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Tuesday, September 16, 2014 | Last updated: 8:27am

Jack Murphy returns to Arizona as NAU's head basketball coach



Jack Murphy has fond memories of the Arizona basketball team.

A UA alumnus, he was a member of former Wildcat coach Lute Olson’s staff for eight years.

He was a part of 199 wins, three Pac-10 championships, eight NCAA tournament appearances, two elite eights and one national championship berth.

Tonight at 8, he returns to McKale Center as the new NAU head coach when the Lumberjacks (2-3) take on No. 9 Arizona (3-0). It will be his first time back in Tucson since Sean Miller was introduced as the UA head coach in 2009.

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By Preston Trauscht / Arizona Daily Wildcat
Courtesy of NAU Media Relations

“I am excited,” Murphy said. “I wish we weren’t playing Arizona back there, but I’m excited to get back to Tucson.”

While it will be Murphy’s first time facing the UA in his former stomping grounds at McKale, it won’t be his first time going against the Wildcats.

As an assistant coach at Memphis two seasons ago, working for former UA assistant and current Tigers head coach Josh Pastner, Murphy faced the UA in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Thanks to a last second block from former Wildcat Derrick Williams, Arizona won the game 77-75.

“It was strange,” Murphy said. “Walking out of the tunnel and hearing ‘Bear Down’ played by the band, it was strange. Being on the opposite bench was different. That’s why I don’t think Wednesday [against Arizona] will be as weird for me — I’ve already gone through it.”

The Lumberjacks aren’t quite as talented as that Memphis team was, though — NAU finished with a 5-24 record last season before hiring Murphy.

With his experience at major college basketball programs like Memphis and Arizona, along with his three-year stint as an advance scout with the Denver Nuggets, NAU doesn’t exactly sound like the most ideal job opportunity.

The Lumberjacks have appeared in just two NCAA tournaments, in 1998 and 2000, and have won 20 or more games a season just twice in the last 10 years. Plus, NAU will always have a tough time competing with the UA and ASU for attention.

Murphy said he doesn’t believe NAU is competing with its in-state counterparts and said he feels the school’s location in Flagstaff is a major plus.

“You can be an NAU fan and still love the Cats or still love the Sun Devils,” Murphy said. “We’re really not recruiting against ASU or U of A, and if we are it’s more an indictment on them than it is us.”

The Lumberjacks are led by senior and freshman guards Gabe Rogers and DeWayne Russell, who score 16.6 and 15.8 points per game, respectively, and Miller said their scoring prowess “catches your attention.” Miller said he is particularly excited to coach against Murphy, who he considers “a part of our Arizona family.”

Miller and Murphy have never worked together, but Miller said that he has used Murphy as a resource ever since he came to the UA.

“He’s always been a very big help,” Miller said. “He’s someone who loves our basketball program and loves the university. He has one of those personalities that you can’t help but like, and you can really sense that, with him taking over the NAU program.”

More from the Wildcat alum

On why he went to NAU: I thought NAU was a beautiful area. A great location in terms of recruiting, good conference. So close to Phoenix, Las Vegas and California.

On Arizona’s size: It’ll be tough for us. I have our guys drinking a lot of milk between now and Wednesday. They’re very big. Front line is imposing and skilled. For us, our guards are going to have to do a good job rebounding.

On defending Arizona’s Solomon Hill: You may change defenses a little bit and throw the kitchen sink at him and hope that Sean doesn’t like something he did in shoot around and starts Max Wiepking. It’s tough to guard a guy like Solomon and that’s why he’s such a good player.

On his relationship with Memphis head coach Josh Pastner, a former UA assistant: Josh is one of my best friends in the world. We spent many a night in the McKale basketball office talking basketball, talking recruiting and when he got his break at Memphis, he called me up and offered me a job and it was a no brainer for me just because working alongside Josh was a dream come true. He taught me how to run a program.

On what he misses most about Tucson: I don’t know where to begin. It would either be Baggins, [El] Charro [Cafe] or Guadalajara Grill. Lot of things I miss about Tucson.

On the best player he saw in his time at the UA: That’s tough. That’s a tough one. The best season I was ever around by an individual was Salim Stoudamire’s senior year. It was unbelieveable, in 2005. The most talented players were probably Gilbert Arenas and Richard Jefferson. Hardest worker I was ever around was Michael Wright. He just worked so hard and people didn’t even know about it. It was tough to pin down best player, but best season was without question Salim. He put us on his back.


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