Virginia Basketball Recruiting: Williford Sees “A Ton Of Versatility” In Murphy III

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Virginia basketball Associate Head Coach Jason Williford is pleased to have Rice transfer Trey Murphy III in the fold. ~ Photo courtesy Matt Riley/Virginia Athletics Media Relations

Associate head coach Jason Williford was the first member of Virginia basketball’s staff to reach out when Rice University wing Trey Murphy III entered the transfer portal this spring. The move was understandable – Williford had scouted the sharpshooting wing for the Cavaliers several years earlier – and seemed to help UVA get off to a good start in its pursuit.

“I had a previous relationship with [UVA associate head coach Jason] Williford,” Murphy III told TheSabre.com. “In high school he had interest in me. Things just didn’t fall into place. When he reached out, it was like, ‘It’s good to talk to you again.’ He said he was showing interest and said they want me to be part of the program. He said they had talked to a lot of people near me. That’s how they do things. They take their time and make sure they get someone who is a good fit.”

In a videoconference interview with media on Thursday, Coach Williford detailed his initial interest in the former Cary Academy (Cary, N.C.) star, who head coach Tony Bennett has announced as the newest member of the Virginia men’s basketball program.

“Trey is a kid that I actually looked at out of high school when he was coming out of Durham,” Williford recalled. “He was at the time a 6’5” guard, his dad was his AAU coach, and I knew a cousin that’s real close to the family. We’re the same age group, the cousin played ball at Richmond, and he called me and said I’ve got a kid that’s really good, you need to come look at him. So I did, but he was like 6’5” and probably 155 at the time. He was super thin and I just didn’t think he was physical enough at time to play for us, but he could really shoot. He was a guard who could move and shoot.”

Two years, three inches, and roughly 40-50 pounds later, Murphy III had Virginia’s full attention. He would commit to the Hoos over Houston, Pittsburgh and Villanova, and will redshirt in 2020-21 before taking the court as a redshirt junior in 2021-22.

“When he became available, to my surprise he grew to 6’8”,” Williford said of Murphy III, who led Rice in scoring (13.7 PPG) last season as a sophomore. “So he’s now 6’8”, 200 pounds. He will bring a ton of versatility. He can shoot the 3, put it on the floor. He’s more of a combo guard/forward now with his size. Obviously, he’ll have to sit so I think what will be beneficial for him is getting in the weight room, attacking the physicality, putting on some weight, and having Coach Curtis really do what he does best, which is develop guys physically. When he comes back, I think his versatility, especially offensively, but what he’s going to be able to do sitting out, learn our defense, work on those things are things that were attractive for him about us. He actually loved the fact that we played defense and he wants to get better in that area because ultimately he wants to play at the highest level and in doing so, I think he’s got to improve his defense.”

The Pandemic’s Impact On Recruiting

Division 1 men’s basketball coaches have lost two opportunities to see prospects in action on the AAU circuit this spring, as the coronavirus forced the cancellation of two Live Evaluation sessions in April. Upcoming evaluation opportunities on the 2019-20 recruiting calendar include the NBPA Top 100 Camp (prospects can be evaluated here June 17-18), certified “scholastic events” June 19-21 and June 26-28, an AAU evaluation period July 9-12, and an NCAA College Basketball Academy evaluation period the 27-31.

Williford addressed what the biggest challenge has been recruiting-wise with the coronavirus lockdowns and cancellations in place.

“Obviously, we’re handcuffed,” Williford said. “I think the biggest challenge is not being able to see guys play and compete, especially on the AAU circuit where you get to see the better guys go against each other. So you miss that opportunity. What it’s done is allowed us to do a little more Zoom and virtual tours and Facetime where you’re actually face to face with the recruits. Most of the time, we’re just texting and calling so that’s been a unique challenge, but different and I think a positive with all of this is that they can put faces with names and they see us. My kids are jumping in sometimes on the Zoom calls and saying hi to the recruits, so it’s actually been pretty neat. But not seeing them compete and play has been the most difficult thing.”

What happens if the rest of the spring and summer evaluation opportunities, including AAU events in July, are lost?

“It will be extremely difficult,” Williford said. “Luckily, we had a little bit of a head start with some [class of] 21s. I think the biggest challenge will be the class behind them. We can start contacting [class of 2022 recruits] on June 15. Not being able to see those guys [play] and have a feel for their game, it’s going to be difficult but everybody’s got the same handicap and we’re just going to have to make the most of watching a ton of film. I’m really sick of watching film to be honest with you. (laughing).”

With Murphy III in the fold, Virginia projects to have three open scholarship spots in 2021-22. Paul VI (Fairfax, VA) 6’5”, 210-pound guard Trevor Keels, Steward School (Richmond, VA) 7’0”, 245-pound center Efton Reid, and Millennium (Goodyear, AZ) 6’8”, 200-pound combo forward DaRon Holmes II top the list of Virginia targets in 2021. All three have taken official visits to UVA. Hoopgate reports that UVA recently conducted a virtual visit with Keels and StockRisers reports that Bennett had a virtual visit with Reid on Thursday (April 23).

By our count, Virginia has extended nine scholarship offers in 2021 – one point guard, four wings, two combo forwards and two posts. A post, Caleb Furst (Purdue), is off the board, and the Hoos don’t appear to be pursuing point guard Carter Whitt.

Wings and a center look like the primary positions of need, and Keels and Reid appear to be the best bets for UVA right now. The Hoos recently extended two new offers in 2021. One went to 6’5”, 191-pound guard Jordan Longino, a junior at Germantown Academy in Fort Washington, Pennsylvania. Today (April 24), Silver Creek (Sellersburg, IN) forward Trey Kaufman claimed an offer from Tony Bennett during a virtual visit. Indiana, Louisville, Purdue, and Xavier are among the other schools that have offered the 6’8″, 210-pound consensus 4-star prospect.

As for the class of 2022, Virginia has been mentioned with some prospects and is certainly evaluating many, but we don’t know of any that have been offered yet. Look for that to change in the coming weeks and months.

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