His career didn’t start the way he thought it would.
A 6’10” power forward, who could shoot the ball from all over the floor, Erik Murphy assumed that he would play and make an immediate impact as a freshman. After all, he was coming off a senior year in high school that saw his team win their third New England Prep School Athletic Conference C title in four years and was named MVP of the tournament. He averaged 22 points and 10 rebounds as a senior on his way to being the first player from Rhode Island to be named a Parade All-American.
So when he averaged just 9 minutes a game as a freshman and 10.8 as a sophomore, making just one start in two years, Murphy began feeling pressure from the people closest to him to make a change. He even made a list of prospective schools to transfer to. The hometown university, URI along with Providence, Boston College, Notre Dame and Harvard were all schools on his mind as he walked into Billy Donovan’s office ready to tell the coach he would continue his college career elsewhere.
Something happened in that meeting with Donovan. Murphy walked in ready to take his talents elsewhere but ended up still a member of the Gators.
After such an emotional day, Murphy decided to let off a little steam and take a trip to St. Augustine with ex-Gators manager Josh Adel and former teammate Cody Larson.
The events that followed would mark the lowest moment in Murphy’s life but also signal a change in him both on and off the court.
Adel, Murphy and Larson drove up to Adel’s parents beach house and started drinking. After a while they made their way over to a local bar to continue the night.
“We had a few [drinks]” Murphy said. “We had more than a few.”
They stayed until the bar closed down. Adel called for a cab, Murphy walked over to the only car in the parking lot, flipped the handle, found it was open and laid down in the front seat while Larson laid down on the hood of the car.
One of the bouncers at the bar walked out and upon seeing two 6’10” men on the car, assumed they were stealing the car and to call the police. Larson was already on probation and took off. Seeing the ruckus, Murphy also took off running.
“I took off.” Murphy said. “I was drunk and wasn’t about to fight six guys.”
The three men eventually were brought in by the St. Augustine police and charged with one felony count of third degree burglary. Being handcuffed and booked into county jail was an eye-opening experience for Murphy.
“It was scary. I had cuffs on from my hands to my feet. It was really scary.”
There are two ways Murphy could have handled the situation. He could have placed blame elsewhere and not taken responsibility for his actions or he could own up to his mistake and allow this experience to make him a better person.
Murphy chose the latter.
“It made me grow up overall in my life.” Murphy said. “I realized I wasn’t really that focused on anything.”
So Murphy began to focus on the right things. He brought his 2.5 GPA up to a 3.0 and became one of the hardest working players on the team.
“Erik wasn’t really focused on school, basketball, or anything his first two years.” Donovan said. “But he’s changed a lot. He sees the urgency … I think the whole incident really changed him for the better.”
Murphy was suspended for most of the offseason but his new work ethic, drive and focus paid dividends right away. Murphy started 32-of-34 games as a junior, averaging 25 minutes and 10.5 points per game.
His increased role as a junior gave him the confidence to become a leader this year, his final season in Gainesville.
Murphy enjoyed his finest season in his final year in orange and blue. Murphy averaged 26.6 minutes a game and led the team in scoring with 12.8 points per game. His performance earned him a spot on the coaches’ first team All-SEC team. The AP also honored Murphy, with placement on their first team All-SEC team.
The season accolades are nice, but as the Gators enter the NCAA tournament, Murphy is potentially playing in his last game as a Gator each night.
He’s certainly playing like a player who knows each game could be his last and is looking to write a storybook ending in the final chapter of his senior season.
In the Gators second round game against Northwestern State, Murphy went off for 18 points and eight rebounds.
In their third round game, the Gators built a comfortable 21-point first half lead. The Golden Gophers started the second half with a 19-5 run and cut the Florida lead to single digits. That’s when Murphy stepped up as a leader in an impromptu players only meeting on the sideline.
“I’m not ready for this to be over” Murphy yelled at his teammates. “We are not going home.”
And in that moment, Erik Murphy’s road to redemption was complete. Murphy’s career as a Gator was almost over even before that fateful night in St. Augustine but he used that night as a learning experience to change his life for the better.
While some people just get it, others have to learn their lessons the hard way. Murphy certainly learned his lesson the hard way but he has come out on the other side of it a better basketball player and more importantly, a better person.
Quotes attributed to Jeff Goodman of CBS