Murphy masters living beneath microscope
By KATHLEEN O'BRIEN
Associate Sports Editor
The phone rings steadily off the hook in Troy Murphy's dorm room.
Murphy barely has time to replace the receiver between calls during the lone hour of the day spent in his room.
He talks to his dad and several friends, but the majority of the calls come from folks more interested in his value as a basketball player than as a person. There is a voice-mail from a Chicago Tribune reporter, a call from Irish coach Mike Brey, two calls from Bernie Cafarelli in Notre Dame's Sports Information office trying to arrange a photo shoot.
The list goes on.
Finally, Murphy gives up on trying to accomplish anything in his room and goes to his sanctuary — the team locker room. Equipped with two computers, couches, a big-screen TV, a table and chairs, the newly renovated lounge area offers a quiet, distraction-free place to study.
As an All-American forward on a Notre Dame team in the midst of a revival, Murphy is one of the most sought-after basketball personalities in the NCAA this year. He knows that the attention goes along with the territory.
"You're the one who's given the opportunity to play. You're the guy they're cheering for. You see some guy walking out on the street wearing your jersey," Murphy said. "It's pretty cool when it comes down to it, but if you get all that, a lot is expected of you."
At times, however, the publicity gets out of hand.
A few days earlier, a reporter called Murphy's room instead of following the prescribed route of going through Sports Information to arrange an interview. Murphy told the reporter he had the wrong room, granting him five minutes of respite before the phone rang again. It was an operator, who told Murphy his mother and uncle were on the phone. The story seemed a bit dubious, but Murphy said to put the call through.
"It was the same guy. He called and told the operator that he was my uncle, and that there had been a family emergency," Murphy said. "That's a little ridiculous."
The scrutiny wasn't always as intense.
"It's changed a lot from my freshman year to now, the way people act towards me," Murphy said. "A lot of people don't talk to me as much anymore. You say hello, and they don't say anything. You said hello to somebody every time you saw them freshman year, and now they don't talk to you."
As a freshman, skeptics discounted Murphy's ability to play at the Big East level. He proved the critics wrong by winning Big East Rookie of the Year, then topped that off by earning Big East Player of the Year as a sophomore.
Now a giant poster of Murphy hangs on the wall in LaFortune's Huddle Mart, just one more assurance that the 6-foot-10 junior does not escape unrecognized.
Wherever Murphy goes on campus, people notice. Heads turn when he enters a room. Students stop talking when he passes on the quad.
"The more games you win, the more people realize who you are," teammate and friend David Graves said. "The better he's gotten as a player, obviously, the more people recognize him."
The spotlight shines brightest on Murphy on home football weekends. He attracts hordes of followers, so many that attending the games themselves has become all but impossible, and Murphy's learned to avoid the dining hall following games.
"There's no going into the dining hall after a football game — it's just a circus," Murphy said. "It's hard to hide when you're ducking through the door."
The realization that he's not just an average college student hit Murphy with hurricane force last month, when the 20-year-old was caught inside Finnigan's Irish Pub Oct. 13.
Of the 147 minors cited in the bar, four — Murphy, teammates Tom Timmermans and Jere Macura and football player Gerome Sapp — had their names in the papers. Murphy's presence became the lead story on ESPN.com.
"It was a bad decision and it was a mistake," Murphy said of going to the bar.
When police entered the bar, Murphy knew instinctively that the raid would become big news.
So he called his mom in Arizona from inside Finnigan's to tell her before she had a chance to read it in the newspaper.
Murphy, who doesn't drink, also asked the police to give him a breathalizer test. The officers told him the test wasn't necessary. The problem was not whether Murphy was drinking or not; the problem was that he was a minor in a tavern.
Although police said the drinking was not an issue, TV stations, newspapers and Internet sites across the nation reported that Murphy had been caught drinking and carrying false identification at Finnigan's. Only the latter was true.
Within hours of the bust, Murphy reported to Coach Brey's office, ready to face the consequences of his actions.
"Troy was in my office at 8 a.m. and took it like a man," Brey said. "I think Troy's disappointed in himself, and he accepts full responsibility for the situation as do Jere and Tom."
The next day, when practice began, media attention focused on Finnigan's rather than on the team.
While Murphy ate breakfast with the team, he saw a freeze frame of himself and Timmermans as the lead story on the local morning newscast. At the same time, his mom was reading about the Finnigan's fiasco in the newspaper in Arizona and his dad read about it from his New Jersey home.
"That's the kind of attention that this team doesn't need," Murphy said. "I'm supposed to be one of the leaders on the team and a captain, and it's something that a captain doesn't do."
While Murphy owns up to his mistake, the extent of the national media attention surprised him.
"It was a wakeup call," Murphy said. "I came back to school to do things that college kids do and be a college kid. I was doing things that college kids do, and it kind of opened my eyes that I can't do that kind of thing anymore."
"I just have to recognize that things athletes do around campus are recognized," Murphy added.
Not all actions gain equal attention, however.
Rarely does one see a story about how Murphy signed a bag full of hats for his dorm rector, how he rushed off after classes one recent day to speak to a grade school assembly or how he's stayed laid back and grounded despite the swarm of fans.
"One thing I really respect about Troy," said friend and teammate Matt Carroll, "is that no matter how much attention he gets from the media and fans and little kids asking for autographs, he really hasn't changed at all."
Murphy's maintained the goofy streak that led him to bleach his hair blonde this summer, but he's also matured.
As a kid, he used to run away from home when his parents scolded him, usually for not cleaning his room.
"He was always a good boy, but he had the terrible habit that if he was told to clean his room, he would pile it up instead of clean it up," his mom, Christine Murphy, said. "When we told him to clean it up, he would be independent , walk down the driveway and hide behind the boulder that was on our front lawn."
After an hour or two, Murphy decided not to run away after all and trekked the 200 feet back to his house. It's a good thing he grew out of that phase, since hiding is no longer an option.
So many hassles — from the former Little League coach in New Jersey who leaves a nasty phone message after Notre Dame lost to Rutgers to the constant rumors about Murphy jumping to the NBA.
Is playing basketball for Notre Dame worth all the headaches?
Murphy doesn't hesitate for a second.
With a nod and a grin, Murphy says, "It's worth it."
All Sports Stories for Wednesday, November 1, 2000