Posted Mar 1 2012 8:11PM
Tennessee Tech guard Kevin Murphy was settling into his routine at the free-throw line in a game against SIU-Edwardsville in late January when a teammate sidled over and whispered in his ear.
"You're about to have 50," he told Murphy.
Murphy was taken aback.
"I thought he was joking around," said Murphy, a senior from Atlanta. "I actually didn't know how many points I had. Then one of my coaches said if I hit the free throw, I could break the school record."
Murphy did make the free throw, giving him an even 50, the highest-scoring effort in Division I this season. The game was a testament to how quietly efficient Murphy has become as an all-around scoring threat who's not dependent on any one aspect of his arsenal. And it was also the game that got NBA scouts thinking that, at a legitimate 6-foot-6, Murphy might have what it takes to become a next-level shooting guard.
"I didn't know he had a chance to get to 50," Tennessee Tech coach Steve Payne said. "I don't think anybody on our bench realized until he stepped up there for that last free throw. It's an example of how he's growing as a scorer. He got a lot of easy shots, running in transition, executing the offense, cutting without the ball.
"He didn't make a lot of 'wow' shots."
Murphy can toss in some wow shots when he needs to. As proof of that, Tennessee Tech assistant coach Russ Willemsen passed along a tape of Murphy going for 34 against Eastern Kentucky four days before his 50-point outburst. Murphy's weaponry was on full display -- deep 3-pointers, step-back jumpers, mid-range pull-ups, a quicker-than-you'd-think first step to the basket.
"That night, every shot was like 'wow, he hit that shot,' " Payne said.
Many players in college basketball have the green light from their coaches to shoot when they get the notion. Murphy's is a deeper shade of green.
"There's no bad shots for him, because he can make shots ... all kinds of shots," Payne said.
"He takes tough shots, and makes tough shots," Willemsen said. "In the eight years I've been here, we've had only two guys who can come off a screen like Ray Allen, square up and knock down a shot. We don't even practice that, because we'd rather penetrate and pitch and have our guys wide open for step-in 3s.
"We've given Murph the freedom to take the shots he wants because he's proven he can make them."
Not that Murphy hoists a disproportionate number of shots. Far from it -- he's aware the tag "volume shooter" can sometimes carry with it negative connotations.
"Coming out of high school, I was known as a high volume shooter," Murphy said. "A big scorer taking all the shots. Once I got to college, my goal was to score points without taking so many shots. Instead of being known as just a scorer, I wanted to be known as an all-around player."
Mission accomplished. The former defensive liability has become a lockdown guy that Payne doesn't hesitate to sic on the opposition's top perimeter scorer. Murphy's a good rebounder from his position, and in a pinch, he's even taken a turn at the point, where he creates easy shots for teammates because of all the defensive attention he draws.
Murphy's only problem as it relates to serious NBA evaluation is that he hasn't been able to showcase his skills too often against power conference competition. But his coaches are convinced Murphy is more than good enough to show up on an NBA roster next year.
If that happens, it would be a Jeremy Linesque story. Though Murphy was a prolific scorer in high school, he was largely passed over because schools weren't certain he would be an academic qualifier. Summer basketball wasn't much help, either - Murphy played on a loaded Georgia Stars AAU team that included Al Farooq Aminu (Georgia Tech), Tanner Smith (Clemson), Tony Woods (Wake Forest), Travis Leslie (Georgia), Wesley Witherspoon (Memphis) and Darius Morrow (East Carolina).
But Willemsem, taking advantage of a long-standing recruiting pipeline between Georgia and Tennessee Tech, knew Murphy could play, and, just as important, knew he capable of becoming academically eligible. The hope was that no power conference school realized the same thing.
"We knew how good he was, but on that [AAU team] he was on, he might play like three or four minutes a game," Willemsem said. "You'd have to get there during warm-ups to see if he could play.
"Every game we'd go to, we'd say to ourselves, 'please don't make it, please don't make it,' and hope he wouldn't go off so somebody else might notice him."
That never happened. Murphy wound up with two offers, from South Carolina State and Tennessee Tech, which has eight Georgia players on its roster. For Murphy, the choice was clear.
Neither Murphy nor his coaches have regretted the decision. He came to the small school from the Ohio Valley Conference determined to prove a lot of coaches missed on him, and he's done it through hard work and a willingness to accept coaching.
"He's really works hard at the game," Payne said. "Coming to the gym early and staying late. Learning and understanding what wins and what good players do. He's not a guy that says OK to whatever you say. He has to believe it. Once he sees what works and what's a good basketball play, you never have to bring it up again."
In his final college season, Murphy has been among the national scoring leaders all season, but he takes pride in pointing to his rebounding and assist totals and the fact his coaches rely on him as a defender.
Much like that guy named Lin, Murphy has even overcome what some might consider a glaring weakness. He's lean at 185 pounds and probably always will be, but Murphy bench presses 300 pounds and is plenty strong enough to absorb contact.
"That's never been an issue," Payne said.
Murphy has watched with great interest Lin's exploits. He sees parallels in Lin's story and his.
"I think his story is incredible, just because, out of high school, he wasn't really recruited," Murphy said. "But he went to Harvard and had a good career. I went back and looked at some YouTube videos, and he was killing it there, too, the same thing he's doing in the NBA.
"His story should mean a lot to players like me who are at a smaller school. If you've got the talent, you can make it to the NBA from anywhere. If you're good enough, they'll find you."
Chris Dortch is the editor of the Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook.
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