NAU hoops coach Murphy should turn the corner in 2014-15


Jack Murphy has yet to post a winning season as head coach of the Northern Arizona University men’s basketball program, but school administrators have evidently decided he’s got things headed in the right direction.

They gave Murphy a contract extension last month following his second season at the controls.

The 34-year-old former assistant coach at University of Arizona, one of the youngest head coaches in Division I, posted an 11-21 overall record in his first season, finishing in sixth place in the Big Sky Conference.  Not exactly a roaring start to the Murphy era.

However, he had taken over a program in disarray after his predecessor, Mike Adras, resigned just nine games into the 2011-12 season.  That team, under an interim coach the rest of the way, finished at the bottom of the conference and was coming off 16 straight losses before Murphy was given the reins.

But last season, after a little more time spent on the recruiting trail, he pushed the overall record to 15-17 and far exceeded pre-season expectations.  The Lumberjacks, who had been projected to finish in ninth place in the conference, posted a 12-8 Big Sky mark to close out in second place.

His squads qualified for the Big Sky Tournament both years, and results in the post-season have also improved dramatically.  The first year, the Jacks were embarrassed by an 84-58 loss to Weber State in the quarterfinals. Last season, they were eliminated again in the first round, but lost by just two points to conference power Northern Colorado.

Murphy’s contract extension will take him through 2019, giving him plenty of time to continue building the program. And this coming season should be the one that will help him turn the corner.

He lost just one starter to graduation, Max Jacobsen, and returns Quinton Upshur, the junior-college transfer that was named the Big Sky Newcomer of the Year last season.  The 6’5″ guard from Kilgore JC led the team last year in three-point percentage and is one of four seniors on a team long on experience.

The school also announced the addition of two more transfers earlier this summer to add still more experience, although their names haven’t yet been included on the roster.  Jaleni Neely is a 6’0″ guard that averaged 14.4 points and four rebounds a game at College of Eastern Utah, and Geoffrey Frid is a 7’1″ center that spent a redshirt season at Cal Berkley before transferring to MiraCosta College, where he averaged 13 points and 10 rebounds.

NAU has generally been forced to throw a pretty wide recruiting net since the best in-state talent is scooped up by the two Pac-12 schools, Arizona and Arizona State.  And now, Grand Canyon University is transitioning to a D-I school and new head coach Dan Majerle is also beating the local bushes for top high-school players.

Since arriving in Flagstaff, Murphy has emphasized the importance of adding local talent to the NAU program. This season, the roster includes a trio of sophomore guards with local roots:  Jaran Hoover from Prescott High School, Travis Meeker from Red Mountain High in Mesa, and Christopher Miller from Greenway High School in west Phoenix.

Murphy learned his craft from one of the best coaches in the game, spending eight years working for Lute Olson in Tucson before leaving to work under another UofA assistant, Josh Pastner, when Pastner took over as the head coach at Memphis.  It was under his good friend, Pastner, that he honed his recruiting skills.

He arrived in Flag with those tools in his bag.  And now his bosses have given him some additional help by extending his contract.  That gives the new coach a boost with his recruiting effort as the kids he’s courting now can expect him to be there to see them graduate.

It takes awhile to turn around a college program that has fallen on its face.  But Murphy appears to be making the turn.

(Photo: NAU Athletics)