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By Brittany Johnson
It didn’t bother former basketball standout Samantha Murphy when her coach at Grand Canyon told her the team already had a point guard.
Although Murphy had grown accustomed to the position during her time at nearby Xavier College Preparatory, she spent all summer improving her shot and learning to play off the ball. When her freshman season began, she made the transition to shooting guard, a decision that quickly paid off for her and her team.
“I think I finally found my true position,” said Murphy, who took to the adjustment so well that she was named Player of the Year in Division II women’s basketball in 2011. “I was an okay point guard, but I felt a lot more comfortable as a two. I had a great point guard with my teammate, Rosalyn (Nelson). We were a good duo.”
Such open-mindedness and drive to succeed are in character for Murphy. In fact, her entire life has been defined by determination, hard work, and a willingness to try new things. It’s no surprise then that the Pacific West Conference selected Murphy as its female representative on the Division II 40th Anniversary Tribute Team – an honor recognizing former student-athletes whose hard work in athletics and the classroom exemplify the core values of the Division II student-athlete.
Murphy, a native of Phoenix, started playing basketball in kindergarten. A self-declared “tomboy,” she remembers playing against the boys at recess, pushing herself to play at their level. At Xavier Prep, she played both softball and basketball until her junior year, when she ultimately decided to focus on the latter.
“It was hard to do two sports,” she said. “And I figured if I wanted to play in college, I would need to focus on one.”
She played on a local competitive club team for a year, which gave her more exposure throughout the area and allowed her to refine her game. By the end of her senior season, Murphy was named second-team all-state and had received two team MVP designations.
When coach Trent Mays offered her a scholarship to play at nearby Grand Canyon, Murphy accepted the offer, partially due to the school’s proximity to her family. Her father, who was very involved in the recruiting process, provided Murphy with what she described as her “own personal scouting report” before games throughout her college career.
And based on her performance, the scouting reports must have helped.
By the end of her collegiate career, Murphy was a two-time Pacific West Player of the Year, a four-time first-team all-conference selection and Grand Canyon’s all-time leading scorer with 2,147 points. During her senior season, she led all of Division II in scoring (24.6 points a game) and free-throw shooting (91.4 percent) and helped the Antelopes to a 29-3 record, a No. 7 national ranking, and their first appearance in an NCAA Division II West Region title game.
She also set Grand Canyon records for points in a season (786), as well as in a game (49) after an impressive outing against UC San Diego.
“It felt like that game, I could absolutely make no mistakes,” she said. “It was just an amazing feeling because you put so much effort into your sport or anything you’re doing. You put all that effort in and then finally, you’re seeing the fruits of your labor. That game may have been the most rewarding in that aspect.”
She said she didn’t think she had a chance at being named the 2011 NCAA Division II Women’s Basketball Player of the Year, a commendation she calls the proudest moment of her life.
“I was really shocked when my coaches told me that I was in the running,” she said. “I was having a good year, but I had no idea how it compared to other people in all of DII. It never had occurred to me. That was a huge honor and something that I’ll cherish forever.”
Although Murphy is often recognized for her performance on the court, it is her performance in the classroom that really sets her apart. As a pre-physical therapy major, she was named a first-team Capital One Academic All-American with a 3.96 GPA.
However, after sustaining a few basketball-related injuries of her own, she decided that physical therapy wasn’t her ideal career path. It was already too late for her to switch majors, so she finished her degree requirements her junior year. Instead of settling on an easy course load for her senior year, she enrolled in all of the prerequisites necessary to attend physician assistant school.
Whether it was work on the blackboard or the backboard at GCU, it made no difference to Murphy.
“I never wanted to compensate one for the other,” she said. “I really wanted to get straight A’s. I really wanted to be awesome at basketball. I didn’t want to be mediocre at both – I wanted to be excellent at both.”
Upon graduation, Murphy signed a contract to play professionally in Iceland. Although her team, Hamar, finished with a losing record, she enjoyed the cultural aspect of the experience and the guidance it provided for her life.
“I was honored that I got a chance to play professionally,” she said. “I’m glad I got to do it and it totally helped steer me in the right direction on what I want to do, which is school and start my career.”
Now, the 24-year-old is back to the books, having started her second year of physician assistant school at Midwestern University in Glendale, Ariz. In her free time, Murphy can be found playing pick-up games at a local gym, or passing her shooting and ball-handling tips on to her younger sister, another aspiring basketball player.
Murphy, who says she applies the skills she learned during her collegiate experience to her current studies, warns prospective student-athletes not to overlook Division II when deciding on a school.
“If I had gone DI, I guarantee I would not have gotten minutes,” she said. “Because I got all that experience, I just developed into the player that I knew I had the potential to be.”