For three years, Erik Murphy dared not venture inside.
As one of his team’s most efficient 3-point shooters, Murphy knew wandering too far into the paint meant shelving his patented outside stroke for a tough, contested 2-point field goal.
Instead, Florida’s 6-foot-10 starting power forward compiled a shot selection during the Gators’ Elite Eight run last season that was more on par with a low-volume shooting guard than an SEC big man.
More than half of Murphy’s 270 shots from a year ago came from behind the arc.
While he hit a team-high 49.7 percent of those attempts from three, Murphy made a decision this offseason to change his reputation as a solely one-dimensional offensive threat.
Heading into his senior year, he would work to become a complete player.
“That was something I tried to work on in the offseason with the coaches, just catching it and having a more versatile game down low,” Murphy said.
The work began in the weight room, where Murphy took strides to match his strength to his size.
Florida coach Billy Donovan also challenged Murphy to develop his post moves and consistently look to look for the ball on the block
“That’s the one dimension I’ve told Erik he’s needed to add to his game is to go inside and catch the ball against a smaller person and score,” Donovan said.
The results have played out almost immediately this season.
In Florida’s toughest test through the first month of the season against then-No. 22 Wisconsin on Nov. 11, Murphy became just the second player in Florida history to shoot 10 of 10 from the floor.
Facing a stingy Badgers’ frontline known for its size and defense, Murphy made eight field goals in the paint and took just a pair of 3-pointers to lead the Gators to a 74–56 win at home.
“It’s helped just being in the weight room all offseason,” Murphy said. “Just feeling stronger, I think it helps with my confidence to just be able to bang down low a little bit more. And I just know that I’ll be able to hang down there.”
The rest of Florida’s frontcourt was also overhauled physically this season.
Instead of hitting the weights like Murphy, Patric Young, a 6-foot-9 center, worked to improve his stamina and endurance to play more minutes this year. Fellow junior Will Yeguete also added 15 pounds over summer, helping to compensate for his undersized 6-foot-7 frame at forward.
Though both Young and Yeguete have made marked improvements heading into this season, Murphy’s transformation has been a revelation for his teammates.
“It’s amazing,” senior guard Mike Rosario said. “Anyone would like to go 10 for 10 from the field, and I just feel that Murphy’s been putting in a lot of work. You know,
Murph’s been working on his shot after practice, staying in the gym and staying after. And it all pays off.”
Murphy’s newfound penchant for post scoring has held up through the Gators’ first four games. He’s attempted 34 shots on 58.8 percent shooting, with less than half coming from the 3-point arc.
While he is no longer taking 51 percent of his shots from three like last year, Murphy is still working on recognizing mismatches on the floor. With his ability to stretch defenses in Donovan’s ball-screen driven offense, Murphy frequently finds matchups on the court with much smaller players.
“We’ve spent some time with Erik just trying to put him in situations where teams try to switch different people on him and putting him in areas of the floor where he can take advantage of a smaller guy on him,” Donovan said. “And I think a year ago he had a hard time with that, and this year, I think he’s gotten better.”
Murphy, in part, attributes his makeover as a player to the improvements he’s made off the court during his career, as well.
In April 2011, he had well-documented legal issues after being arrested in St.
Augustine with former Gators forward Cody Larson and team manager Josh Adel on third-degree burglary charges.
Then entering his junior year, Murphy was suspended indefinitely and had to work his way back onto the team and re-earn his roster spot before the season.
“I’m in a good place right now being here, being able to play,” Murphy said.
“Some of the stuff that happened to me just made me realize how fortunate I am and made me really, really appreciative.”
With the Gators going through a similar suspension case this season involving junior point guard Scottie Wilbekin – caused by an undisclosed violation of team rules – Murphy said he can be an example to younger players of how they can turn their careers around.
Wilbekin was reinstated to the team on Nov. 16 after serving a three-game suspension that began before Florida’s cancelled season opener on Nov. 9 against Georgetown.
“I think I can definitely help him with that just talking to him about the situation he’s in and try to turn whatever negative into a positive.” Murphy said. “It’s kind of making the choice to do all the right stuff and just sticking to that.”
This article first appeared in Gator Country’s December issue.