NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Troy Murphy was never one to follow the norm.
Known as a free spirit with the drive to be great and the passion to maximize the immense basketball talent within his 6-foot-11, 245-pound frame, the Morristown, N.J. product refused to allow himself to be outworked in pursuit of his goal of playing in the NBA.
He marched to the beat of his own drum, a rhythm that carried him to No. 7 on the all-time Notre Dame list in scoring and rebounding, and a 12-year NBA career that earned him nearly $70 million with six teams after his first-round draft selection (14th overall) in 2001.
Saturday, as the current Fighting Irish were in the process of pounding Boston College, Murphy became the eighth Notre Dame basketball personality to have a banner unfurled in the school’s Ring of Honor, joining head coach Digger Phelps, men’s players Austin Carr, Adrian Dantley, Tom Hawkins and Luke Harangody, and women’s players Ruth Riley and Skylar Diggins.
“It’s a great honor to be in such a select group of players and coaches,” said Murphy, still true to his unconventional ways with hair tucked behind his ears, hanging down to his shoulders.
“It’s something I’m really proud to be a part of.”
Murphy was not the most highly-touted power forward in the country coming out of the Delbarton School in 1998. But he was exactly what Notre Dame head coach John MacLeod needed to provide a much-needed spark to a program living in dormancy.
In an unusual twist of continuity chaos, Murphy played for three coaches in three years with the Irish -- first MacLeod, then Matt Doherty, and finally Mike Brey, who is in his 16th season at Notre Dame.
No matter whom Murphy took his instructions from, the drumbeat remained consistent. He averaged 19.2 points and 9.9 rebounds per game as a freshman under MacLeod, 22.7 points and 10.3 rebounds as a sophomore under Doherty, and 21.8 points and 9.2 rebounds as a junior under Brey.
Murphy’s consistency and well-rounded game earned him the Big East Player of the Year honors in each of his final two seasons with the Irish.
Murphy finished with 2,011 points and 924 rebounds in three seasons, deciding to forego his final season of eligibility. In his 12-year NBA career, he scored another 7,860 points and grabbed 5,708 rebounds. He converted 613 three-pointers, which was a testament to the incredibly diverse game the 6-foot-11 “stretch four” offered.
It wasn’t until his final season at Notre Dame that the Irish landed an NCAA berth, breaking a string of 10 years without a trip to the Big Dance.
“It was unusual, but I enjoyed playing for each guy and I think it got me ready for the NBA in terms of adjusting to systems,” Murphy said.
“Coach MacLeod ran a lot of pro, quick-hitting things. Coach Doherty ran the Carolina stuff. Coach Brey kind of let us play. It’s something that you adjust to and something that helped me in the long run.”
MacLeod’s low-key demeanor and vast NBA background – plus the success of Notre Dame’s Pat Garrity right before him -- convinced Murphy to choose Notre Dame over Vanderbilt. It was Brey’s free-wheeling system and laidback approach that appealed to Murphy the most, particularly after a year with Doherty’s inflexible coaching style.
“Coach Brey came in at an interesting time,” Murphy said. “Usually coaching changes are made at the end of the season and this one was made in the summer. He did a great job of gaining our trust and our confidence, and putting in his system in a short period of time.
“There’s nothing better than to go out there and be able to play. You’re able to be a basketball player and you’re not a robot.”
Some would say Murphy’s unwavering desire to be great was robotic, but in a good way. Brey has talked about Murphy shooting in “The Pit” at Notre Dame until the wee hours of the morning, and when it was game time, Murphy had the steely-eyed determination of an assassin.
When his NBA career came to a close following the 2012-13 season, Murphy applied his grit and determination to the classroom. Living in New York, Murphy completed his degree in sociology at prestigious Columbia University, where he earned a 3.8 grade-point average.
“Finishing my degree was a high priority for me when I was done playing,” Murphy said. “It was a difficult thing for me to do while I was playing. At that point in my life, I was living in New York, and Columbia seemed like a better fit (than returning to Notre Dame).
“I appreciated it so much more going back (to college). My mind was filled with basketball and trying to maximize whatever I could do to make it to the next level. When that finished, you’re more mature and you can see things differently.”
Murphy, who now lives in Laguna Beach, Calif., isn’t sure what’s next in his life. At the age of 35 with a well-preserved nest egg from his heavy earning days in the NBA, the world is Murphy’s oyster.
“That’s a good question. I don’t know. I’m still figuring it out,” smiled Murphy when contemplating his future. “Nothing is jumping out at me right now, but I’m sure something will come up.”
One thing he’ll continue to do – he was in Greensboro (N.C.) Coliseum last year for the ACC basketball tournament – is follow the Fighting Irish.
“I had the fortunate experience to watch them win the ACC tournament last year and I watch all the games I possibly can,” Murphy said. “It’s tougher now with them in the ACC and moving from New York to California. But every chance I get, I follow them.
“Coach Brey has done such a wonderful job building this program. To make deep runs in the NCAA tournament and to win the ACC tournament is really amazing. I’m so proud to be a part of it.”
As of Saturday, Murphy is a part of an even more select group. Notre Dame’s Ring of Honor has another worthy inhabitant.