Watch Murphy these days, and the lessons learned at St. Rocco's are plain to see. Inevitably, opposing coaches will send out the equivalent of a hockey goon to pummel him. "Every team has one," Murphy says. "Most of them aren't even trying to play offense, but that's what you have to deal with. If some of that stuff happened on the playground, you'd fight the guy, but you can't do that [in a college game]. So you get to know where he is, and all of a sudden you could let your arm swing and accidentally hit him in the face."
Not that Murphy has mastered every facet of the game. According to Brey, his star could be more fluid in his reactions to changing defenses. What's more, after the Irish played zone for much of the past two seasons under John MacLeod and Matt Doherty, the new coach wants his guys matching up with teams nose-to-nose. "For two years Troy didn't have to guard anybody," Brey says. "For us to reach our potential we have to play some man-to-man, but I also said, 'Troy, let's be selfish. Those NBA guys know you can shoot and score, but can you guard your guy?' "
Whether or not Murphy improves as a defender, nobody will ever accuse him of being unaware of the competition. On the wall next to his bed he has tacked up photographs of a Who's Who of college basketball, including three pictures of Duke's Shane Battier—the guy who beat out Murphy for all the preseason magazine covers. Three Battier photos, Troy? "Motivation," he says. " Shane Battier is the college basketball player." The other pictures? "I like most of them because they make the dudes look badass."
Intimidation is one of Murphy's favorite topics. "Everybody wants to be a badass," he says, "but people can intimidate in different ways. Everybody tries to do it with tattoos or yelling, but if you go out and look all nice and have your hair parted and then you give somebody 30 and walk off the court, I think that says it all."
Before you go calling the tattooless, earringless Murphy a hoops Luddite, though, recall his other side. Befitting a man of extremes, Murphy produces enough pregame wattage to light a small city. "He gets so wound up," Brey says. "When I'm talking to the team, it'll be like he's at a Baptist revival. He'll say, 'Oh, yeah! That's right, Coach!' The first couple of times I'm thinking, This is unusual, but he really does get focused about stuff."
This season Murphy has a simple goal: to take the Irish, ranked No. 21 in this week's AP poll, to their first NCAA tournament in 11 years, making as deep a run as possible. "Not just to show everybody else," he says, "but for the guys on this team. With the way Notre Dame let Coach MacLeod go [forcing his resignation after Murphy's freshman season] and then last summer with Coach Doherty resigning, we want to prove that we're still here."
Then what? Most pundits are convinced that Murphy, a sociology major, won't be in South Bend next season—his AAU coach, Tony Sagona, says he fields five to 10 calls a week from agents. Murphy, though, actually likes college. Not long ago he tried to reschedule a dorm dance because it conflicted with a basketball road trip. He'll often linger in the dining hall for as long as two hours. Who knows where he'll be? "No matter what happens this season," he says, "my leaving isn't a done deal."
Notre Dame's housing department certainly hasn't done anything to entice Murphy to stay—his dorm room brings to mind solitary confinement at Leavenworth. His 8-by-12-foot Morrissey Hall quarters are so tight that he can almost touch opposite walls with his outstretched arms. When he sleeps, his legs comically extend a foot beyond the end of the 1950s-era bed. Murphy's friend Jessica Rinaldi calls it "the worst room in the worst dorm on campus," and rare is the night when Murphy doesn't imagine the master suite that he could be occupying in some NBA city.
Yet Murphy keeps a sense of humor about his Gulliver-in-Lilliput accommodations, a sign that the women of Troy—who perceive Murphy not as a lovable jackass but rather as a laid-back kid who retains a childlike wonder about the world—might be right after all. Murphy's mother tells the story of the night last summer when she was rebounding for her son at a city park near her Scottsdale, Ariz., home. At 10:30 p.m. the park lights went off.
Murphy kept shooting. "Let's go home, Troy," Chris said. "It's dark."