When it comes to contact between college basketball coaches and high school recruits, there are several starting and stopping points throughout the year.
June 15 began one such period of communication, and Jack Murphy didn’t waste any time.
Once the clock struck midnight, Northern Arizona’s new men’s basketball coach was dialing the number of Pinnacle forward Drew Bender, singing his program’s praises.
For years, the Lumberjacks have looked elsewhere for talent, but Murphy was hired in April to take over for Mike Adras and it’s been full steam ahead since he stepped foot on campus.
“It hasn’t been this way for the 20 years I’ve been coaching,” Pinnacle coach Charlie Wilde said. “It’s nice. Many coaches have always wanted them to come down here and do a little bit more.”
Bender, fellow Pinnacle forward Dorian Pickens, Mesa guard D.J. Henderson, Red Mountain guard Travis Meeker, Chaparral forward Joe Boyd, Paradise Valley forward Paul Watson and Marcos de Niza guard Richaud Gittens are the East Valley players that have been offered scholarships by the new staff, according to various recruiting websites. Westwind Prep national team forward Josh Braun and Phoenix Greenway forward Chris Miller have also been offered.
“He’s been working hard at it,” Bender said. “I admire that in a coach. He wants good players, and I think he can get good players. It’s attractive for good players to see him work so hard.”
In the past, local basketball standouts had been hesitant to play at Northern Arizona, and the relationship between Adras and potential East Valley recruits became almost nonexistent.
However, Murphy has already nabbed two Phoenix-area players in his short tenure and is intent on creating a pipeline from Phoenix to Flagstaff.
“I wouldn’t be the brightest guy in the world if I didn’t look in our backyard first,” Murphy said.
He got the ball rolling by securing former McClintock forward Cameron Forte — the 2009-2010 Tribune Player of the Year — as a transfer from Texas Tech, and Dewayne Russell as a high school commitment out of Peoria.
Adding Forte and Russell “gave us some credibility, in terms of the players and coaches, that we were putting our money where our mouth is,” Murphy said. “Since those guys, the reception has been fantastic.”
It’s easy to see what Murphy is selling.
For years, top players who weren’t offered scholarships by Arizona or Arizona State had to look out of state for opportunities. Murphy would love for those second-tier recruits to stay home.
“That’s what he told me, that he wants to show that people in Arizona can play basketball,” Meeker said. “That’s why he’s recruiting all of us.”
Murphy’s philosophy could be risky. While improved, Arizona’s basketball talent isn’t deep, which means missing out on a few top targets could spell trouble.
There’s also the ascension of Grand Canyon, which impressed the local community with a recruiting class of Derreck Brooks (Desert Ridge), Cam Boone (Mountain View) and Jeff Lowery (Desert Vista) last year. If East Valley players want to stay close to home but don’t get an Arizona State offer, Grand Canyon is much closer and another viable option.
But NAU is the only other Division I school in the state outside of Arizona and ASU, and Murphy believes in the plan.
“Once I got the job and investigated the talent level — there’s so many talented players that it just made sense,” he said. “Sean Miller at Arizona and Herb Sendek at Arizona State only have so many scholarships. There are enough guys to go around.”
Even if Murphy gets regular commitments from East Valley standouts, the results of his recruiting philosophy could take a couple years to become evident.
But there’s no doubt he wants to sink or swim with Arizona players, and they are taking notice.
“When you offer the best people in Arizona and try to keep them in Arizona, you get a buzz,” Bender said. “Jack Murphy’s doing a good job of it. The sky’s the limit for him. He’s going to be a great coach up there.”