When Troy Murphy stared into the stands at the Hartford Civic Center during a break in Notre Dame's stunning 75-70 upset of No. 2 Connecticut on Jan. 5, he would later admit he was fixated on a pretzel vendor. Murphy was in the process of filling up the box score with 33 points and 16 rebounds, and all that hard work had made him hungry. "Like all great athletes, Troy has the presence to step out of the game," Irish coach Matt Doherty said later. "That pretzel craving reminds me of Joe Montana in the huddle at the Super Bowl, pointing into the crowd and saying, 'Hey, isn't that John Candy?' "
Murphy, a 6'10", 225-pound southpaw forward from Morristown, N.J., was the Big East Rookie of the Year in 1998-99, and he has apparently never heard of the sophomore slump. During the first eight weeks of this season he has won the conference Player of the Week award five times. Through Sunday he'd had 11 double doubles and six 30-point performances and never scored fewer than 17 as the Irish went 10-5. He ranked first in the Big East in scoring (25.0 points a game) and rebounding (11.1), and he could become the first player ever to lead the conference in both categories for a season. He's such a devoted gym rat that on Nov. 28 he stoically endured a three-hour practice despite a severe bout of food poisoning. The experience left him so dehydrated that he spent the next day hooked up to an IV in the infirmary. One night later he scored 22 at Indiana.
Murphy is also renowned for relieving tension with bizarre non sequiturs. With 18 seconds left in the season opener at Ohio State, Buckeyes guard Scoonie Penn was preparing to tie the game at 57—all with a free throw when Murphy turned to teammate David Graves and said, "You know what? I'd love to go to the Steak 'n Shake." Moments later Graves sank a 15-footer at the buzzer to win the game 59-57. "A lot of times I look at Troy and think, What in God's name is going through your head?" Graves says. "He's a little weird. I always tell him it must be something in that Jersey water."
Says Murphy, "I want to be a great player, but I try not to take myself too seriously. Hey, I go to school for free, and thousands of people come to watch me play a game. These are good times."
This summer Murphy diagnosed his own hernia after a broadcaster described the ailment's symptoms during a Women's World Cup soccer game. Murphy had surgery on July 13, and during his convalescence he watched over and over a videotape of last year's Irish game at UConn—a dismal 31-point defeat in which he shot 2 for 9. He took notes on the Huskies' defense and carried the notebook with him to Hartford last week and consulted it before the game.
This time Murphy shot 11 of 18 with a devastating mix of post moves and perimeter jumpers, and played all 40 minutes without a turnover. With five seconds left he sank a clinching foul shot, then walked over to Doherty and said, "Coach, listen to the awesome silence in here." He then strode back to the stripe for his second free throw attempt. After the game Connecticut guard Khalid El-Amin summarized everyone's thoughts on Murphy by saying, "My goodness, he's a monster."
Must be something in that Jersey water.