Two conversations between FIU men’s basketball coach Richard Pitino and 6-5 junior forward Tymell Murphy might have proved pivotal to this Panthers season, which continues Thursday night at Arkansas State.
The first conversation came in late April, not long after Pitino got the FIU job. After two years of junior college, Murphy’s next move needed to be decided. Pitino needed players.
“I knew I still had time,” Murphy said. “But the call from Coach Pitino … I just felt that Coach Pitino had the experience, and the situation was new to him and new to me.
“I felt like if I was going to make a decision to come anywhere, then a new situation is the best situation to go to.”
The second conversation occurred after the 11th game of the season. In a 69-52 loss to Middle Tennessee State, Murphy finished with zero rebounds.
Zero for the second-leading rebounder on South Plains (Texas) College’s 2012 junior college national champions. Zero for a team with more rebounding troubles than the Heat. Zero for a player who said before the season he saw his role as providing energy and doing whatever it takes to win.
Murphy wasn’t happy with himself. But Pitino …
“I crushed him after the Middle game,” Pitino admitted. “To have zero rebounds [in 31 minutes] for Tymell with the ability he has is absurd. He didn’t give us a good enough effort physically as well as mentally. Tymell has a lot of mental lapses.
“And now he’s shown over the last three games that he can focus on rebounding and doing the little things. Conversely, he’s had 45 rebounds in three games just by changing his mentality.”
Rebounding games of 20, 15 and 10 followed in wins against Florida A&M, Louisiana-Lafayette and Bethune-Cookman, respectively.
Murphy also put up three of his four 20-point games this season and, with 24 points against FAMU, put up the second 20-20 game in FIU history and the second in college basketball this season. (Towson State’s Jerrelle Benimon was the first.)
Murphy now averages 15.4 points and 7.9 rebounds per game. Eight of his 16 blocks this season have come in the past three games.
“I think you’re looking at a guy who is one of the most talented players in our league,” Pitino said. “He’s shooting, in conference, 68 percent. Normally, when guys shoot that, they’re post players. They’re shooting layups and dunking the ball. But Tymell’s a perimeter player.
“For him to shoot that percentage is really impressive.”
Murphy starts on the perimeter but manages to get to the basket regularly, especially in transition. He shrugs at his shooting percentage, 59.9 percent from the field for the full season. Though trending up — he shot 57.3 for South Plains and 51.9 percent for Mohawk Valley Community College in 2010-11 — it’s not as if he’s blowing out his own bell curve.
“I don’t really go into the game thinking I want to shoot above 50 percent,” Murphy said. “I just play the game, and it comes that way. I’ve always been above 50 percent shooting for a season. It’s just something within my game. I don’t shoot a lot, so I’m always going to get shots close to the basket.”