Date: Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012
Time: 8 p.m. MST
Location: Olson Court, McKale Center (14,538), Tucson, Ariz.
Radio: IMG College/Wildcat Radio Network (Brian Jeffries/Jim Rosborough) [Sirius/XM: 132/192]
TV: Pac-12 Networks (Jim Watson/Matt Muehlebach)
NAU first-year coach Jack Murphy was never an assistant coach at Arizona, but he still classifies as a former Wildcat aide. He was part of the Lute Olson operation from 1998-2006 as a team manager, recruiting coordinator, administrative assistant, video coordinator and director of operations. “I think Jack will do a great job,” Olson was quoted as saying by the NAU media relations department. “He has a great work ethic. He has a lot of experience from when he was here for eight years at Arizona. He came in as a manager and really put in a lot of work and eventually was able to come with us on the road and help us with recruiting. Along with Josh (Pastner), he was involved with bringing in Chase Budinger and some of the really outstanding people we had.”
OPINION: A couple of years ago, I was at Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas watching some of the Gaels’ top prospects, including Shabazz Muhammad, and taking a seat right next to me was Murphy and Pastner. This sums up the characteristic of those two young and energetic coaches: They were asking more questions about myself and how I was doing than I was asking about their first year in Memphis … and I am the reporter. Murphy understands how to communicate, especially with today’s player. He lives and breathes X’s and O’s and he’s observed some of the best, including Olson and Nuggets coach George Karl. Only 33, Murphy is destined for a major-college position by the time he’s 40.
Murphy was one of the guys when he did all the behind-the-scenes work for Olson and his staff. In the 2003-04 season, he was a roommate of Andre Iguodala. The Denver Post recounted a story in August about Murph walking into their hotel room and noticing Iguodala in tears after a 78-77 loss to Florida in the Hall of Fame Tipoff Classic at Springfield, Mass. Despite it being only the second game of the season, Iguodala treated it like an NCAA tournament loss. His failed tip-in at the buzzer following a Salim Stoudamire missed jumper capped a six-point performance on 2-of-13 shooting from the field. “He just cared so much,” Murphy, who went on to become a Nuggets scout, told the Denver Post. “In today’s day and age, you don’t see that all the time, especially from the most-talented guy on the team.”
Using the productivity system this site utilizes to track Arizona players, NAU freshman guard DeWayne Russell of Peoria High School is getting the most out of his minutes played for the Lumberjacks. The 5-11, 155-pound Russell has a productivity percentage of .653. The top performers for Arizona are freshman forward Brandon Ashley (1.132), senior reserve forward Kevin Parrom (.844) and senior point guard Mark Lyons (.671). Russell led NAU in scoring in the Lumberjacks’ two most difficult games to date — at Oregon and UNLV. He had 15 points against Oregon and 16 against UNLV. He is very active as evidenced by his 19 trips to the free-throw line (he’s made 18 for a percentage of 94.7), 14 rebounds and team-high eight steals. He has also made 47.8 percent of his threes (11 of 23). His primary weakness is decision-making — he has 16 turnovers to go with 20 assists — but that should improve as he matures.
The Arizona player with the most upside — if you can use three games as a determination — is freshman forward Grant Jerrett. He has made only 5 of 16 field-goal attempts against Charleston Southern, UTEP and Long Beach State. And four of those field goals were from three-point range, where he is 4 of 6. That means inside the arc, Jerrett is only 1 of 10. In terms of hustle, Jerrett is one of the best among the Wildcats. He has 14 rebounds, four steals and two blocked shots. He also has only one turnover in 60 minutes.
— Arizona is ranked No. 9 in the latest AP Top 25. The Wildcats, however, have an RPI that is — gasp — worse than ASU’s at this point because of the UA’s strength of schedule (SOS) — or lack thereof — after three games. The UA’s RPI rating, according to CBSSports.com, is No. 143. ASU (4-1) is at No. 95. The Wildcats’ SOS is rated No. 331 out of the 347 teams. Unlike past years, the UA will actually improve upon its RPI and SOS by playing NAU, which is No. 98 with a SOS rating of No. 67 (because of its games against UNLV and Oregon). Arizona plays No. 205 Texas Tech on Saturday. The Red Raiders are 4-0 but they have defeated the likes of Prairie View, Jackson State, Nebraska-Omaha and Grambling. The Wildcats host Southern Miss (6-0 with a win over Georgia) and Florida (4-0 with a No. 9 RPI) and play at Clemson (4-1 but with an RPI of 173). They also will possibly play San Diego State (3-1 with a No. 84 RPI) in the Diamondhead Classic in Honolulu. Needless to say, the Wildcats’ room for error is minimal in those games. A loss to any of those teams would be damaging as far as postseason aspirations are concerned because of the UA’s strength of schedule. Winning the Pac-12 tournament would alleviate that concern, but the Wildcats have learned that is not an easy task. And for those who want to argue this point — yes, it is never too early to start looking at the RPI. Olson always did with his early-season scheduling.
— Former UA interim head coach Russ Pennell will lead the Grand Canyon program into Division I status next year in the WAC. Look for the Wildcats to schedule home games against the Antelopes much like they do annually with NAU.
— As Bruce Pascoe of The Arizona Daily Star reported in his blog, Murphy fed information about UA coach Sean Miller to his father-in-law Jim Livengood, who was Arizona’s athletic director at the time of Miller’s hiring. Star columnist Greg Hansen reported the details in a 2009 column after Miller was hired by Livengood.
— Tonight’s game will be broadcast by the Pac-12 Network, which means DirecTV subscribers, such as yours truly, will miss out. But not all is lost. However, a lot is gained. I can listen to the SiriusXM broadcast with longtime UA assistant coach Jim Rosborough serving as the color commentator for the Wildcat Radio Network. Brian Jeffries will handle the play-by-play as usual. My evening is set.
Site publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner