Over the course of 11 days in July, European basketball fans saw more of Duke forward Alex Murphy than Duke fans did during the entire 2011-12 season. That's a shame for the Duke faithful, because the 6-8 wing put on quite a show.
Playing for Finland's U20 National Team at the FIBA U20 Championships in Bulgaria from July 12-22, Murphy was easily the Finns' top player, averaging 17.4 points per game, 6.6 rebounds per game and 1.4 assists per game. Against the world-class competition on the international U20 circuit, Murphy was Finland's top scorer, rebounder and shot blocker and ranked among the tournament's top 10 in points per game (8th), field goals made (4th), two-point field goals made (3rd) and blocks per game (9th).
"I thought I played pretty well the whole trip, even in the games where I didn't score a ton of points," said the Wakefield, R.I., native, who scored in double figures in six of Finland's seven games. "Even though we didn't come out on top in the wins and losses, we played great as a team. There were a lot of good teams there, some great players. The competition was much better than I thought it would be."
Murphy, whose Finnish heritage comes from his mother Paivi, a member of the Finland Women's Basketball National Team herself from 1988-94, helped the Finns to wins over Switzerland (90-64) and Great Britain (67-64) at the tournament while playing in the FIBA U20 B Division. Finland placed eighth out of the 18 competing teams, earning the chance to bump up to the A Division in next year's tournament.
The tour with Team Finland provided the first real game action for Murphy, who sat out his freshman season at Duke while redshirting. He made stops in Finland and Serbia before competing in Bulgaria where he was introduced to a different style of basketball than what he is accustomed to in the U.S. He got an early introduction to the rule adjustments in his first game when he was called for traveling in transition.
"I got the ball [in transition], and your first instinct is to just go, but international rules say you have to put the ball on the floor first," he said. "Most European refs get you for traveling if you don't. I was watching Team USA (the USA Men's National Team) play, and Kevin Durant got called for the same thing."
While that was a quick adjustment to make, it was the more physical style of play that the European leagues favor that took Murphy time to adjust.
"Basketball is a worldwide game, but the style of play is so different over there. It's more similar now, but it's still a lot more physical when you get outside of the U.S.," Murphy said. "The level of athleticism isn't the same over there. It definitely took some time to get adjusted. The games are more chippy. You'll drive to the hole and sometimes just get hammered."
A major lesson Murphy learned was to be more aggressive getting to the basket. He admits that his modest scoring output in the first five games in Bulgaria, in which he still averaged a commendable 12.6 points per game, was the result of a lack of aggression and missed three-point shots. The missed opportunities limited his scoring totals to a high of 15, which he scored in back-to-back games against Switzerland and Hungary.
It wasn't until Finland's final two games, when he scored 30 points against Poland and 29 against Belgium, that the world saw what Murphy is capable of. He shot over 50 percent from the floor in both games, hitting 12-of-14 field goals against Poland and 14-of-27 against Belgium. After not making a single three-pointer in his first five games, he hit five in his last two. He was aggressive on the boards, pulling in a combined 15 rebounds in the two games, including five of those on the offensive glass.
"It was great for me," he said. "Coach K says it all the time, that the way we play here in the U.S. isn't the only way to play the game. How much better is it overseas than it was 10 or 20 years ago? We can learn some things from them."
Whether he went into the summer expecting the heightened physicality of European basketball or not, Murphy was prepared for it just the same. Because he was not competing in games during Duke's regular season in 2011-12, he was able to focus primarily on adding size to his 6-8, 220-pound frame. The added strength paid off, as the Finns were able to use Murphy at the three and four spots to take advantage of his inside-outside game. He will now enter the 2012-13 season at Duke as a redshirt freshman with the tools - and now the experience - to be a key part of Duke's quest for another NCAA Championship.