College Basketball: NAU Hopes for Program-Defining Hire in Jack Murphy

Alan BlackAnalyst IIIApril 17, 2012

Murphy will have young star James Douglas to work with in trying to build NAU into a successful program         Photo courtesy of
Murphy will have young star James Douglas to work with in trying to build NAU into a successful program Photo courtesy of

Northern Arizona University does not exactly have a nationally—or even regionally—renowned basketball program. 

Sure, the Lumberjacks have six Big Sky Conference regular-season titles to their credit, but they have managed to make the NCAA tournament only twice.

The last time NAU was at the Big Dance was 2000. Just like in its one prior tournament appearance in 1998, it got bounced in the first round.

A school that has only ever been to the NCAA tournament twice and has never made it past the first round isn't exactly enjoying lots of prestige, name recognition or respect.

Lisa Campos, NAU's vice president for Intercollegiate Athletics, is aiming to change all that with her hiring of Jack Murphy as the Lumberjacks' new head basketball coach. 

Murphy has a pretty good basketball background. He spent the past three seasons as an assistant at national power Memphis. Before that, he fulfilled a variety of roles on the staff at the University of Arizona, starting when he was a college student there. In between, Murphy was a scout for the Denver Nuggets for three years.

Despite the fact that he is only 32 years old, Murphy has a good deal of high-end experience. Some people live, breathe and sleep basketball. Jack Murphy is one of those people. 

One of Murphy's strength is the fact that he is a renowned recruiter. He convinced many a highly-rated prospect to attend Memphis during his three years there. His time as an NBA scout also gives him a pretty good eye for talent. 

NAU has a lot of potential as a program. It is one of only three public universities in the state of Arizona and has over 23,000 students. 

At approximately 7,000 feet above sea level, it also has a terrific home-court advantage. Its arena, the J. Lawrence Walkup Skydome, is a beautiful wooden dome that can seat over 16,000.


The Lumberjacks are also in prime recruiting territory. They are less than a 10-hour drive away from the recruiting hotbeds of both Los Angeles and Las Vegas. They are also only a few hours away from the gigantic Phoenix metropolitan area, where there are plenty of talented recruits to be found. 

Jack Murphy should be able to drastically improve NAU's recruiting.  He is from Las Vegas and knows Arizona recruiting well from his time at University of Arizona on the staff of Hall of Famer Lute Olson. 

Murphy should be able to help the Lumberjacks snag more talented recruits than they have in the past.

Up until now, they haven't been able to take advantage of their location or great home-court advantage.  In 2011, they averaged only 747 fans per home game, despite the fact that the student body is 23,000 strong and the Skydome can seat over 16,000.

NAU basketball has not lived up to its potential to be a great program, and doesn't have a lot of fan support. Jack Murphy is the type of young, ambitious, recruiting-savvy coach that very well may be able to forever rewrite the program's history and turn it into a respected and feared program.