As most eyes focused on incoming freshmen and former prep teammates Marcus Smart and Phil Forte — for good reason — Kamari Murphy arrived at Oklahoma State under the radar.
Not for long.
Smart, a McDonald's All-American, remains in the spotlight as a proclaimed difference maker for the Cowboys. And Forte seems fitted for a role, too, as an outside shooting threat off the bench.
But Murphy finds himself in an impact role as well, using a strong preseason push to earn a spot in the starting five for Thursday night's exhibition game against Ottawa, Kan. Tip time is 7 p.m. inside Gallagher-Iba Arena.
It's early, for sure, and Cowboys coach Travis Ford figures to experiment with several combinations and could eventually mix and match lineups to opponents. Still, the 6-foot-8 Murphy made an impression from the outset with his practice work habits and his skills.
“Kamari Murphy is a young man who is pushing our inside guys right now,” Ford said. “A guy whose motor never stops. He plays until exhaustion. He's always trying to rebound, always tries to get a piece of the ball. He posts harder than anyone we have on our team.
“He's got to do more with it when he gets the ball. But he runs the court. And he has a great understanding of the game. You tell him to do something, he does it.”
Murphy, a native of Brooklyn, N.Y., played last season at IMG Academy in Florida. He averaged 20 points, 10 rebounds and three assists for a team that finished 28-2 against prep school competition.
The previous year, he was ranked as the No. 6 player in the state of New York, according to HoopScoop.
For now, Murphy fills the starting spot vacated by the loss of Brian Williams, who is out for the season while recovering from wrist surgery. Athletic and long, Murphy could be key in accounting for the production and energy Williams provided.
For the exhibition, Williams is joined in the starting lineup by Smart, Le'Bryan Nash, Michael Cobbins and Markel Brown.
WHO'S AT THE POINT?
Smart steps into the point guard spot, a position that has featured more volatility than stability since Byron Eaton's final season four years ago.
Point guard wasn't Smart's listed position at Marcus High in Flower Mound, Texas, yet he frequently had the ball in his hands as the focal point and floor general of the offense on teams that won back-to-back state championships.
“It was not a primary position I played in high school, but I did play a lot of point,” Smart said. “They do have a lot of confidence in me. I just take that and embrace it and work hard every day.”
PERCEPTION OR REALITY?
Nash's first season at OSU provided highs and lows.
He finished as the Cowboys' second-leading scorer, averaging 13.3 points, and led the team in rebounding at 5.1 per game. And he was named as the Big 12's Co-Freshman of the Year.
Still, his play was inconsistent, causing some to consider it a disappointing breakout.
Nash takes issue with that description.
“I get a lot of comments that I had a bad year,” Nash said. “To me, I don't think I had a bad year. I ain't going to say I had a great year, but I had an average freshman year. You know, 13 points is real good to be a freshman.”
Men's Exhibition Basketball
Oklahoma State vs. Ottawa, Kan.
When: 7 p.m. Thursday
Where: Gallagher-Iba Arena, Stillwater
TV: FSN (Cox 37)
Radio: KXXY 96.1 FM
Three things to know:
*The Cowboys return three starters from a year ago.
*Brian Williams, a fourth starter, is out for the season following wrist surgery.
*Ottawa, an NAIA team, returns four starters from a team that finished 12-18 a year ago.