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Bulls’ Murphy excited to join Finnish national team
by Sam Smith
Posted on Mar 19
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The Bulls will be watching their national team player when USA Basketball opens play Aug. 30 in the World Cup basketball tournament.
Yes, how will Erik Murphy do?
“There’s nothing like playing for the national team,” said the Bulls seldom used rookie forward as the team prepares to play the Philadelphia 76ers Wednesday. “It’s going to be awesome. I’m really excited.”
Yes, and Murphy hopes Derrick Rose makes the team.
That would be the USA Basketball team coached by Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski with Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau as an assistant. Rose is among those who will be given a chance to make the USA team in tryouts this July.
Murphy, meanwhile, has secured his spot already… on the Finnish national team, which opens pool play Aug. 30 against the USA team.
“That will be exciting, awesome,” said the upbeat Murphy, fond of things awesome. “It’s a completely different style of play, a different atmosphere. It’s obviously something I’ve never done, but it will be exciting to go there and play and a great honor.”
Murphy will be able to play for Finland’s team because his mother, Päivi, is a native of Finland and even played for Finland’s national basketball team from 1988 through 1994 and played professionally in Finland and Sweden.
“I’m 5-11, I was a power forward,” said Paivi in a telephone interview from the current family home in Rhode Island. “Now I’m the cooker and laundry person. We talked about it when (the boys) were younger. My husband played in Europe. Erik was born in France, but he has passports from the U.S. and Finland (because of her citizenship). Not France.”
Murphy’s father is Jay Murphy, who was a star power forward at Boston College in the early 1980’s when he led the school to three NCAA Sweet 16s. He played parts of four seasons in the NBA, mostly with the Clippers, and then in France and Italy.
“The kids went to Finland every summer,” said Paivi. “My brother still is there, nieces and nephews. We talked about how it (playing for the national team) would be fun. The bottom line is it’s inspirational and they are proud. We never thought it would happen.”
That took getting a bid for the worldwide tournament, which Finland did in a wild card award this year and thus eligible: First game against the USA. Welcome to the basketball world, fellas.
You’ve got to start somewhere.
And one of Murphy’s teammates could be his brother, Alex, who transferred from Duke this season and is sitting out at the University of Florida, where he will play next season after Erik played there. Alex has been invited to join Finland’s team as well. And perhaps waiting in the wings for Finland is a third Murphy brother, Tomas, who is playing in high school now but is perhaps the most talented of the three basketball playing brothers.
“We always talked about Finland getting the wild card,” said Paivi. “Honestly, nobody thought they’d get it. Then they did. And it’s been huge craziness about it there. Camps that had 10 (kids) now have 30. It’s a big thing, in the newspapers all the time.”
So big that birds are flocking to the games. Rovio, the company that founded the Angry Birds game, is headquartered in Finland and is a sponsor. Finland’s all in.
Murphy says he plans to work out in Chicago this summer and hopes to be in summer league with the Bulls and then to the World Cup tournament.
As a second round pick, he hasn’t played much this season, just 62 total minutes in 23 games, mostly in mop up minutes. But he’s been a positive presence around the team, popular with the coaches, fitting in easily and being taken under wing by fellow former Gator Joakim Noah.
“Being patient is the key,” said Murphy. “There hasn’t been a lot of opportunity. All I can do every day is work hard and wait for a chance and whenever that comes be ready when my name is called. The key is to always be prepared.
“It’s definitely a waiting game,” Murphy acknowledged. “A lot of patience. But it’s also amazing to be in this position. I’m taking it all in and trying to learn as much as I can. What an opportunity to do that with this team and organization. Just keep working hard so when my name is called and when I have an opportunity I’ll be ready.”
You never know when it can come for a bench player, like in last season’s first round playoff series Game 7 when Marquis Teague had an important sequence.
“The highlight for me so far is being with this team,” said Murphy, a good shooter who was at least 40 percent his last three years at Florida. “A great group of guys; everyone gets along. You hear about chemistry problems. Not here. It’s a really good group of guys who care about one another. It’s awesome to be part of an historic organization. It’s the kind of lessons you want to take with you. Sure I’d love to have a chance to get on the court to prove myself. I always have high expectations of myself.
“When I was a young kid my mom planted the idea (of playing for Finland),” said Murphy. “I never thought I would. I’d say, ‘Yeah.’ But it is something I always wanted to do. My brother played on the junior national team. The basketball program has shown a lot of improvement there. They want to show they belong in the upper echelon of teams. They’ve had some big wins, like over Turkey.
“I want to go there and try to fit in with the team and do whatever I can to help the team win games and compete,” said Murphy. “I don’t know what my role will be or what they expect of me. But playing for your country is always something special.”