Thursday, January 19, 2012
By Michael DiRocco GatorNation
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Sometimes people need a little nudge to get going in the right direction.
Unfortunately for Erik Murphy, that nudge came with a pair of handcuffs.
Erik Murphy is setting career highs in most every statistical category in his junior season.
Murphy and Florida teammate Cody Larson were arrested last April and charged with felony burglary after allegedly breaking into a car outside a St. Augustine, Fla., bar. The charge later was reduced to misdemeanor criminal trespass, and Murphy eventually accepted a deferred prosecution agreement in which he agreed to pay restitution, perform community service and complete a substance abuse evaluation program.
It was embarrassing, humbling and frightening. But it also turned out to be a turning point for the junior forward from South Kingstown, R.I.
"The offseason issues made me grow up really quick," Murphy said. "Definitely helped me as a blessing in disguise [to] group up mentally and mature."
That maturity has materialized on the court as 10.3 points and 4.3 rebounds per game and a team-best 46.3 shooting percentage from 3-point range -- all career-highs. Coach Billy Donovan is with Murphy every day and sees a different kind of growth off the court, one which tells him Murphy has found some direction in his life.
"I think Erik in a lot ways was kind of just floating through life," said Donovan, who suspended Murphy and Larson immediately after their arrests and didn't reinstate them until after their legal troubles were resolved. "I think I was able to post him up and pin him up a little bit and kind of get his back against the wall and [tell him to] make a decision on who you want to be as a person, who you want to be as a player, who you want to be as a student, and where do you want to go with your life.
"I think it probably really forced him to do some soul-searching in terms of what was important to him and what he wanted to do. I think he's responded from a lot of those adversities in a very positive way."
Murphy wasn't a lost soul. He was working hard in practice, did everything the coaching staff asked, and did his job in the classroom, Donovan said. He just didn't do it with any sense of a plan for his future. But that's really no different than most freshmen or sophomores who aren't headed to the NBA after a year or two in college.
Usually those players have that "my college career is almost over" moment between their junior and senior seasons, and then they get serious. As weird as it sounds, Donovan said, Murphy's legal saga was beneficial, because it helped him reach that epiphany sooner.
"I felt terrible about what happened in the spring. I know Erik does, too," Donovan said. "It's been [rehashed] and talked about, but I do think there was a lot of good that came out of that, painful as it was for everybody, because I think it really forced him to look at the fact that he's only got two years left in his career. What kind of career does he want to have, and what kind of commitment does he want to have, and what kind of commitment does he want to make? Not only to the basketball piece of it but the academic part of it, his life, what does he want to do?"
Murphy still has some things to figure out about life after basketball, but on the court he's becoming the player that Donovan hoped he would develop into when he signed in 2009: A Matt Bonner clone, someone who can play inside, as well as be a threat from 3-point range. Plus, the 6-foot-10 Murphy has managed to lead the Gators in blocked shots (21) despite missing three games with a bone bruise in his right knee.
"He's become more and more reliable for me than maybe he's been his first two years, where we would get some pretty good moments out of him and then he would disappear," Donovan said. "He still has some of those moments, but I think he's grown up and become much more consistent as a player."
Michael DiRocco covers University of Florida sports for GatorNation. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @ESPNdirocco.