Gophers star Jordan Murphy embracing Final Four weekend

He would rather be playing for a national championship, but former Gophers star forward Jordan Murphy is a busy man over Final Four weekend.

It all started Thursday with an appearance at the “Keys to the Locker Room” event at Minneapolis Convention Center. He signed autographs for kids and took pictures with excited fans. He was one of several Gophers student-athletes on hand to help local inner city kids get athletic gear donated by college and professional teams that would otherwise go unused.

Friday, he’s taking part in the Reese’s All-Star Game after all the Final Four teams finish their open practices. He’ll be on the West All-Stars, coached by Jason Terry. The squad also features Houston star Corey Davis Jr.

His focus will be on meeting all the players and having fun at the All-Star Game. He’ll also take part in the 3-on-3 challenge at the Mall of America. He’s on a Big Ten team with Ethan Happ, Juwan Morgan and Glynn Watson Jr. The tournament features 32 teams from every Division I conference, and there’s a $150,000 prize pool. The winning team gets $100,000.

“It’s a different game when there’s money on the line obviously. Always some extra motivation, but that’s a good thing,” Murphy said. “Everyone is going to want to play their best, but everyone wants to have fun at the same time. We’re hoping to win the thing.”

Playing 3-on-3 will be an adjustment for Murphy. He doesn’t play it much, only in practices with a few teammates.

Murphy will leave Minnesota as the school’s all-time leading rebounder and second in career scoring. He’s No. 2 in the Big Ten in rebounding all-time and was voted First Team All-Big Ten. His 21 double-doubles were among the best in the country. Many opposing coaches say he played like a near 7-footer because of his tenacious play around the rim, despite being a mere 6-6.

He had a disappointing finish, being limited to just four minutes and didn’t score in a 70-50 loss to Michigan State in the second round. He battled back spasms in the second half of Minnesota’s first round win over Louisville.

The back is feeling better, though he continues to get treatment on it. He’s fine to play this weekend, however long it lasts. He’s thankful it wasn’t worse.

“Those first two days it was hard to put socks and shoes on, so just trying to play on that was really hard. Now I feel lot better, I can run, I can jog. It’s a lot better,” Murphy said. “I’m still doing treatment on it. I don’t think there’s ever a point where I’ve gotten to stop doing treatment. It took a while for it to feel better.”

So what’s next for Murphy after this weekend? He’s getting ready for a career in basketball, wherever it takes him. Murphy got invited to the Portsmith Invitational Tournament, the first of two pre-draft events for departing college seniors.

He’ll play in front of scouts over four days starting April 17, and it will go a long way in determining his basketball future.

“Hopefully just trying to take my game to the next level, hopefully take my career to the next level. Just try to put myself in the best position possible to accomplish my goals and my dreams,” Murphy said.

Regardless of what the future holds for Murphy, he’ll go down as one of the greatest Gophers players of all time. Richard Pitino got him to come to Minnesota after Murphy had committed to VCU, then coach Shaka Smart left to take the job at Texas.

Murphy remained with the program after a tough freshman year, where the Gophers won just eight games. He never once contemplated leaving Minnesota, but rather used it as motivation to help lead Minnesota to two NCAA Tournaments in his four years. It might have been three, if not for the Gophers suffering a rash of injuries last season.

Pitino will more remember Murphy the person, as great as he was for the Gophers.

“He cares about being a really good person and a good teammate,” Pitino said earlier this season. “He’s just been a joy to coach.”

Pitino challenged Murphy and even joked at times about having his No. 3 jersey put in the rafters some day at Williams Arena. After collecting more than 1,800 career points and 1,300 career rebounds, it’s more a matter of when than if.

Murphy can’t be replaced, but it will be up to Daniel Oturu to take over the load next season, hopefully with some help from Eric Curry, who missed the last seven games with a right foot injury that required surgery.

But for Murphy, he’s thankful for his four years brought to Minnesota. That, and a chance for him to have a professional future in basketball. Not bad for a player not highly-touted out of high school in San Antonio, Texas.

“I’ll remember it very fondly. It was a great career and obviously I had a lot of fans behind me. That’s what I’ll remember the most,” Murphy said. “Just the fans and how they really showed a lot of love for me and appreciated my game, what I brought to Minnesota.”