By Jason Elmquist
STILLWATER, Okla. —
With 15 starts, averaging nearly 7 points and 6 rebounds per game, things were good for Oklahoma State freshman forward Kamari Murphy.
Then came the dreaded freshman slump. Coupled with the return of redshirt sophomore Michael Cobbins from a foot injury, and Murphy went from helpful youngster to Cowboy outcast.
He went four straight games without playing more than 13 minutes — and in three instances didn’t even log more than 8 minutes of playing time.
“It’s all mental with him,” OSU coach Travis Ford said. “Earlier in the year his approach was, ‘Don’t let me screw this thing up. Let me just get in there and play my role.’ Then he hit that phase where, ‘Let me show everybody how good I am and how I can score the ball and can go one-on-one.’
“What I told him, so many players try to have the mindset that they are going to try to impress somebody it does the complete opposite. You’re trying to do good, but it’s making you look bad. He went through that phase and the last couple of games he’s gotten back to, ‘Let me not screw this up and just rebound and defend.’”
But when the times are their bleakest, that’s when a person’s true character can arise. And for the struggling Murphy, he called upon his coaches, as well as his family and friends to see him through the tough times.
“It took a big toll on me, that’s why I wasn’t playing so well. Mentally, it was messing with me,” Murphy said. “But I had a few meetings with coaches and parents and certain people back home kept telling me to keep my head up and get back in the gym and when I do get the chance to get back in the game to produce.”
And so days before OSU’s big rematch with Baylor at Gallagher-Iba Arena, Murphy headed to the gym for a midnight practice session.
“I thought Kamari Murphy was terrific, absolutely terrific,” Ford said following the Baylor game. “He was in this gym on Monday night at midnight, I was told by Keiton Page, by himself working out. So that pays off for him.”
The renewed sense of urgency from the freshman forward from Brooklyn, N.Y., shined bright in the battle with the Bears. In the overtime thriller, Murphy logged 31 minutes — the fourth-highest of any Cowboy in the game and just the second time this season to play more than 30 minutes — and contributed with 8 points, 4 rebounds (3 offensive) and just 1 turnover.
“I was in a bit of a downfall for a couple of games and I took it upon myself to get back in here and get back to what I used to do and it paid off a little bit,” Murphy said. “I guess I’ve got to continue to get back in the gym — not necessarily at midnight.”
Getting the positive production from the young post player is essential for the Pokes. Murphy gives OSU another threat down low behind Cobbins and senior Philip Jurick.
“That’s huge for our basketball team,” Ford said. “It’s really, really big for the fact that it gives us really three true bigs between Jurick, Cobbins and Murphy ... that I know I can have out there and I don’t have to worry. When he’s just worries about helping the team and worries about those little things, he can play 30 minutes.”
Murphy could play another big role in Saturday’s contest at Texas, when OSU takes a four-game winning streak on the road. The Longhorns are chock full of young, talented forwards — though they are without sophomore forward Jonathan Holmes, who led UT with 7.1 rebounds per game to go with 7.7 points per contest before suffering a broken right hand against Oklahoma.
Texas gets nearly 5 rebounds each per game from freshman center Cameron Ridley and freshman forward Ioannis Papapetrou. Ridley is averaging 4.9 boards and 4.8 points, while Papapetrou is averaging 4.4 rebounds an 7.9 points per game.