Gopher big man Jordan Murphy ranks second in Big Ten in rebounding
MINNEAPOLIS -- Not Kris Humphries. Not Rick Rickert. Not Joel Przybilla. Some of the best freshman post players in University of Minnesota history never grabbed more rebounds in a game than Jordan Murphy in his last outing, 18 in a victory over C...
MINNEAPOLIS - Not Kris Humphries. Not Rick Rickert. Not Joel Przybilla.
Some of the best freshman post players in University of Minnesota history never grabbed more rebounds in a game than Jordan Murphy in his last outing, 18 in a victory over Chicago State.
What’s surprising about the 6-foot-6, 230-pound Murphy is that he doesn’t even start for Gophers coach Richard Pitino, who says his young rebounding prodigy has a long way to go to reach his potential.
That should be a scary thought for Big Ten opponents.
“I think he’s doing a lot of really good things that have nothing to do with coaching,” Pitino said. “He’s getting 18 rebounds, and I don’t think he’s necessarily doing it the right way. I think he’s just doing it on talent alone. He’s just scratching the surface.”
Murphy enters Wednesday’s game against Milwaukee (8-4) leading the Gophers (6-5) and ranked second in the Big Ten in rebounding at 8.7 per game.
The former Virginia Commonwealth recruit has five double-doubles in points and rebounds in his past seven games, including a 19-point, 17-rebound performance in a loss to South Dakota.
Humphries, who plays for the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets, was the last Gophers freshman to lead the conference in rebounding with a 10.1 average in 2003-04.
Purdue freshman Caleb Swanigan, a former McDonald’s All-American, is currently the Big Ten leader with 9.3 rebounds per game, so Murphy is within striking distance.
Does he think he can catch Swanigan?
“I don’t know,” he said. “It just depends on how hard I work.”
Pitino has been challenging Murphy to play with consistent effort since the Gophers’ trip to Spain, where the bouncy newcomer averaged nearly seven rebounds in four games.
“He could be a better defensive rebounder,” Pitino said. “I think he’s just scratching the surface, to be honest. I think he can (average a double-double). Yeah, I really do. He’s got the wingspan, and he goes and snatches it.”
The program’s best rebounder in recent years was Trevor Mbakwe, who led the Big Ten with 10.5 boards per game as a junior in 2010-11. Mbakwe is two inches taller than Murphy and has a 40-inch vertical jump and 7-4 wingspan.
Murphy makes up for a lack of size with quick leaping ability and a 7-foot wingspan. He also honed his rebounding skills doing drills with his father outside on the blacktop.
“When I was coming up in high school, he told me I had a good ability to rebound and I should focus on that more,” Murphy said. “He actually would take me to the park and throw up bricks and I would have to catch them and just put them back up.”
At Brennan High School, Murphy averaged 23.6 points and 10.5 rebounds to earn San Antonio Area player of the year honors last season. He had two 40-point performances, but his best game was probably 35 points, a career-high 19 rebounds and 11 assists against Marshall.
“I have to pick my spots of where I can rebound offensively and defensively,” he said. ”
The Gophers rank last in the Big Ten in rebounding margin (minus-1.5), so that makes Murphy’s impact even more critical once league play opens Dec. 30 at Ohio State.
Fans question Pitino on social media for not starting Murphy, especially because senior power forward Joey King is averaging just 3.6 rebounds. Murphy is averaging 10.3 points in 22.4 minutes coming off the bench.
He doesn’t mind his role at all right now.
“I’m not really here to make demands and say, ‘I’ve got to start,’ ” he said. “That’s not me. I’m just here to provide energy when I need to and do whatever coach asks me.”