Either you’re gonna be great, or you’re gonna quit.
It’s a phrase that was burned into Trey Murphy III’s brain by his father, Kenneth, when he was growing up in Durham, NC, and continues to be the driving force behind the way the 21-year-old lives his life.
The lessons you learn along the way can take you far. As an only child, Murphy has been pushed from an early age, which has translated into him becoming his own toughest critic.
“Him being that hard on me has helped me, especially [since] a lot of different coaches have been hard on me,” Murphy III told BasketballNews.com in a phone interview. “I took it [in] stride because it's almost nothing compared to what your dad is gonna say to you...He does that to me, so that's when I start doing it to myself. I think I've overtaken him on that one.”
As a highly-touted, projected first-round pick in the 2021 NBA Draft out of Virginia, Murphy has yet to quit. He’s currently wrapping up an 11-day road trip in which he’s worked out with a number of teams, including sessions with the Boston Celtics, New Orleans Pelicans and Los Angeles Clippers.
“My three best workouts,” said Murphy, whom BasketballNews.com Lead NBA Draft Analyst Matt Babcock has slotted at No. 25 in his latest NBA Mock Draft. “I did really well in those, shot the cover off it and just really competed. My other two workouts, I didn't put the ball in the basket the way I wanted to, but I still defended at a high level and did other things...Workouts are important, but at the end of the day they're just trying to get to know you. If I don't do well in a workout, it's not the end of the [world]. [I’m] just going into these workouts super focused, but also really relaxed as well."
In between workouts, Murphy is making sure he’s hydrated, well-rested and clear-minded with rest and recovery. He had a similar mentality at last month’s NBA Draft Combine in Chicago, where he tested and measured well and interviewed with 14 different teams. He also feels like he showed a lot of different things athletically to NBA circles at Excel’s pro day. For those who aren’t familiar with his game, Murphy describes himself as “a really versatile basketball player.”
“As anybody would see, my shooting is what really stands out. I shoot the ball at a really high level, and I defend at a high level as well,” Murphy said. “Those two things right there are gonna be at a premium and something that every team will love to have. I feel like I separate myself because I'm a really high IQ player, and then my athleticism and length is something that is pretty special, too. And I feel like I have a lot of untapped potential in that my best years in basketball are years down the road. So just being able to show what I can do in my limited role at first will be helpful so I can expand my game later on in my career."
The numbers at Virginia support that, as he averaged 11.3 points on 43.3% shooting from deep for the Cavaliers in his 25 games. But Murphy is especially proud of his development on the defensive end of the floor, a strong aspect of his game he credits Virginia head coach Tony Bennett for molding.
“Basically during my recruiting Zoom with Coach Bennett, the first thing that he showed us was film, and that's what really caught my eye because he's super attentive to the details,” Murphy explained. “That's something that I really take pride in is really being close to the details and studying every detailed part of my game. He saw some potential in me as a defender. He was like, 'Look see there,' -- he was showing a clip of me sliding, cutting somebody off -- 'You definitely have the ability, and I know if you come here, I'll be able to bring that out and you'll become a better defender.' At the end of the day, a lot of it is on me and it's about want-to, as well as just being smart. But a lot of it was that practice is 80% defense, so there's no choice but to become a better defender.
“Before I got to Virginia, I didn't play any defense at all. I was an awful defender. So just in that area alone, I'm super thankful for him for that. He helped me with different things on my jumpshot in order to get it more consistent. Really, it was just little tweaks, and he always had a lot of confidence in me and never tried to change my jumpshot, but still gave little nuggets of helpful information in order to make it a little better. Then off the court, he was probably a top-three person that I have ever met. He's better than advertised, I would say, and he's really a great human being and somebody that you can really look up to as a really good role model."
Murphy’s lone season at Virginia happened fast. Transferring in from Rice, he didn’t have to wait out a year on the sidelines as some expected. He and the school applied for a waiver of eligibility after some time spent with the team and before the season began.
“I was going through practice, and I was realizing I was one of the best players on the team, and I felt like it was a good idea for me to play this year because I'd be able to help the team win more and it would be something I could really enjoy,” Murphy recalled. “Being able to play with Sam [Hauser] and Jay [Huff], having a lot more spacing on the floor would be nice.
“Coach [Jason] Williford brought the idea to me, one of the assistant coaches, and asked [if I] was I thinking about it. And I said, 'Yeah, definitely been thinking about it because I like the way the team is, it's a great setup for the team and everybody's really cohesive.' I talked about it some more with my parents and then I talked to Coach Bennett about it, and he was super supportive either way. He was like, 'Look, I definitely don't want to pressure you into doing this, but I mean we would definitely benefit from you playing this year. At the end of the day, the decision is up to you.' So I just felt like it was the best decision for me to not redshirt and play."
The NCAA granted the waiver to him on the first day of the season on Nov. 25, and Murphy scored a season-high 21 points on 7-for-9 from the field that night in his Virginia debut. It would be a sign of things to come for the talented forward.
But Murphy acknowledges that he wouldn’t be where he is now without the experience he got at Rice. He called the first two years of his collegiate career “integral” to his success with Virginia, citing how he was able to put on 30 pounds of weight, as well as go through some adverse moments.
A specific one that will stick in his mind? Five games into his freshman year. It was around Thanksgiving time in 2018, and Owls were set to take on Wichita State on the road.
“By the first media timeout, I want to say it was like 20 to 5 and the crowd is going nuts,” Murphy reminisced. “They were pressing us to death and literally, I was just looking around like, 'What is happening? This is my welcome-to-college moment.’ I had airballed a three at one time. It was a very rough showing. Just going through those hard times and remembering them and working so those times don't happen again was something that was very motivational.
“Playing against people that are much older, much stronger and more physical and having to find a way was something I think helped me a lot when I made the transfer to Virginia, and I feel like it was kinda seamless for me."
Murphy firmly believes his biggest area of growth is his maturity, which has “exponentially grown, unlike a linear growth of what it should be.” He admits that he was a “terrible teammate” in high school that would yell at his own guys due to his competitive nature and desire to win, and that would create a toxic environment. However, as the years have gone by, he’s learned to change his approach.
“I understand now, you can't... it works sometimes, but everybody's different and you have to make sure you're able to meet their needs in order to get the best out of 'em,” Murphy said. “Because some people, they don't respond to that type of criticism like that, and they don't respond well and it's not good for the entire team. And then, just learning to control what I can control and become better with my effort, as well as just defending at a high level. Those are like the areas where I've really improved a lot. I'm really excited for the improvement that I'm gonna be making as well."
In a literal sense, Murphy has grown, too. He went from exiting his high school senior season at Cary Academy at 6-foot-5, to entering this upcoming draft 6-foot-9. Getting taller and bigger was an adjustment for him, going from a shooting guard swingman to his current small-ball four position... It just took some time to get used to.
“I liked that a little bit because you get bigger guys guarding you, and you're able to beat 'em with speed and quickness,” Murphy said of the change. “So it helped me open up a new part of my game.
“I think overall, the growing part, it hurt me a little bit defensively because I wasn't grown into my body yet and I was still a little 'bambi'-ish I would say -- having my feet crossed up and falling. My dad used to call me after every game. He was like, 'You just gonna keep the streak alive.' I'm like, 'Dad, what type of streak are you talking about?' He was like, 'Well you fall every single game, and I see you gonna keep that streak alive.' Just clumsiness and growing into my body."
And Murphy knows he’s still not a finished product physically yet. In fact, he insists that getting stronger is a definite need as he heads into the NBA, among other aspects.
“Any time you go up a level, you're gonna be playing against better athletes, and this jump is probably the biggest jump that I'll be making,” Murphy said. “Playing against grown men is something that you can't really replicate in college, so making sure I live in that weight room, but not getting overly strong and losing out on my athletic ability will be important.
“I've gotta rebound the ball better, but I don't think that's too much of a concern for me. I definitely think I'm gonna rebound the ball at a higher level. And overall, just continuing to develop. That's something that's super important to me because I want to play [and have] a really long career and eventually become an All-Star."