Trey Murphy III bet big on himself, and it paid off. Heading into the 2020–21 season at Virginia, Murphy wasn’t a name found in many (or any) early mock drafts. But as the season came to an end, his stock began to skyrocket. Murphy points to a Jan. 25 game against Syracuse as when he started to think about his future in the NBA. He finished with 16 points and eight rebounds, and that’s when the phone calls started.
“There’s agents calling my coaches talking about leaving this year, and it didn't really cross my mind like I would actually be able to do it.” Murphy says. “But then as games progressed, I started to see my name pick up a little bit more traction, and that’s when I started to really gain a lot of confidence.”
Murphy initially declared for the draft but maintained his college eligibility. By June, he had signed with an agent and was working out with other players headed to the draft. “That's when I start to realize, like to myself, this is where I belong,” he says. “I'm not here off a fluke. This is not, you know, some feel-good story.” A month later the Pelicans drafted Murphy with the 17th pick in the 2021 NBA draft.
Murphy’s journey does have the remnants of a feel-good story. He wasn’t highly scouted in high school. He had only six offers, mostly from low- to mid-major programs, eventually landing at Rice. At a young age it was clear he could shoot, but physically he just wasn’t there yet.
“My body development in general came late,” Murphy says. “I was 168 pounds going into college and now I’m about 210, so I’ve gained a lot of weight.” He also shot up five inches, from 6' 4" to 6' 9".
The next step in Murphy III’s evolution is working on physicality. Both his trainer and father say he is relentless in the weight room. His gains helped him when he entered the NCAA’s transfer portal last year, and this time he had no shortage of offers. Virginia, a school that passed on him in high school, became his new home. He averaged 11.3 points on 43.3% shooting from three in his 25 games for the Cavaliers.
It was a season still dealing with the pandemic (UVA had to pull out of the ACC tournament after a player tested positive for COVID-19) and a season Murphy thought he was going to have to sit out until the NCAA granted him a waiver to be eligible to play immediately after transferring from Rice.
The road from high school to the pros was just as mental as it was physical. Murphy couldn’t have predicted his fortuitous growth spurt, but he knew he wanted to play, at the very least, in college. As a result, his mental game became one of his strongest weapons.
“Before I got to college, I started reading two books. A Mindful Athlete by George Mumford and then a Tim Grover book, Relentless,” Murphy says. Both are best-selling sport psychology books that Murphy’s favorite player, Kobe Bryant, had spoken of.
“I really tried to master the mental part of the game because it was so important for me because I was such a small kid and I had to find those little things that helped get me by,” Murphy says.
The books had such an impact that Murphy studied sport psychology in college, looking to work as a psychologist if the NBA didn’t pan out. He reads before games. His new apartment in New Orleans will house his collection from the last few years. Murphy treats this like any other aspect of his training and a way to navigate his career. “I think really the most important thing that I got from psychology was just control what you can control,” he says, “and I can't control how tall I am, can’t control whether or not I'm gonna get looked at by this coach or this coach. All I can control is my effort and my energy.”
Murphy isn’t the only player in the league to become a novice in mental processes, and he’ll be the first to admit that. But a lot of his career leading up to this point was out of his control. Less than a year ago he was simply trying to transfer into a stronger collegiate program determined to sharpen his skills for the 2022 draft class. Instead, he made his debut at NBA Summer League, scoring 26 points and coming up one rebound shy of a double double in the Pelicans’ game against the Bulls. Not to mention he had the opportunity to link up with All-Stars Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson.
As he prepares for his debut with the Pelicans, he keeps in mind that his NBA career came ahead of schedule. His adjustment to playing in the league has been fast tracked. Running drills with his trainer, Shawn Farmer, there’s a focus on ball handling as Murphy III continues to perfect changing direction at a faster speed to evade the defender. It’s a skill he probably would have worked on had he sat out for a year in college, but like much of his career things changed on a dime.
It wasn’t a linear path to the league, but Murphy says he’s exactly where he is supposed to be. His latest book selection is The Alchemist by the Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho, and if you have read it, well, you just may agree with him.
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