To gain more insight into one of the newest members of the New Orleans Pelicans – No. 17 overall NBA draft pick Trey Murphy III, a forward from the University of Virginia – we caught up with Jeff White, a writer for the school’s VirginiaSports.com. White, who writes extensively about Cavaliers sports, including basketball, provided Pelicans.com with additional background about Murphy’s career and productive season in Charlottesville.
The 21-year-old Murphy spent the first two seasons of his NCAA career at Rice, before transferring to Virginia and becoming an important contributor for the Cavaliers in 2020-21:
Pelicans.com: Many draft experts did not have Murphy on their 2021 draft radar at the start of last season and he was not fully committed to staying in the NBA draft until roughly a month before it occurred. How did he go from fairly unnoticed to a first-round lock so rapidly?
White: My sense is that Murphy started off the radar of most NBA teams for a couple of reasons. He was a promising talent but far from a finished product at Rice, and when he arrived at Virginia he was expected to have to sit out the 2020-21 season. The NCAA didn’t rule him eligible until a few days before the season started, and he didn’t dominate in most games. He was a talented complementary player. But when NBA scouts started looking closely, they saw a player with great length, good athleticism and a fantastic shooting touch. Plus, given Tony Bennett’s reputation for teaching and coaching defense, NBA teams no doubt assumed Trey would leave Charlottesville with a solid foundation in that area.
Pelicans.com: How surprised were Virginia fans and people who follow the team that his stock rose so much in the span of a few months?
White: I can’t speak for everyone, but I follow the NBA closely and was amazed to see how his stock seemed to improve every time another mock draft was released. I joked to a friend this week that if the draft were in late August, Trey might have been a top-10 pick.
Pelicans.com: A lot of the draft analysis on Murphy praised his versatility, particularly on defense. How was Virginia able to use him in different roles last season and capitalize on his range of skills?
White: That’s probably a better question for a coach, but Trey, who admittedly was not a defensive stopper at Rice, improved steadily at that end of the court as he grew more comfortable in Virginia’s Pack Line defense, whose principles differ from those of many defenses. With his length and quickness, Trey can guard multiple positions, which is a prized quality in today’s game.
Pelicans.com: What are the most underrated aspects of Murphy’s game?
White: Not sure if this qualifies as an underrated aspect, but he’s an unselfish player with a high basketball IQ. His shooting can sometimes overshadow other parts of his game.
Pelicans.com: What areas do you think he has the most room to make strides, or aspects of his game he may need to improve or adjust as he transitions to NBA competition?
White: Shot creation. Opponents will be well aware of his shooting touch, and Trey will need to show he can put the ball on the floor and take it to the basket. Of his field-goal attempts in 2020-21, 63 percent were from beyond the 3-point arc.
Pelicans.com: In interviews he comes across as very mature and intelligent. What were his interactions like with reporters and others during his time at Virginia?
White: He’s an extremely bright and well-spoken young man. Virtually all interviews were on Zoom in 2020-21, and that made it tough to get to know players well, but Trey was unfailingly polite and thoughtful, and he didn’t take himself too seriously.
Pelicans.com: Virginia has produced success stories in the NBA in recent years involving players who were not lottery picks but are having outstanding careers, such as Malcolm Brogdon and Joe Harris. Is there something about the preparation at Virginia or the types of players who are recruited there that may lead to them being successful and dependable pros?
White: Tony Bennett’s system is a demanding one, especially when it comes to defense, and there’s a tremendous emphasis on fundamentals. I think players typically come out of Virginia with an understanding of how much work is required to succeed in the game. Trey would have benefited from more time with Coach Bennett, but it’s hard to fault a player for leaving when he’s picked in the top 20.
Pelicans.com: What’s one thing even diehard Virginia basketball fans might not know about Murphy?
White: I’m guessing most fans are familiar with Trey’s transformation physically. He grew from 5-8 as a high school freshman to 6-0 to 6-3 to 6-5 to 6-7 and, now, 6-9. I’m not sure everyone knows that Trey’s mom is a North Carolina alumna and that Trey, who was born and raised in Durham, near the Duke campus, grew up rooting for the Tar Heels. His father played basketball at East Carolina.