The text message Thayer Murphy sent to River Ridge boys basketball coach John Barbee at 5:12 p.m. the day after the Hawks’ 2A regional-qualifying win over Lindbergh is still saved on the third-year coach’s cellphone. It caught Barbee so off-guard — in a good way — he couldn’t delete it.
After a career-high 33 points, including the eventual game-winner in the Hawks’ 61-54 victory in the West Central District 2/3 quarterfinal win over the Eagles, Murphy, once a fill-in starter who hasn’t given up his spot, asked coach not 24 hours later, “Am I shooting too much?”
“I was scared that I would be hurting the team more than helping the team,” Murphy said.
Barbee’s response? Heck no, son, keep shooting.
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“There’s no such thing as shooting too much as long as they are good shots,” Barbee replied.
As the Hawks (20-5) open the Class 2A state quarterfinals against Sehome (18-6) at 10:30 a.m. Thursday at the Yakima Valley SunDome, Murphy’s 12.9 points-per-game average is a welcoming surprise for a player who didn’t start his first varsity game until 18 games ago.
Barbee believes that in any game, any of his players can step up and take over, and Murphy has molded himself into a go-to guy.
“He’s right there,” he said.
Over the December winter break, Barbee inserted the 5-foot-11 senior guard into the starting lineup out of part necessity, part Murphy’s doing. With junior big man Mac Armstrong on a family vacation, Murphy became the fill-in starter who hasn’t left the starting 5.
Barbee’s decision to go small paid off big.
“By attrition,” Barbee said, “I gave it a try and have gone smaller since.”
A self-described “average athlete,” a three-sport guy who blends into the background as a starter in football, basketball and baseball, Murphy does just enough to contribute everywhere.
Still, Murphy see’s himself as that role guy — “I know my place,” he said — on a team filled with 3-point specialists and balanced scoring. After Murphy is LaBrandon Price (12 points per game), Kobe Key (10.5) and Jason Kananin (8.4). He’s quick to remind himself what Barbee tells him: Stay within your game.
“I try not to do too much — just try to do with best at what I can do.”
Five games into his junior season, though, Murphy was learning the hard way. After initially making the varsity roster in 2013-14, he was shipped down to junior varisty to get more experience and playing time, returning to the varsity squad in February. The experience taught him patience, perseverance and full trust in the coaching staff.
“I’m happy that it happened now,” he said “I like to look back and see how far I’ve come since then.”
Meg Wochnick: 360-754-5473