Murphy impresses with first NAU hoops recruiting class

Men’s basketball at NAU is alive and well…or, perhaps more accurately, on the way to recovery.

The new head coach at Northern Arizona University has wasted no time in giving the program a facelift and a transfusion – of new talent.

The men’s program was on life support when Jack Murphy arrived just a couple of weeks ago from the University of Memphis, where he served as an assistant the past couple of seasons.  NAU’s last season ended with a cellar finish in the Big Sky Conference and a 16-game losing streak to close out the schedule. (See 4/13/12 phxfan article)

Murphy just announced his 2012 recruiting class and, considering how little time he had to jump into the recruiting process, the group of five he has put together is pretty impressive.  His first class includes four freshman and a D-I transfer.

And, as the newbies are coming in, several familiar faces from last year’s roster have departed.  The landscape is definitely changing in Flagstaff.

First, the additions:

At least three of the five could have an early impact on the program, beginning with Cameron Forte, the transfer from Texas Tech.  The high-scoring forward is a local kid who played at McClintock High School in Tempe where he averaged 36 points a game – the best mark in the state – and 12.7 rebounds.

Forte spent just a season at Texas Tech before deciding to return home to Arizona.  He was a member of the All-Arizona team in 2011 and helped McClintock to a state title his junior year.

Jordyn Martin attended Palo Verde High School in Las Vegas, but he picked NAU, in part, because both parents attended the D-I school.  He averaged 11 points and nine rebounds as a senior and, because the Lumberjacks don’t have a lot of size, his 6’7″ frame and aggressive rebounding style may get him playing time right out of the chute.

DeWayne Russell brings still more firepower to the line-up.  The 5’10” guard was the high scorer in Arizona prep ball last season, averaging 27 points a game at Peoria High School, and led the Panthers to the Division II state championship.  He was named the Arizona Republic‘s big-school Player of the Year.

Russell has the added distinction of being the first player to commit to Murphy’s first recruiting class.

Blake Hamilton is a 6’5″ forward who is hoping to follow in the footsteps of his cousin, Jordan, who plays for the Denver Nuggets.  He was an All-Area selection at Pasadena High School in California, where he averaged 16 points and 11 rebounds.

A walk-on rounds out the group.  Bryce Gosar is another local kid, from Sunnyslope High School where he averaged 21.6 points a game last year as a senior.  He was invited by the coaches to walk on at the school where both of his parents attended, since there wasn’t a scholarship available right away.

There have been two departures from last year’s roster, providing some additional playing opportunity for those moving in – and further shaking things up.

Colin Gruber, a 6’4″ forward that started 10 of 27 games last year, is returning to California and will play for Cabrillo College, a junior college program in the Santa Cruz Valley.

Gruber was a stud coming out of high school.  He was the Santa Cruz Sentinal‘s Athlete of the Year in 2011 and posted double-doubles in 25 games his senior year.

But when Mike Adras resigned from the NAU program just nine games into the season, Gruber spent more time on the bench than on the floor under interim coach, Dave Brown.  He finished his freshman season averaging just 3.9 points in 12 minutes a game.

“By the time I got here, he told me he was leaving,” said Murphy.  “I haven’t gotten to see him play in person.  All indications are that Colin is a very good player.  I’m sure he’s looking for a fresh start and I can understand that.”

There hasn’t been any explanation for the other departure, however.  James Douglas was one of the best freshmen players in the Big Sky last season, leading all conference freshmen with 12.2 points a game, and also finished No. 1 in steals and 3-pointers made per game.

Douglas was not listed on the team’s roster when it appeared on the school website.

But Murphy’s recruiting class is the future of the program, and the new head coach appears to be pleased with what he has scooped up in just a couple of weeks:

“We are welcoming in five great student-athletes.  They have excelled both in the classroom and on the basketball floor.  They all bring interesting intangibles to our team.

“They are great scorers and playmakers, and are skilled athletes that will bring a high level of athletic ability.”

Sounds like just what the doctor ordered for a team on life support.

(Photo: NAU Athletics)