By: Matthew MacCormack (@m_maccormack)
Things will be a little different for Northeastern basketball this year.
Four seniors graduated, including the team’s top three scorers. David Walker is pursuing his professional career in Italy and Quincy Ford will be busy trying to help the Utah Jazz snatch a playoff spot in the Western Conference. Zach Stahl’s versatility and playmaking are gone, and you can say goodbye to any clutch threes from Caleb Donnelly.
In fact, the Huskies return less than 31% of the scoring from the team that came within seconds of upsetting eventual CAA champion UNCW in the conference semi-finals.
It’s safe to say the squad that steps on the Matthews Arena floor in Northeastern’s season opener against BU on November 11 will sport some new faces.
And of those new faces, twenty-three year old Alex Murphy might be the key to Northeastern’s season.
Murphy is a former blue chip prospect; a 6’8 forward who played two seasons at Duke before transferring to Florida in late 2013. After missing nearly all of last season with a foot injury, Murphy was granted a sixth and final year of college eligibility. Last week, Northeastern announced Murphy would spend his final year at NU, giving coach and family friend Bill Coen a new weapon to unleash on the CAA.
“Getting up here last week was exciting,” Murphy said.
“I’ve been waiting some time for this decision to be made.”
Murphy was heavily recruited out of St. Mark’s School in Southborough, Massachusetts. He ultimately elected to join coach Mike Krzyzewski at Duke, reclassifying to enroll after his junior year.
After redshirting his first year, Murphy saw limited time in the 2012-13 season, averaging 2.1 points in 31 appearances. Playing time was hard to come by the next year, with future first round draft picks Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood ahead of Murphy on the depth chart. Halfway through the 2013-14 season, Murphy transferred to Florida, where his brother Erik starred and earned an NBA contract.
Things started to click the next year at Florida, as Murphy compiled his best season to date. The swingman carved out a role under coach Billy Donovan, averaging 5.1 points per game and earning five starts.
Unfortunately, injury struck last season. A right foot injury limited Murphy to just three games.
With one season left in college basketball, Murphy started to look around. As the season approached, the bull’s-eye tightened on Huntington Ave. The allure of linking up with Coen proved too hard to turn down.
The Murphy-Coen family connection goes back a long way. Alex’s father Jay, who also had a career in the NBA, played his college ball at Boston College, where Coen was an assistant from 1997-2006. Murphy recalls meeting Coen at BC games as a boy.
“We developed a relationship then and it’s developed over the years,” Murphy said. “That was a huge factor in my decision. Probably the number one factor.”
When the chance arose to come back up to Massachusetts and play with a family friend, Murphy jumped.
“Having the chance to come home, be near my family so they could watch me play this year, one last year in college; it was sort a no-brainer,” Murphy added.
The Coen connection helped ease the transition for Murphy, going to his third school in four years.
“I thought this was a natural option for him,” Coen said.
“In a very short period of time, he’s really been assimilated into the locker room. He’s made some really quick friendships with guys on the team.”
Murphy says seniors Jimmy Marshall and T.J. Williams have helped pull him into the fold in his first two weeks on campus. Murphy also has a connection with sophomore Jeremy Miller, a Milton, Massachusetts native who Murphy met while playing at St. Mark’s.
“He was a lanky eighth grader who’d come in and watch all of our games,” Murphy said with a laugh.
But Miller won’t have to watch Murphy this time around; the two will likely share a frontcourt for Northeastern.
Murphy describes himself as a hybrid forward, able to play both the three and the four. His unselfishness and playmaking ability could also make him an effective point-forward and second ball handler alongside Williams.
A versatile 6’8 forward with the ability to take control of an offense? That could sound like Quincy Ford to many Husky fans.
“I don’t want to step in and say I want to be the next Quincy Ford or the next whatever. I want to be my own person,” Murphy said.
“But in the terms of the role he filled, I can definitely fill that role.”
Murphy stressed his desire to build on Ford’s leadership abilities. Growing pains should be for the young Huskies; Coen will suit up three freshman alongside his four returning sophomores.
It's baaaaackkkk #GoNU pic.twitter.com/yZkcSiMQ0S
— Northeastern Men’s Basketball (@GoNUmbasketball) September 30, 2016
The Huskies aren’t the most experienced team in the CAA but they just might be the biggest. Returning sophomores Miller, Sajon Ford (Quincy’s brother) and Anthony Green are all 6’10 or above.
The jury is still out on Ford and Green, but Miller’s stretch-five play style seems like a natural fit alongside Murphy.
Coen is excited with the combination of bigs.
“He can play with all those guys,” said the coach.
“He can help facilitate with those guys as well because he’s a playmaker at that position.”
Transfers have made a huge impact in the CAA over the past few years (read: Eatherton, Scott). Towson’s William Adala-Moto, a transfer from Wake Forest, and JMU’s Shakir Brown, formerly of Geroge Washington, are two to watch this season.
The lessons Murphy learned from Krzyzewski and Donovan, as well as his time with U-20 Finnish national team, should serve him well.
“He’s played for some hall of fame coaches,” Coen said.
“He can be a tremendous mentor to some of our younger players. He’s obviously played for elite teams both here and overseas.”
Murphy’s road to Northeastern hasn’t been simple. Inconsistent playing time and injuries have reared their ugly heads at time, but the 23-year-old is hoping he’s found his home.
“I’ve been through a lot,” Murphy said.
“I’ve been to two great schools and played for two great coaches and just been around a lot of great people the past five years…This is the place I can see myself finishing my college career.”