As the Minnesota Golden Gophers basketball program undergoes a tumultuous week that has included multiple sexual assault allegations against its starting center Reggie Lynch and a potentially long-term injury to starting wing Amir Coffey, there can, perhaps, be some comfort taken in the steadying presence of its junior power forward, who is on the verge of breaking a record set by a former No. 1 draft pick and five-time NBA champion.
Jordan Murphy is sitting on 17 consecutive double-doubles, tying him for the NCAA record to start a season with college and NBA legend Tim Duncan — Murphy’s favorite player from his beloved San Antonio Spurs.
“Tim Duncan’s one of my idols, one of my favorite players of all time,” said Murphy. “Being mentioned in the same sentence as him is a blessing.”
Murphy, from Brennan High School in the San Antonio area, is a massive Spurs fan. He was born on June 17, 1997. Duncan debuted for the Spurs on Oct. 31 later that year, launching a 19-year NBA career that will certainly enshrine him in the Hall of Fame.
“I’m pretty sure I watched all five of his championships,” said Murphy. “Just seeing that legacy unfold right in front of me was something that was really special.”
Murphy wasn’t alive during Duncan’s double-double streak, which spanned a total of 26 games, starting at the end of the 1995-96 season and extending into the 1996-97 campaign.
Duncan averaged 20.7 points per game and 13.3 rebounds per game during his record streak to begin the 1996-97 season, during which his college team, Wake Forest, hovered around the top five in the national polls.
Murphy is averaging 18.9 points and 12.7 rebounds at the moment. He is second in the nation in rebounding behind UNC-Wilmington’s Devontae Cacok (13).
After a slow start to his sophomore season a year ago, Murphy exploded when he reshaped his game around rebounds, putbacks and hustle plays. Almost magically, the points started coming. He scored in double figures in 10 of the team’s last 11 games as the Gophers reached the NCAA Tournament.
“He’s so wide, his shoulders are so wide, he’s so strong,” said teammate Davonte Fitzgerald, who has the task of guarding Murphy in practices. “If you let him catch it down low, it’s going to be kind of tough. He’s so strong. He’ll back you in.”
Murphy got hooked on Duncan and the Spurs thanks to his mother, Celia, who comes from St. Croix in the Virgin Islands — Duncan’s hometown.
“She would always talk about always turning on his games and make me watch,” said Murphy, “so I’m very grateful that I had the opportunity to watch him growing up.
The junior’s double-double streak has nearly ended a couple times. Against Oral Roberts, Pitino inserted Murphy late in the game to pick up his 10th rebound before quickly taking him out. In Minnesota’s loss last Saturday to Indiana, Murphy was saved by a missed free throw with eight seconds remaining that fell right in his hands from his 10th board.
But Duncan needed some extra help, too. In the final game of his streak, Wake Forest coach Dave Odom had to put the star back in at the end of a game against Virginia Tech to secure two rebounds.
Murphy will go for double-double No. 18 Wednesday night at Northwestern, but he insists he’s more intent on picking up wins, especially now that Minnesota’s once-promising season has taken an unexpected turn.
Pitino knows what to expect from Murphy, who has already exceeded his 3-star recruiting profile.
“There’s not a lot of fluff to Jordan,” said Pitino. “He just gets there and works. He’s always had a really quick second jump. He rebounds his misses as well as any guy I’ve seen. He’s very, very level-headed and grounded, smart kid, not a lot of distractions in his life.
“Loves basketball, loves school, and I think he can still get better, that’s what excites me about Jordan.”