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» Tue Feb 07, 2006 10:44 pm

His oncourt digits are almost as impressive as the ones on his paycheck, but what really has TROY MURPHY smiling are the numbers in the win column. However you add it up, it’s clear you can count on Murph.
By Russ Bengtson

The story isn’t all that recent, nor is it relevant, but it’s a good place to start. We’ll start with 1, the number on Troy Murphy’s back. It’s just after the 2001 Draft, and the Golden State Warriors have selected the Notre Dame junior with the 14th overall pick. Having not much of an idea who’s on the team, and having never been to the Bay Area, the then 21-year-old starts with a phone call. But let him tell it.

“I wore number three when I was in college,” Murph says, “and then when I got to the Warriors, three was taken by Bobby Sura. So I called Bobby and asked him if I could wear the number, and he told me that he would let me wear the number if I could beat him up. So I’m coming to this team, and this dude’s telling me, ‘If you can kick my ass, you can have the number.’ So I said I’m not sure I need it that bad. Number one seemed real cool at that point.”

Laughter all around. The next question seems obvious - when point guard Baron Davis was dealt to the Warriors at the end of last season, did he call Murphy to request his number? Murphy doesn’t miss a beat.

“No - but I was going to use the Bobby Sura line on him.”

Even if he didn’t laugh, you’d know Murphy wasn’t serious. He just finished serving up Thanksgiving dinner to a group of underprivileged children at a Danville restaurant, about 45 minutes away from the Warriors practice facility in downtown Oakland (but just minutes from his home, out “with the deer”). It’s the fifth year the Warriors have done this, and the fifth year that Murph has helped out. He’s the only starter in attendance. And, just in case this whole basketball thing doesn’t work out, he’d probably make on hell of a waiter. Long reach and all that. You even get the sense he enjoys it.

And everyone notices. If you can’t tell by the fact that he’s signing everything from photos to t-shirts to folders for some adoring fans, some of them are more than happy to straight-up tell him so. Tucked in the corner of the restaurant doing this interview, he’s discovered. A pair of girls approach, young and not at all shy. “I love you, Troy! Will you be here next year?”

“Yeah, I’ll be here,” Troy responds.

They take it even further. “I told that cheerleader that you liked her.”

“OK, thank you!” Murph responds, flushing.

“And she said she’ll think about it.”

“Oh, perfect. Thank you!”

Not that the whole thing is for the kids. Let’s go to 2, as in double-doubles, something Troy Murphy gets a hell of a lot of. Not the crazy, KG-like 35 and 22s, but the strong, steady numbers: 19 and 11, 10 and 17, 21 and 10. Blue-collar digits for the blue-collar player. “The great thing about Troy is that you know what you’re gonna get every night out,” Derek Fisher says. “When you get the stat sheet at the end of the game, unless he just had a bad night, he’s gonna have 16 points and 12 rebounds. And you can’t compare him to guys like Shaq and Ben Wallace and all these other big guys, but... the great thing about this League is when you have guys where you know what you’re gonna get out of them every night. That’s a real pro, and Murph’s a pro.”

What real pros do is get better every year, and Murph has done that. His second season, thanks largely to 20 added pounds of muscle, he was the only player in the League to improve his scoring and rebounding by 5-plus a game. That season he averaged his first double-double (11.7 and 10.2). His third season was marred by injury, as he only played in 28 games in ‘03-04. In Year Four, he added a deadly trey to his arsenal (we’ll get to that momentarily) and averaged another double-double, 15.4 and 10.8 per. This year, he’s bringing it all together. “He’s doing a lot of little things that in the past maybe he wouldn’t have done,” says coach Mike Montgomery. “He’s running to screens, he’s moving the ball - in fact, I talked to him after the game last night and he just seemed so much happier. He’s got a little bounce in his step and he just seems to enjoy playing.”

He seems to enjoy just about everything these days, which is exactly right for a 25-year-old entering his prime with a set-for-life contract and a team of young stars. He spends his summers in New York City and his money on not much (his concession to the dress code is a suit jacket over his Led Zeppelin t-shirt). And you want to know how much he enjoys the game? After a hard day of playing basketball, he just wants to go home... and watch basketball. “The best thing is, we get done with practice, and then the games start at four, so I get something to eat and go home and the games are on,” he says. “It’s great.”

It’s that love of the game that has driven him, ever since he starred at North Jersey’s Delbarton High. That’s where John MacLeod, then head coach at Notre Dame and now a Golden State assistant, first saw Murphy play. Once in South Bend, he took his natural talent and worked at it: by the time he was done, he was a two-time Big East Player of the Year. “It wasn’t unusual for him to be out there at 1:30 or 2 in the morning working on his shot,” MacLeod recalls. “He worked out some kind of deal with the security people at the arena where they knew this was Murph, and Murph would come in late at night and shoot.”

It all paid off. And those late-night sessions bring us to three, for three-pointers. Murph took all of 40 of them (connecting on 11) in his first three NBA seasons combined. Then, last season, he went nuts. Took 148, hit 59. That’s 40 percent, folks, which, while it wont give Steve Kerr any nightmares, was the same percentage hit by Dirk Nowitski. “Hopefully these guys that are inside, back-to-the-basket guys, they still gotta come out and chase me around,” Murph says. “That’s the idea.”

It’s an idea his teammates can get with. “You got a big guy that steps out,” JRich says, “and he’s not clogging up the middle, and guys that drive like me and Baron, it frees us up to get to the basket.” Baron, often the dime behind the trey, co-signs. “He really stretches the defense, man. He’s been working on his shot as well as his post-up game, and I’m just glad to have him, because it takes a lot of pressure off me.”

It’s easier for Murph, too. He can get that shot off without much space - keep in mind, he’s a 6-11, 245-pound lefty - but every inch of room still counts. “When I spread the defense, it’s a lot like having somebody run at you when you’re shooting at 18, 19 feet, and then when you’re behind the three-point line you can really space it out.”

Let’s move on to four. That would be Murph’s position, power forward, which he plays quite well, thank you very much. There’s been a lot made of the Warriors needing more toughness inside - both by the local media and the coaching staff - and Murphy’s had quite enough of that. The question is raised one time too many after practice, and the response is quick: “If we continue to win, I don’t care if we have an inside presence, an outside presence - I don’t care if we have a presence.”

He’s right, you know. The Warriors started out 11-6, and more than that, Troy’s been rebounding, averaging 8.3 rpg through the first month of this season. Isn’t anyone keeping track? “I just don’t understand sometimes when people say, ‘We need this,’ ‘We need that,’” Murph says, “And I understand we need a guy you can throw the ball to at the end of the game and get fouls and things like that, but if you want rebounds, two out of the last three years I’ve been in the top five [in the League]. I mean, sometimes I just get frustrated with some of the things they come out and say.”

To end, let’s skip five (and a few others) and jump straight to 58 million. That’s the amount he got in an extension he signed in 2004. There are a lot of people who can’t believe Troy Murphy is earning nearly $60 mil to play basketball (just check the Warrior message boards), and Murph is one of them. “If you told me 15 years ago that I’d be doing this,” he says, “I’d think you were lyin’.”

But this really has nothing to do with the extension itself - like the Bobby Sura tale, it’s just a good story about why he hasn’t spent it yet. Listen.

“It just happened that I signed the extension, and then the next day we started playing, and I played all right that game. And the next game I went like 2 for 15 and got booed out of the place. So I called up my AAU coach, and he said, ‘Save every penny,’ Murphy says. “So I said, screw it, you know?” (S)

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