In two seasons at Oklahoma State, forward Kamari Murphy played a role that didn’t change all that often. Defending, rebounding and being a supplemental figure on the offensive end were his responsibilities, and there didn’t seem to be much room for him to go outside of those roles. After a sophomore season in which he averaged 6.1 points and 6.3 rebounds per game, Murphy decided to transfer and ultimately wound up joining a Miami program that also worked hard to reel him in as a high school prospect but fell short.
Now eligible to compete after sitting out last season, the 6-foot-9 Murphy is eager to take the floor. And with that comes the desire to show that he can do a lot more skill-wise than he was able to do in two seasons in Stillwater, as noted in a story written by Christy Cabrera Chirinos of the Sun Sentinel.
“The two years I was [at Oklahoma State], we had great teams, but I think I was used in the wrong way and the media and press got the wrong perception of me, that I’m just a rebounder or a set screen guy,” Murphy said. “I’m [more] than that. This year, I’m not going to do too much, but I’m going to show people I have the skill work and my IQ is better than just setting screens and running the floor. That’s why I can’t wait to play, to prove people wrong.”
Murphy joins a front court that includes seniors Tonye Jekiri and Ivan Cruz Uceda, and there is room for the New York native to show off a wider array of skills. One of Miami’s personnel losses from last season was forward Omar Sherman, who transferred after averaging 4.8 points and 2.3 rebounds per contest as a freshman. While Sherman didn’t post prolific numbers, he was a face-up four who could step out onto the perimeter and hit shots in pick and pop situations.
Can Murphy fill a similar role for the Hurricanes, who have the pieces needed to return to the NCAA tournament after missing out in each of the last two seasons? Given Miami’s numbers in the front court, with just five scholarship options, head coach Jim Larrañaga and his staff will need Murphy to not only fill that role but be more productive in doing so.
The biggest difference for Miami in 2013-14 was the fact that six of the top seven players from a team that won the ACC in 2012-13 were gone, and one area in which Jim Larrañaga’s team was affected was on the backboards. After ranking second in the ACC in rebounding margin in 2012-13 the Hurricanes were a middle of the pack team in that regard last season, ranking seventh in the conference in rebounding margin, offensive and defensive rebounding percentage (conference games only).
With Miami’s depth improving the expectation is that the Hurricanes will be a better team in 2014-15, but most of the attention has been paid to the perimeter with Sheldon McClellan and Angel Rodriguez eligible and talented freshman JaQuan Newton joining the program. Yet through the first two games of their tour of Spain, it’s become quite obvious that there’s a front court addition worth paying attention to as well.
His name: Ivan Cruz Uceda, who’s enjoying a homecoming of sorts given the fact that the 6-foot-10 power forward is a native of Madrid. Cruz Uceda played at Harcum College in Pennsylvania last season, and he’s put up some impressive rebounding numbers for the Hurricanes this week.
In Miami’s 77-66 win over Albacete on Sunday, McClellan led the way offensively with 24 points with Cruz Uceda managing to corral 13 rebounds to go along with eight points, two assists, two blocked shots and two steals. The 13 rebound performance comes on the heels of Cruz Uceda’s 17-rebound performance in Miami’s win over Eurocolegio Casvi on Friday night, and if he can continue to hit the boards hard when the regular season begins that would provide Miami with a much-needed boost.
At the end of last season the Hurricanes bid farewell to three of their top four rebounders, with junior Tonye Jekiri (5.5 rpg in 2013-14) being their leading returnee in that department. With that being the case Cruz Uceda and freshman Omar Sherman, who’s averaging 6.5 rebounds per game on the trip, are important figures moving forward.
Miami has more options after needing to slow things down to account for their lack of depth, and that should lead to a better 2014-15 for Larrañaga’s Hurricanes.