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DURHAM, N.C. - Duke freshman Alex Murphy gained valuable practice experience last season while redshirting for the Blue Devils. Now the Wakefield, R.I., native will spend a portion of the summer garnering game reps in Finland and Bulgaria while competing for the U-20 Finnish National Team. Murphy will open his summer with the team on June 26 in Helsinki for training camp and a couple of friendly exhibition contests before leading the squad into the FIBA U-20 European Championships in Bulgaria (July 12-22).
Murphy's Finnish roots come from his mother, Paivi, who played on Finland's national team from 1988-94 and also played professionally in Sweden.
"When I was young, we used to go over to Finland all the time," said Murphy. "That's where my mom's family lives, so that's a big reason why I'm excited to go over there now. I'll get to see a lot of my family when I go over there this summer."
The last time Murphy made the trip to Finland, he did so as a freshman in high school with the New England Colonials.
"They picked 10 guys from New England and sent us over to Finland and Estonia for 10 days, so I was able to play there then," added Murphy. "We even played in my mom's hometown, so that was pretty cool."
With his mom providing citizenship and considerable basketball genes, Alex's talents were also honed by his father, Jay, and a healthy sibling rivalry with his older brother Erik. Jay, a member of the Boston College Sports Hall of Fame, was a three-time All-Big East honoree and a second round pick in the 1984 NBA Draft by the Golden State Warriors. He went on to play five seasons in the NBA with the Los Angeles Clippers and Washington Bullets before going on to play in the USBL and overseas in France and Italy before retiring in 1995.
Erik, a rising senior at Florida, has been a steady contributor in the Gator program entering his final season with 612 points and 308 rebounds. Last season, he averaged 10.5 points and 4.5 rebounds per game, while shooting 42.1 percent (59-of-140) from three-point range, to help guide the team to an Elite Eight appearance.
"Obviously with my dad playing at Boston College and professionally and my mom playing in Finland and Sweden, basketball was something I grew up with," Murphy said. "But me and my brothers, we all played a bunch of sports. It's not like it was all basketball all the time, but at the end of the day when it was time to get serious and focus on one, we chose basketball. It's just gone from there.
"My parents have really helped with my development and my little brother's," Murphy continued. "Basketball's in our blood. It's in our family."Alex, a top-15 player in the 2012 recruiting class, reclassified to the 2011 class and bypassed his final year of high school to join the Blue Devils for the 2011-12 season. In his final year of high school competition, he was named the Independent School League Player of the Year after averaging 21.0 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.0 assists while leading St. Mark's to a 28-3 record.
The 6-8, forward impressed the Duke coaching staff early on with his play in practice in preparation for an August trip to China and Dubai. He posted modest numbers, averaging 4.3 points and 1.8 rebounds per game, while going 8-of-16 (.500) from the field, during the four-game exhibition tour. Murphy started Duke's first exhibition game but scored just three points in the two preseason matchups.
His season took a drastic turn, or rather tumble, in practice in the week leading into Duke's season opener. In a 5-on-5 controlled scrimmage, Murphy caught the ball at the top of the key, turned down the lane and went up strong for a dunk attempt. Teammate and eventual redshirt partner Marshall Plumlee slid in late to take a charge and created a collision that resulted in Murphy's head spiking off the Cameron Indoor Stadium floor. The incident sidelined Murphy with concussion-like symptoms and helped lead to the redshirt season.
Once he was cleared to play following the practice mishap, Murphy embraced the opportunity ahead of him, and the coaching staff positioned him perfectly to make the most of his first year at Duke.
"The biggest gains that we saw with Alex throughout this season were with his confidence and his strength," said associate head coach Chris Collins. "Being able to practice every day against our perimeter guys and treat each day like a game really helped him and the team. He served as the other team's best wing player when we were preparing for games so he was in a position to be aggressive and work on his game throughout the year. He also used the year to really dedicate himself to working on his strength and conditioning."
Murphy noted in late April that the redshirt season was big in helping him adjust to the mental as well as physical demands of college basketball.
"I still want to continue to get even stronger, but from where I was when I got here back in July, I'm definitely stronger and better prepared to compete at this level," said Murphy. "I've improved on a lot of aspects of my game. Just being in college and having that year of experience, you really learn what it's like to have to play hard on both ends of the court all the time. That's one of the biggest adjustments from high school to college. I am glad I was able to gain that experience last season."
With a year of practice and strength training under his belt, Murphy now gets the opportunity for another great experience at FIBA U-20 European Championships. And it is a chance the wing player can't wait for. "I'm excited to play against some guys other than my teammates who I've played against for the past nine or 10 months," he said. "I'm also anxious to see what the level of competition is like, because I've heard it's good."
Good may be an understatement, as the Duke coaching staff can attest. With head coach Mike Krzyzewski, Collins and fellow associate head coach Steve Wojciechowski having spent the past six years with Team USA, they have a great understanding of how good the international players have become and just how global the game of basketball is now. Even elite NBA talents like LeBron James and Kevin Durant have benefitted from international competition and come back to their own teams as better and more complete players.
"Playing in this competition will be a great experience for Alex. Being able to practice with our team and work hard all year with William Stephens, our strength and conditioning coach, has helped Alex improve tremendously this past season," said Collins. "The fact that he didn't see any game action, the thing he needs now more than anything is to play in organized competition. Having the chance to play for Finland in the European Championships will be a great way for him to play in intense, competitive games with and against top flight players."
With coaches and teammates already using the terms "versatile athlete", "great feel for the game" and "easy to play with" to describe Murphy, it is easy to see how he fits into the Blue Devils' plans for next season and beyond.