Offseason Made Murphy Refocus

Erik Murphy was forced to make a decision. After he was arrested and charged with one felony count of third-degree burglary in St. Augustine over the summer, it didn't take long before Billy Donovan got in his ear. There were just two years left in Murphy's career at the time of the incident. At that point, his role had only been as a bench player.

Murphy had to commit to the program or coast through the rest of his career.

"It forced him to do some soul searching about what was important to him and what he wanted to do," said Billy Donovan, whose Gators host LSU tonight at 6 p.m. "I think he has responded from a lot of the adversities in a very positive way. It has made him better as a person and a player. He is becoming more and more reliable for me than in his first two years where we would get some pretty good minutes out of him and then he would disappear."

Murphy is averaging a career-high 23.6 minutes this season, beating the previous 10.8 minutes he averaged last year. The increase comes from trust and an increased effort in practices and workouts. The arrest served as a wakeup call to make him take things more serious.

It's not the first time Donovan has seen it.

In fact, it happens pretty often. Players show up at Florida, and most major schools, with a sense of entitlement and don't fully appreciate what's going on around them. The chance to play college basketball at a major university is something Donovan didn't want to see his junior take for granted.

"I think Erik was just floating through life," Donovan said about the forward before his arrest. "I was able to post him up and pin him up a little bit to get his back against the wall and make him make a decision about who he wants to be as a person, as a player and as a student. For all these guys and myself included, this is an opportunity. There's no entitlement here. This is an opportunity for these guys to do some significant things in their life and set themselves up for their life.

"Being an athlete at the University of Florida, playing on the basketball team and getting your degree from here, you can pretty much do whatever you want to do when it's all said and done with. If you don't utilize and take advantage of those opportunities, I think you look back at your life and have an enormous amount of regret."

It's something that Donovan has seen all too often throughout his coaching career. Players that leave early for the NBA or stay through graduation don't wrap their minds around the opportunity they have to play college basketball. Murphy's arrest was able to refocus on him on the game and his opportunities before it was too late in his career to fix it.

"That's one of my biggest fears that I try to tell these guys all the time," Donovan said. "Don't go through this and look back when you're 35 and tell you're kids, 'don't do what I did.' In his first couple years, I'm not so sure he took advantage of it. Now, he has really grown in different ways."

With the increase in minutes has come an increase in production. Murphy is fifth on the team, averaging 10.3 points. He is fourth on the team with 4.3 rebounds a game and leads the Gators with 21 blocked shots this season. Florida depends on Patric Young for its defense near the basket, but Murphy has also helped in the block shot area. Donovan, however, quipped that "guys have shot balls into his hands," instead of calling him a shot blocker.

The increased statistics have shown the improvement for Murphy, but even he doesn't know if it would've happened without his arrest over the summer.

"The offseason issue made me grow up real quick," Erik Murphy said. "It was a blessing in disguise, I think, because I grew up mentally and matured."

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