Nationals

Murphy set for first season with Lumberjacks

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Murphy set for first season with Lumberjacks

PHOENIX (AP) Jack Murphy was not what you would call a star on his high school basketball team.

His duties: Laundry, towels, hand out water, practice hard.

His line: One game, two free throws.

``When you're in high school and every girl you want to date is in the stands seeing you hand out water, it's not a good thing,'' Murphy said. ``It hurt my dating game, but it helped out my passion for basketball and what I'm doing today.''

It sure did.

Parlaying his high school managerial duties into something much bigger, Murphy went on to work under some of the best minds in basketball: Lute Olson at Arizona, George Karl with the Denver Nuggets and Josh Pastner at Memphis.

Taking what he learned from those coaches and combining it with his own infatuation for basketball, Murphy, the player who wasn't good enough to play on his high school team, now has his own team after becoming the new head coach at Northern Arizona.

``I always knew that I wanted to be a coach,'' Murphy said during a media tour in downtown Phoenix this week. ``Everything I have done has been with that end in mind.''

After his not-so-stellar high school career - at least on the court - Murphy landed a job as the team manager at Arizona with the help of his high school coach, Al La Rocque, a friend of Olson's.

Murphy spent eight years in Tucson, serving as recruiting coordinator, administrative assistant, video coordinator and eventually director of operations.

He then went on to work as an advance scout for the Denver Nuggets from 2006-09 before landing a job as an assistant coach at Memphis under Pastner, a player and assistant at Arizona during Murphy's time in the desert.

That led to his big break at Northern Arizona, a team in big need of a boost.

A fairly steady small-conference program over the years, the Lumberjacks won 19 games in 2010-11, but fell off hard last season.

Northern Arizona got off to a rough start, then coach Mike Adras resigned a month into the season, replaced by 70-year-old Dave Brown, the school's former women's coach and color commentator for the team.

Brown did his best to hold the team together, but the lack of continuity hurt the Lumberjacks, who lost their final 16 games to finish 5-24, including 1-15 in the Big Sky Conference.

Northern Arizona figured to be better this season with seven seniors returning and Murphy has already made an impact on the Lumberjacks with his enthusiasm, confidence and by providing them with a structured environment.

``It's been good to have coach Murphy because people don't think you can establish stability in the short amount of time that he's been here, but since mid-April when he was hired, you know exactly what to expect from him and he knows what to expect from us,'' senior guard Michael Dunn said. ``It's kind of the accountability we have for each other and that helps us a lot in practice and going forward into the season.''

Murphy became infatuated with basketball at an early age, growing up in Las Vegas while UNLV was in its heyday, watching future pros like Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom, Baron Davis and Paul Pierce play in his high school gym during the city's two big tournaments every year.

And it's not as though Murphy was devoid of hoops talent. It's just that his skills didn't fully develop until after high school and he played for a school, Durango in Las Vegas, that won two state championships while he was there and sent multiple players to Division I schools.

Even when he couldn't play the game, Murphy studied it, waiting every month for his issue of Basketball Times, watching tape, attending UNLV practices to watch coach Bill Bayno at work. He worked basketball camps with La Rocque and later with Olson at Arizona, all of it to fulfill his ultimate goal.

``I went there knowing I wanted to be a basketball coach, be around the game,'' Murphy said. ``I started early on in that viewpoint.''

Murphy continued to be a sponge for information once he started working.

He had some pretty good teachers, too.

From Olson, he learned accountability, the way the Hall of Fame coach empowered his assistant coaches and basketball staff with responsibility, but made them answerable when things went wrong.

From Karl, Murphy learned about adaptability, the way the Nuggets coach dealt with the constant changes with an NBA team - they traded for Allen Iverson a month into Murphy's first season - and always found a way to win on the court.

Murphy's time with Pastner taught him patience.

When Pastner took over at Memphis, he was replacing John Calipari at a program that was coming off its best stretch in school history. Murphy saw the way Pastner handled the pressure, realizing success isn't going to happen overnight, that you have to have a plan and stick to it.

``I've been fortunate to learn from some of the best minds in basketball,'' he said. ``They taught me a lot.''

Murphy used that knowledge to his advantage, no longer the guy handing out towels and water anymore.

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Stephen Strasburg makes history at the plate against Atlanta

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USA Today

Stephen Strasburg makes history at the plate against Atlanta

Stephen Strasburg had the best hitting performance of his career against the Braves Thursday night, going 3-3 at the plate with two singles and a 420-foot three-run bomb. 

He didn't just set personal records but reached rare air in baseball history. He's the second pitcher ever with at least three hits, a HR, and five RBI since the DH debuted in 1973 and the fifth pitcher in the last 50 seasons to get two hits in an inning including a home run. 

Strasburg set franchise firsts with his performance, dating all the way back to the Expos. 

An extraordinary milestone for the Nationals' ace, hopefully Strasburg's performance will inspire the team during a crucial four-game series with Atlanta. 

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‘The Redskins love Alabama guys’: Washington could run old draft playbook in 2020 to fill huge need

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‘The Redskins love Alabama guys’: Washington could run old draft playbook in 2020 to fill huge need

Perhaps no position group on the Redskins has more questions or uncertainty than the wide receivers.

Josh Doctson enters the final year of his rookie contract, and has yet to record over 550 yards in any of his three professional seasons. Washington signed Paul Richardson to a five-year deal in 2018, but he just played in just seven games for the Burgundy and Gold in 2018 before having season-ending shoulder surgery. Second-year receiver Trey Quinn is expected to fill the role in the slot after Jamison Crowder departed for the New York Jets this offseason but has yet to prove anything on the NFL level. 

The Redskins addressed the position during the 2019 NFL Draft, selecting Terry McLaurin in the third round and Kelvin Harmon in the sixth round. But it's unclear how much either one will contribute to the Washington offense in 2019.

So, it's likely the Redskins will need to address the position during the 2020 NFL Draft, and probably very early on it. Well, this works in Washington's favor, because the 2020 wide receiver class is loaded. 

On a recent episode of the Redskins Talk podcast, J.P. Finlay and Pete Hailey spoke with NFL Draft expert Jordan Reid (no, not the Redskins' tight end) about the top wide receiver prospects heading into next year's draft, and which players the Redskins could potentially target.

Before diving into the top 2020 prospects, Reid gave an initial assessment of the current Redskins' receivers.

"The Redskins just don't have that headliner, top go-to guy," Reid said. "They were expecting Josh Doctson to be that when they did draft him in the first round of 2016. But he's had some injuries, and he's already come out and said he's looking forward to free agency. That just not something you want to hear."

Reid was high on McLaurin, though, the first receiver the Redskins selected in 2019.

"They drafted Terry McLaurin in the third round, I liked him a lot even going back to the Senior Bowl," he said. "I think he's going to have a really good year, not just as a receiver but the special teams phase as well. He's going to flash in a lot of ways."

As far as the 2020 draft wide receiver class, one school stands on top, and it's a school the Redskins are very familiar with: Alabama. The Redskins used their first-round picks in 2017 and 2018 on 'Bama guys and signed another Crimson Tide alumni this offseason in safety Landon Collins.

"We know the Redskins love Alabama guys, and there's a lot of [wide receivers] coming out this year," Reid said. "It's not just Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs is another guy that's getting a lot of steam. They're going to have the chance to get the receiver they want. This is a very special wide receiver class."

Crimson Tide receiver Jerry Jeudy is the consensus top receiver in next year's class, but Reid believes his speedy teammate could challenge him for that spot by season's end.

"With Ruggs, I think he's a bit more as far as polished a route runner [than Jeudy]," he said. "I think his hands are a bit better, and I wouldn't be shocked if he runs below a 4.3 at the combine. He can absolutely fly."

If the pair of Alabama receivers currently hold the top two spots for best wide receiver prospect, there's another guy who's right on their heels: Oklahoma's Ceedee Lamb.

"He reminds me a lot of DeAndre Hopkins coming out," Reid said on Lamb. "He's not a thick guy, but he plays much stronger than what he indicates. Very reliable hands, and his body control is out of this world. He had a one-handed catch against UCLA, it didn't count, but it's truly amazing."

As a true sophomore, Lamb totaled 1,158 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2018. Sure, it may have helped to have Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray under center, but Lamb has proven he's an elite talent.

Two other prospects Reid is keeping an eye on are Colorado's Laviska Shenault Jr. and Texas' Collin Johnson.

"He's not as polished as some of these other guys, but he's more of a do-it-all type of receiver," Reid said on Shenault Jr. 

Where Shenault may be a do-it-all receiver, Johnson plays to his 6'6 size.

"He's a really good route runner," Reid said on Johnson. "It's just a matter of how consistently can he separate, and how fast he is. If he goes to the Senior Bowl, I think he can light it up."

While many of these guys seem like sure-fire guys, there's still a full season of football to be played before the draft. Players will rise, but just as many, if not more, will fall off.

"You just have to let this play out, that's what happens with the draft process," Reid said. "Guys fall off, and then you have guys that come out of nowhere. Quinton Williams from last year is a prime example. He was a 270-pound defensive end at this time last year; we had no idea who he was and he ends up being the No. 3 overall selection."

But if everything plays out close to how it's expected to, this wide receiver draft class will be one to remember. 

"This class is special man," Reid said. "I think it's going to rival 2014, with Odell Beckham Jr., Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans and all those guys, Jarvis Landry, Davante Adams too. It's going to be very similar to that. It's very special."

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