When Jack Murphy bailed out of his job as head coach of the Northern Arizona University men’s basketball team in June of 2019, he found a home back in Tucson where he had been an assistant coach before going to Flagstaff.
University of Arizona head coach Sean Miller welcomed Murphy back into the fold, making him his associate head coach, hoping that his experience and connections with international recruiting would prove to be a valuable asset to his Wildcats program.
That game plan paid off in the season opener last night, a 74-55 win over Grambling State. when it was the foreign contingent that brought the points off the bench. Bennedict Mathurin and Azuolas Tubelis contributed 17 of the 19 points the Cats got from the guys on the bench.
“I love the international guys we have, they all come from basketball backgrounds,” Miller told the media in a recent interview. “This class will impact our program’s future in a big, big way.”
That promising future began last night. Mathurin, a small forward from Canada who came in for 23 1/2 minutes, scored 12 points that included a 7-for-8 performance at the free-throw line. Tubelis, a 6’9″ forward from Lithuania, added five points in his 14:27 of playing time.
The other four players from abroad waiting to make their contributions include Daniel Batcho, a 6-11 center from France; forward Tibet Gorener from Turkey, Kerr Kriisa, a point guard from Estonia; and Tautvilas Tubelis, Azuolas’ twin brother.
Murphy spent seven seasons as the NAU head coach before returning to the UofA program, where he had been on staff for eight years prior to leaving for Flagstaff. He found out what so many others have experienced before him: winning in Flagstaff is like climbing one of those towering mountains that look down on the small community of 72,000 that includes a small cadre of semi-enthusiastic basketball fans.
Over the last 40 years, the NAU men’s program has had 10 head coaches, who combined to produce just three 20-win seasons. And one of those belonged to Murphy, who notched 23 wins during the 2014-15 season.
But after that big season, the program fell off dramatically. A 5-27 finish in 2017-18 set a new school record for losses. And by the 2018-19 season, when the team won just 10 games overall, Murphy decided it was time to give up the rebuilding effort, relocate to Tucson, and go back to work for his old boss.
He knew recruiting to a Pac-12 school would be a welcome relief from trying to lure talent to Flagstaff.
Murphy’s addition to the UofA staff gives the program a seasoned coach who has been a D-I head coach, as well as putting in another three years as an assistant coach at Memphis. Murphy also spent three years in the NBA, working under George Karl at the Denver Nuggets.
And he could find himself suddenly thrust back into the head-coach role, should things go south with the NCAA investigation into the Arizona program. He would likely be the one the school would turn to as an interim head coach should Miller be fired.
Arizona recently received a notice of allegations from the NCAA, charged in that notice with nine allegations of misconduct that includes five Level I violations. Miller was cited for a lack of head-coach control.
But for now, Murphy is proving his worth on the recruiting trail, helping to build an international presence in the program.
Right now, that’s a welcome contribution to the Wildcats’ future.