It was in the months leading up to the 2011-12 season that Murphy began training like a player whose role was about to increase from sixth man to one of the Wildcats’ primary options.
Mike Tobin, Woodland head coach, had no question that his junior could handle the role, especially following a sophomore season where he led the team in points, rebounds, blocks, and made free throws en route to a selection on the all-county team.
“Coming off of last year, he actually was our leading scorer, even though he came off the bench,” Tobin said of Murphy, who averaged close to 9 points in 2010-11. “He knew we had high expectations for [our team] and he produced. … He knew he was gonna have to have a big year for our team to be successful.”
Murphy’s scoring jumped to 16 points per game this season, and he also doubled his rebounds to slightly more than eight per game. For his efforts, Murphy is The Daily Tribune News Boys Basketball Co-Player of the Year, along with Cartersville’s J.R. Davis.
Tobin credited his player’s offseason work last fall, an early sign that Murphy was set to take off in his first year as a varsity starter.
“We did a lot of fall workouts. He was at every workout,” the Wildcat coach continued. “He played [Athletic Amateur Union] basketball. He’s playing AAU basketball this summer as well. He was constantly working out.
“You gotta put your time into it. He’s definitely done that,” he added.
The results have been immense for a player that once again led his team in several categories — points, rebounds and blocked shots (32). Murphy earned most valuable player honors at the Rome News-Tribune Holiday Festival basketball tournament in December as Woodland won the tournament for the third time in four years. He also was instrumental in helping the Wildcats mark their best season in school history at 26-3, which included an 18-0 start and eventual state berth.
“I expected him to have a big year. He had a couple of real big games. [In the] Rome tournament, he had a good tournament. [The] Chattahoochee game, he had a big game,” Tobin said of the 26-point outing from Murphy in the Region 7-AAAA championship game loss to the Cougars. “Physically, he’s got outstanding jumping ability. He’s got a great vertical [jump]. He does a great job rebounding. … He has the ability on any given night to get you 15 to 20 rebounds.
“He’s a quick jumper, too. Some kids take time to gather [before they jump]. He’s like a pogo stick,” the coach said. “We had quite a few different sets where an option was there for [a] lob … You’d throw it up there and he’d get it.”
Murphy, a 6-foot-4 forward, plays much bigger than he is — “like he’s 6-8, 6-9,” Tobin said — and throws people off guard being a left-handed player, his coach added.
Plenty of people have taken notice of one of the state’s best players. Murphy made the all-region first team as well as the Georgia Athletic Coaches Association’s all-state team, and he received honorable mention for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Class AAAA all-state team.
“He’s happy. It’s nice to get recognized,” said Tobin of Murphy, who played in the GACA junior all-star game March 24 in Savannah. “The biggest thing in that situation is he got the all-state first team [honor] from the GACA. He’s excited about it. His family is proud of him.”
“He’s getting a lot of Division I looks right now,” Tobin continued, noting there is interest from schools like Kennesaw State University, George Mason (Va.) University, Tennessee Tech University, the University of North Florida, Jacksonville (Fla.) University, College of Charleston and Boston University.
Murphy, who plays closer to the basket at the high school level, likely will spend his college career on the wing, which calls for further improvement of his perimeter skills — something that began prior to last season and probably will continue.
“He’s been spending a lot of time on his ballhandling,” Tobin said. “His biggest strength is taking it to the hole, but he’s got to improve his perimeter shot. It’s not like it’s terrible or anything.”
Another place for the wiry Murphy to improve will come in the weight room as he gets ready to face bigger players in a year or so.
“Right now, he’s quick, but [when] you get to that next level, a lot of those guys look like bodybuilders,” Tobin said. “From my standpoint, if he hits the weights hard [and] gets stronger, the sky’s the limit.
“I don’t think he’ll get the big head. If he keeps working like he has the last two years, he’s gonna have an unbelievable senior year.”
Davis knows better than most the feeling of reaping the rewards of a fruitful senior season. The Purple Hurricanes guard returned to the team after an abridged junior season and promptly led Cartersville, which went 15-8, back to the state playoffs for the first time since 2009-10.
Providing the Canes with what they appeared to lack — another go-to scorer to pair with former guard Talique Cochran — in a disastrous ending to the 2010-11 season, Davis delivered on a nightly basis as he averaged 20 points, eight rebounds and five steals per game.
“If we have him his junior year, we’re in the playoffs again. He brings so much to the table, not just scoring. He’s a heck of a defensive player, not necessarily one-on-one but … he has a tendency to be around the ball. … We lose about nine games that year [by] 6 points or less, and I think J.R. Davis scores more than 6 points a game,” Cartersville coach Dennis Godfrey laughed. “I think he got everything out of his senior year that you possibly could in all areas, improving his academics as well as on the floor; off the floor never was a problem.”
In his final high school game, the coach said Davis opted to return for the second half of the team’s first-round loss at North Hall — a game where he suffered a knee injury — even after coaches told him he didn’t have to do so.
“You could tell he wasn’t 100 percent. I think that affected his shooting,” Godfrey recalled. “I would say he was probably 75 percent, but by him playing I think [that] showed how much the senior year meant to him. … Someone with less [desire] … I don’t think [they] would’ve came out and played [the second half].
“Things like that showed me it was very important to him. He did all he could do as a player for the Cartersville basketball team to ensure we had a good season. … He did as much for his basketball team as any other player did for his basketball team.”
Moments like that are why Godfrey has a hard time accepting any image of Davis as a shoot-first, me-first player. The coach acknowledged that the 5-foot-10 Davis was the ideal fit for his system, which emphasizes more of an uptempo game.
“[If you don’t follow basketball], I think you may misunderstand the way we play basketball,” Godfrey said. “I like this style and I think it’s successful, and J.R. fit it perfectly. … I think he’s very unselfish, and I never saw him make a selfish play.
“[If he took a rushed shot], it was over his role and his confidence to think he could make a shot, [not because he was selfish],” he continued. “We called [on] him to score so much. … That was his main role for us was to score.”
With a game tailored for a frenetic pace, the uber-athletic Davis spurred a four-guard attack that averaged 64 points per game and constantly wreaked havoc defensively by disrupting the passing lanes.
In a Rome holiday tournament matchup with Murphy’s Wildcats — still undefeated at the time — Davis aided his team as it led by double digits at halftime before Woodland rallied for an eight-point win in a game where the county’s two best players both wound up with 20 points. The game signaled that Cartersville could stand toe-to-toe with the best, and Davis’ ability is what helped make the Canes a threat for any team daring to overlook them.
“You have to concentrate you’re defense on him, which opens it up for other people. … [He] makes the right pass at the right time,” said Godfrey, who added that Davis accounted for about 40 points a game with everything he did. “He does so many things well. He opens it up for other people. … I think people got to see how important he was [to us].”
That impact may be lost on some not used to seeing a player of Davis’ caliber quietly go about his business.
“Sometimes, [players like that], they get overlooked. J.R. was a great leader and no one would think so because he never said anything. He never talked back to me,” Godfrey said. “He would not tell you [something] unless you asked him.
“He leads by his playing. [He’s] very soft-spoken, really doesn’t say a lot,” he continued of Davis, who he said plays and practices hard all the time. “I would enjoy being his teammate because he’s never critical. If he has a point to make, he says it in a positive way.”
Davis, it turns out, had plenty of points to make his senior season, and the Canes were all the better for it.