Atlanta native focused on getting OVC ring
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – In pretty much everybody else's book, Kevin Murphy is already a Tennessee Tech basketball living legend.
But ask Murphy himself about the legacy he'll leave behind, and you won't hear anything about his position at No. 2 on the school's all-time scoring list, or the fact that he figures to become Tech's all-time leader in games played on Thursday in the Ohio Valley Conference tournament quarterfinals.
For the senior guard, his legacy hinges largely on his team's exploits this weekend.
"I haven't really given it much thought," Murphy says when asked about the stratospheric numbers he's put up through his four years wearing the purple and gold. "I don't really care about all my individual stuff. As long as we get this ring, that's what I need."
Though the Golden Eagles are searching for their first OVC title of Murphy's tenure at Nashville's Municipal Auditorium this weekend, those close to the program know that what the Atlanta native has done for the program already stretches far beyond his own individual accolades, ring or no ring.
"When you look at measuring great players, you have to look at the success they were able to bring to their teams," says former TTU head coach Mike Sutton, who led the Golden Eagles during the first three years of Murphy's tenure. "With Kevin, you see that success factor. For the team to have a 20-win season last year and be on the cusp of another one this year, that speaks to what he's done here."
Of course there is plenty more to speak about regarding Murphy's legacy as a Golden Eagle. For starters, there are his 1,957 career points, a number that could balloon to 2,000 depending on how long Tech stays alive in the postseason. Then there's the fact that he ranks in TTU's all-time top 25 in five different categories – points, rebounds, assists, steals and games played.
He's currently 12th in NCAA Division I in scoring, he teams up with junior guard Jud Dillard to create the nation's No. 3 scoring duo, and who could forget his 50-point explosion against SIU Edwardsville at the Eblen Center on Jan. 30. No other Division I player has scored 50 points in a game this season.
As a senior, Murphy has showed marked improvement in his game, a feat in itself considering he entered the season already a 1,000-point scorer. While his scoring average, rebounding average and three-point efficiency are better than ever, it's difficult to quantify with facts and numbers just how much Murphy has improved over the course of his senior season.
Head coach Steve Payne, however, is more than happy to provide some anecdotal evidence.
"He's become a more complete player and a better defender," says Payne, who has coached Murphy for all four years of his collegiate career. "He's developed a better understanding of the game. He's stronger and he's better able to score. He always had a quick first step, but he's improved his jumper and his range as well as his understanding of what an all-around basketball player really is."
A polished scorer even before arriving at Tech – he averaged 26 points per game as a senior at Creekside High School outside of Atlanta – Murphy had other facets of his game which needed work.
Coming into his senior year, coaches stressed to him the importance of becoming a more efficient player and developing more of a presence on the defensive end of the ball and in rebounding.
"Coach Payne is always telling me I'm more than just a scorer," he says. "I think I've made my game more of an all-around game this year. I'm playing defense and rebounding better and getting my teammates involved more."
While that latter statement is certainly true (Murphy has dished out a career-high 71 assists this year), his teammates know that when a big play is needed on offense, there isn't much question who can best get the job done.
"He's the go-to-guy everyone's looking at when the game is on the line," says senior guard Zach Bailey, who has been with Murphy throughout his Tech career. "We give him space to make plays, and most of the time, he makes the right play. We all have supreme confidence in him.
"He's a gifted player and it's been fun to see how he's grown since our freshman year. It doesn't shock me, what he's done this year. He was doing it our freshman year. He has a lot of God-given ability, and it's been fun to watch him develop, especially as a leader."
Murphy plans to graduate with a Bachelor's degree in May, and his focus is on continuing his basketball career at the professional level.
While most consider Murphy's chances at playing pro basketball very good, Sutton knows what whichever direction life takes his former pupil, his time at Tech has him well-equipped to handle it all.
"He likes to get in the gym and he always put in the work in the offseason," Sutton says. "That was a big factor in his improvement and will be a big factor in him getting to the next level. He can create shots on his own, whereas a lot of guys have to get shots through the offense. He'll have an opportunity to play at the next level.
"He's developed more of his potential this season, and he's put himself in position to be successful both on and off the court."