GCU lost top scorer Murphy, but keep an eye on Chilaka

Now entering the game for the Antelopes… No. 22 Petrolina Chilaka for No. 20 Samantha Murphy.

Murphy, the nation’s scoring leader in Division II women’s basketball last season, graduated from Grand Canyon University in May.  The prolific guard left the program as the all-time top scorer with 2,147 points and also set new records for points in a season (786) and points in a single game (49).

You don’t replace that kind of player overnight.  You recruit a young shooter from high school and then hope she will develop her skills as she adapts to the college level.

And just maybe lightning will strike twice.

With the addition of Chilaka, GCU head coach Trent May may be on the right track to filling Murphy’s fabled shoes – and taking his team back to a top 10 national ranking.  The Lopes finished No. 9 and just completed their best season in school history with a 29-3 overall record.

When you compete at the D-II level, you seldom get a chance to recruit the elite players.  They move on from high school to play for a D-I program.  When Murphy left Xavier Prep in Phoenix, she was a good player but not the kind to attract much attention from the major programs.

She averaged just 29 minutes a game in her freshman year at Grand Canyon, posting 15.3 points a game.  But entering her junior season she was averaging 19.2 points a game and settled in at No. 4 on the school’s all-time scoring list.  By her senior year, she was pouring in almost 25 points a game, the best in the nation, and had topped the all-time list.

Chilaka, who is also an accomplished track athlete, had the skills to attract D-I recruiters and picked up interest from a handful that included UNLV, University of Houston, and UC Irvine.  But she liked what she found when visiting the GCU campus in west Phoenix and decided that was where she wanted to start her college career.

She joins a recruiting class that includes a local standout at the guard position, Natalie Markovich from Basha High School in Chandler, and Myishia Watkins, a 5’2″ guard from Mount Miguel High in San Diego.  The group also includes four transfers:  Shelia Washington from Mississippi Valley State, Briana Martinez from Cal State Fullerton, Deanna Daniels from Pima Community College, and Erica Paskell from University of Texas Arlington.

Murphy spent all four years at GCU, which enabled her to compile the kind of numbers that put her atop many of the school’s all-time scoring categories.  Now Chilaka has that same opportunity as she enters as a freshman.

Her high school coach calls her a “diamond in the rough” and feels that she has a lot of offer Grand Canyon.  “Petrolina is every coach’s dream,” says Laqueisha Dickerson, her coach at Lamar Consolidated High School in Rosenberg, Texas.  “She’s extremely coachable and accepts criticism well.  She uses every day to get better.”

Sounds like how Murphy’s high school coach would probably have described her at that phase of her development.

Both players are born gym rats, spending countless hours working on their shooting on their own.  Both are key players on their teams, helping to make the offense go, and getting their teammates involved.

Chilaka brings some solid credentials with her.  She’s a two-time District Player of the Year and three-time First-Team All-District selection in a state that is considered one of the hotbeds of basketball talent.

She averaged 18 points and three assists in her senior year, carrying much of the offensive load on a team that finished with a mediocre 19-13 record.

And, like Murphy, she set a school record for most points in a game, hitting 36 one night.

There are other similarities between Chilaka and Murphy.  Both are about the same size, 5’8″ for Murphy and Chilaka at 5’9″… Murphy wants to follow a career in physical therapy and Chilaka is a pre-medicine major… and both are just as proficient in the classroom as they are on the basketball floor.

But there is one difference that may hold Chilaka back a little longer at the college level than Murphy.  Chilaka will begin her college career almost a year younger than Murphy.  She doesn’t turn 18 until Aug. 20, while Murphy was 19 when she stepped onto the floor for her first college game.

The youngster from Texas has a lot to learn at an early age.  It’s too bad Murphy didn’t have another year to stick around and show her the ropes.

But if her high school coach has her pegged right and she lives up to her potential, it shouldn’t be long before the Antelope faithful learn to pronounce her name.

(Photo: GCU Athletics/Freda Howard)