When Tara VanDerveer pulled a guard from New York City to The Farm in last year's recruiting class, fans celebrated what ostensibly would be a once-in-a-decade event. 12 months later, the Cardinal are on the cusp of making it an annual affair, as they stand in the final three of Brooklyn (N.Y.) point guard Melanie Murphy. The Midwood High School senior is embarking upon an unusual official visit itinerary this weekend, which brings her to the Bay Area for not one but two official visits.
Though they are heated rivals on the floor, Stanford and California will both play host to Murphy this weekend, at VanDerveer's suggestion. Rather than ask the 5'9" athlete to fly across the country on two separate weekends, the Pac-10 opponents will share time hosting Murphy. Stanford welcomes her Friday and Saturday, while Cal has her in Berkeley Sunday and Monday. The schedule affords one weekend day and one weekday for each school to show the recruit life during and outside of classes.
Murphy narrowed her list of schools to three at the end of the spring, knocking off several East Coast suitors including Rutgers, Richmond and Seton Hall. The lone survivor from the Eastern Time Zone is Georgetown, though they may not have enough juice to hang with the Pac-10 pair in Murphy's final decision.
"I'm looking for an academic school that is also good in athletics," she explains. "My family and friends would like me to stay near home, but on the other hand they all want me to have the best opportunity, and that might be out West... I might not take a visit to Georgetown. That depends on how well things go in California."
Melanie Murphy is not just another NYC player. The last several years, she has been one of Brooklyn's top talents - at any grade level. Since her freshman year, she has been named First Team All-Brooklyn by both the Daily News and Newsday. She added First Team All-City honors her junior and sophomore years from the Daily News, while Newsday this past winter named her Brooklyn Player of the Year.
How does one of the top talents in a basketball hotbed find herself favoring two schools 3,000 miles from home, when the entire Big East and ACC should rightfully have first dibs? Chance has played some role in this story. New Cal head coach Joanne Boyle most recently was at the helm of Richmond's program and had already put the pedal to the metal in her recruitment of Murphy, which she brought uninterrupted to Berkeley. For the Cardinal, it helped that they scouted and traveled to NYC in the previous recruiting cycle in pursuit of 2005 guard Rosalyn Gold-Onwude. Stanford's pursuit of the Queens standout was not the start of Murphy's interest in The Farm, however.
"Ever since I was in elementary school, I have wanted to go to Stanford," the 2006 recruit reveals. "Academics and athletics are both important. I want them both at a high level and the best chance to succeed that I can get."
When a recruit boasts a lifelong affinity for The Farm, there is typically just one hurdle to clear before a Cardinal commitment. Murphy made that leap when her admissions application was accepted in July.
"Tara VanDerveer called. I was so excited," the recruit recalls. "I think it is a pretty big deal to get accepted to Stanford. A lot of people apply. You have to be one of the top students in the nation to get accepted."
But this story is not headed in the direction you might expect. Despite the above history pointing toward the Cardinal, Murphy calls the Bay Area rivals "even" today in her college decision process. A time-tested rule of recruiting says that momentum is a monster, and you have to give a good chance to Cal, given that the Bears have pulled into a dead heat with the school Murphy has targeted for half of her life.
Three factors stand in Cal's favor today. 1) They offer the opportunity to a recruit to come in at the ground floor of a rebuilding project, and thus be an immediate focus of the head coach and program. 2) They offer an explicit business undergraduate degree. 3) Stanford signed a 5'10" guard from NYC in 2005 (Gold-Onwude) and already have committed another from Oregon in 2006 (J.J. Hones).
"The two schools are pretty even, but they have different situations," Murphy begins. "California-Berkeley is rebuilding while Stanford is up there now. I could bring one program to a new level and I would be a big part of that, or I could go to Stanford where they already have the players to make you better and win a championship. I haven't really decided in which situation I want to play."
"I want to study business, and California-Berkeley has a good undergraduate business program. The Haas Business School is a big thing for me," she adds. "At Stanford you create your own major if your focus is business."
The guard situation is another item on Murphy's mind. Stanford is selling the fact that VanDerveer's triangle offense does not employ just one point guard. In the most recent (2004-05) season, the Cardinal started a backcourt with Susan Borchardt, Kelley Suminski and Candice Wiggins. To that end, this weekend could be pivotal for Murphy not just in her introduction to the Stanford coaches, campus and classes, but also fellow '06 guard J.J. Hones. The Oregonian is taking an unofficial trip with her father to The Farm this weekend, the same Friday and Saturday that Murphy is in town. Should they have the chance to play together in some pickup basketball, their chemistry (or lack thereof) could be an important component of how Murphy assesses her basketball outlook at Stanford.
As for how she views Gold-Onwude, Murphy already has her mind made up. The NYC guards know each other's games, and Murphy says that they can coexist on the court.
"Ros compliments me," the 2006 recruit opines. "I feel that I'm more of a passer, while she's more of a scorer. I can break down a defense and am a good penetrator, but I'm a pass-first guard."
In her junior year at Midwood High School, Murphy earned her accolades and awards for her passing acumen but is proficient in all aspects of her game. She averaged 16.6 points, 6.0 rebounds and 2.3 steals per game to go with her 4.1 assists. Credit for her all-around game goes back to her early developmental days, when Murphy was taller than all of her classmates but was not allowed to rely on her size on the court. Her father, Joseph, put a heightened emphasis on honing her guard skills as early as second grade and made sure that she could operate with both hands in her assortment of drills.
The home-based tutelage for the Brooklyn athlete has also extended to her mother, Rochelle, who coached her daughter this summer in AAU basketball. It was a very busy off-season for Murphy on the travel circuit, though you may have had trouble tracking the Cardinal recruit. She previously played with the Gazelles, but that outfit split in the spring when three players quit the squad. The top four remaining players joined forces with some girls from the Exodus G-Unit program. Two different "G-Unit" clubs played on the AAU circuit this summer, with Murphy's mother coaching her team. They played at events all over the country, including a second place finish at the adidas Showtime in Atlanta and a first place championship at the New Orleans Battle on the Bayou, where Murphy was named MVP. She also took part in the adidas Top 10 Camp in Suwanee (Ga.).
"I have to be a leader," Murphy says of her game. "When I'm out on the court, I'm an extension of the coach."
The question which looms large today is which head coach will Murphy extend onto the court come the fall of 2006 - Tara VanDerveer or Joanne Boyle? While the Brooklyn point guard is excited about both options, she knows that the time for a decision will come soon. Some recruits agonize over a decision such as this, but Murphy is optimistic that her choice will be clear to her soon after she returns from the Bay Area.
"Hopefully after my visits, the right decision will just hit me," she says. "I have heard that they are complete opposites, so it will come down to which one fits me best."
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