, and that developing strength, Murphy could be a star in Charlottesville. Daye notes that “when I heard about his offer from UVA, I knew from the jump that that was the perfect fit for him because of his length that can disrupt on the defensive end and because of the way he could shoot the ball.” Kenny Murphy goes a step further, saying that “this is a top-five team not even including Trey. He can be someone else you can give the ball to at the end of the clock and say ‘I need a basket’. I think he could potentially be the one to do that.”
Of course, there is going to be a learning curve for Murphy to adjust. Fortunately, in high school, Murphy actually played the packline under Perkins and, on offense, was constantly running off the pin down and flare screens that are the building blocks of Bennett’s blocker mover offense. “I think him being able to [come off those screens and attack] is a good fit for what they’re doing right now,” notes Perkins. Additionally, he points out that “I think having a basic understanding [of the packline] and being in the Bennett system is going to be huge for him because it’s going to help him refine his defensive skills more and more.” That experience playing the packline could prove to be critical as the biggest hurdle for new players at Virginia is adjusting to the defense. But, as Murphy already has some form experience in such a system, he’ll be much more likely to see significant playing time out of the gate.
There’s also the adjustment to the atmosphere and environment at such a high character, hard working program such as Virginia. But, according to those close to him, that won’t be a problem. Daye notes that Trey is a “super, super kind, high character guy on and off the court,” while Perkins adds that you “might as well just check everything off [for Trey] in terms of humility. He always does the right thing. My son looks up to Trey as a role model. That’s just who Trey is. He just has that nature about him. He’s such a caring person.” In terms of the winning, business-like culture at Virginia, Kenny emphasizes that “that’s one thing he enjoys about being at UVA. Everyone puts their head down and works. Everyone has their job and they know what they’ve got to do.”
UVA fans ought to be excited to see Murphy take the floor in the orange and blue. With a number of question marks regarding who will contribute on the wing, Murphy has the opportunity to be a real contributor right out of the gate. It’s difficult to predict how quickly and how well he’ll adapt to ACC play and Bennett’s system. But there’s notable optimism around Murphy’s potential this season and moving forward as the x-factor for this squad.