By Stayson Isobe, NAU Media Relations
Today, Northern Arizona University ushers in a new era in Lumberjack men’s basketball. After what seems like months of anticipation, the Lumberjacks have a new basketball coach in Jack Murphy and the hiring has received hoots and hollers that could be heard from atop the San Francisco Peaks.
So who is Jack Murphy you say? Well although he’s just 32 years of age, Murphy has a wealth of experience under his belt at both the collegiate and professional levels. He started of his career at the University of Arizona, spending eight years under Hall of Fame coach Lute Olson in a variety of positions. Hee began as a team manager, Murphy ascended up the ranks to recruiting coordinator, administrative assistant and video coordinator and finally took over as the director of operations.
Murphy played a big role in recruiting a high level of talent to UA, including future NBA talent such as Chase Budinger. While he was with the Wildcats, Arizona made eight-straight NCAA Tournament appearances, posting 20-plus victories in all eight seasons in the process and appeared in the national title game in 2001.
Following his stay at Arizona, Murphy moved on to the Denver Nuggets where he spent three years as an advance scout. While his main responsibilities involved scouting and breaking down game film of opponents, Murphy gained a reputation as one of the top trainers, working with stars such as Allen Iverson, Chauncey Billups and Carmelo Anthony during his tenure.
Most recently, Murphy has spent the last three seasons as the top assistant at Memphis. Serving under Josh Pastner, a fellow assistant dating back to his UA days, Murphy helped guide the Tigers to a set of 20-win seasons, a Conference USA regular season championship and two conference tournament championships resulting in a pair of NCAA Tournament appearances.
With 14 years of experience in a number of positions in the basketball world, Murphy appears to be just what the men’s basketball program needs in a period of transition for a number of reasons.
First, he’s a fantastic recruiter. As mentioned before, Murphy had a hand in bringing in guys of the caliber of Budinger to Tucson, but he also played a huge role in Memphis’ recent recruiting success. In 2010, Memphis brought in a recruiting class that was ranked No. 2 nationally by Scout.com, No. 2 by Rivals.com and No. 4 by ESPN and featured four players ranked in the nation’s Top 100 and two McDonald’s All-Americans. Since then, the Tigers have signed three more Top 100 players and two more McDonald’s All-Americans.
His strong recruiting background will prove to be pivotal in turning around a Lumberjack squad that will enter the 2012-13 season on a 16-game losing streak and coming off a 5-24 campaign. The Lumberjacks will return solid players on the perimeter and will also have Gaellen Bewernick and Ephraim Ekanem in the paint, so Murphy isn’t walking into an empty cupboard. His ability to recruit will only help bring the Lumberjacks back towards the top of the Big Sky Conference.
Secondly, Murphy, who was in charge of Memphis’ defensive efforts this past season, will bring a level of credibility back to NAU on the defensive end. This past year, the Tigers were 10th in the country in field goal percentage defense at 38.6 percent. As for the Lumberjacks, they were 335th out of 338 Division I teams at 49.3 percent. Memphis was also 44th in defending the three-point line, only allowing opponents to shoot 31.2 percent from behind the arc, compared to NAU who was 337th in allowing their opponents to shoot at a 39.8 percent clip. At times this season, when the Lumberjacks struggled to score on the offensive end, they had no answer at the defensive end, which was a big reason for 18 double-digit losses.
All in all, Murphy seems to be the perfect fit for our Lumberjacks. If you don’t believe me, check out what those closest to him are saying. That’s right, the likes of Olson, Pastner and George Karl, along with NBA pros who’ve worked with him all hold Murphy in high regard.
“I told him that Northern Arizona is a perfect fit,” Karl said to me. “I think the alumni and the university will love his ambition and his passion.”
Throw in the fact that he’s worked his way from the bottom up with his start as a student manager, and Murphy won’t be taking anything for granted. He’s known for his work ethic, something that Luke Walton emphasized among the others.
“His work ethic and his love for the game have made him a great career in basketball so far,” Walton said. “He’s one of those guys that is up early ready to work and staying up late looking at game films and doing whatever he can to give his team the best opportunity to win. He’s going to be a great fit for NAU.”
Coupled with the hiring of Dr. Lisa Campos as the new vice president of Intercollegiate Athletics, there is renewed excitement around NAU Athletics and specifically the men’s basketball program. Opponents should beware starting next fall because at 7,000 feet, they’ll be entering the new and improved Lumberjack Country.