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That's high praise indeed for a player who had a disappointing junior season and who began this one with a career scoring average of 14.2 points. Last season's frustrations began when Murdock suffered a stress fracture of his right shin in the preseason. The injury bothered him during most of 1989-90, but it was nothing compared with the scare he received last February when he was found to have an irregular heartbeat. Murdock was cleared to play after missing only one game and hasn't had any ill effects since. Nonetheless, he was shaken up when Hank Gathers of Loyola Marymount collapsed on the court and died of a heart ailment only a few weeks later.
"When that happened I didn't know what to think," says Murdock. "I still can't bring myself to watch the whole thing on tape. But the doctors have told me that my condition was completely different."
As frightening as his irregular heartbeat was, Murdock has survived cruder twists of fate. He never knew his father, and his mother was killed in a car accident when he was six months old. He was raised by his grandmother Anna, who had 13 children of her own. "When I was little I called her Mom because that's what everyone else in the house called her," he says. "I still call her Mom sometimes—when I want something."
Last season Murdock was a preseason all-conference selection but didn't even make the third team in the postseason voting, a fact that his coach, Rick Barnes, didn't let him forget as 1990-91 approached. "Every day I told him he was the first guy in history that had happened to," says Barnes. "I didn't know if it was true, but he didn't like me saying it. He would just say, 'New year this year, Coach, new year.' "
For Murdock, it hasn't been just a new year, it has been an outstanding one.
It's not exactly a revelation that post play in college basketball is rougher than it was 20, even 10 years ago. As players have grown bigger and stronger, the constraints against physical contact have become looser. But recent complaints from a number of coaches suggest that the roughness may be getting out of hand.
LSU's Dale Brown, concerned about opponents' defensive tactics against his 7'1", 295-pound sophomore center, Shaquille O'Neal, has been particularly vocal. Last week Brown put together a video of what he thought was unnecessarily harsh treatment of O'Neal that had gone un-whistled, and he sent the tape to John Guthrie, the SEC's supervisor of officials. "Elbows, holding, shoving," says Brown. "I hate to sound like a crybaby, but there is so much violent play going on. He's taken a terrible beating."
O'Neal's father, Philip Harrison, confronted Guthrie following LSU's 82-79 loss to Mississippi State last week. "We spoke about some things that were concerning me about my son's safety," says Harrison. He also indicated that concern for Shaquille's safety would be a factor as his son decides whether to turn pro early.
Brown and Harrison aren't the only ones concerned about the slam dancing under the basket. "The game has to be restructured," says Oklahoma coach Billy Tubbs. "It's becoming block and tackle, push and shove."