STILLWATER — Kamari Murphy fully embraced his role on this Oklahoma State men's basketball team, even if it didn't come with a glamour tag.
“Junkyard dog,” Cowboys coach Travis Ford termed it in detailing Murphy's job description, which featured rebounding, scrapping and winning the hustle plays for 50-50 balls.
Quickly, however, Murphy's role is expanding in the aftermath of Michael Cobbins' season-ending injury — a ruptured Achilles tendon suffered early in OSU's 92-66 Monday night win over Robert Morris.
The Cowboys' focus in addressing the void of Cobbins, the team's top post defender, will be absorbed by several players as Ford and his staff experiment with combinations and lineup variations.
Still, Murphy factors heavily into the new equation at the post, as he was already in a virtual timeshare with Cobbins manning the middle.
Cobbins had started all 13 games, averaging 19.6 minutes, 4.5 points and 4.3 rebounds. Murphy played in 12 games off the bench — missing one game with a shoulder injury — averaging 20.2 minutes, 6.1 points and 6.2 rebounds.
It was Murphy that Ford turned to as a true freshman a year ago when Cobbins suffered a preseason toe injury. Murphy filled a starting role the first 15 games of the season. And the Brooklyn native assured folks via Twitter on Tuesday that he's ready again:
“Getting all these texts like u gotta step up now… did u forget I started 15 games last year? And held it down as a freshman. #IGotThis,” Murphy tweeted
While Murphy takes over the starting spot, the bigger question is who fills his role off the bench?
OSU already lacked options in the post, where Murphy and Cobbins were undersized big men, each at 6-foot-8. The Cowboys are sure to try to get more from 7-footer Marek Soucek and 6-10 Gary Gaskins, although neither had been in the regular rotation.
So when Cobbins collapsed to the floor Monday night, less than three minutes into OSU's final nonconference contest, one of the team's major vulnerabilities was realized.
Cobbins, a junior from Amarillo, Texas, will undergo surgery to repair the tendon on Thursday — two days before the No. 6 Cowboys open Big 12 Conference play on the road at Kansas State.
“Our thoughts are with Michael, and we pray for a successful recovery,” Cowboys coach Travis Ford said Tuesday. “We know Michael will work extremely hard and be back next season better than ever.”
Monday night, Ford suggested that Cobbins' injury will likely impact several players.
And not just big men.
Among OSU's strengths is the versatility of Le'Bryan Nash, Brian Williams and Marcus Smart, who can defend guards or forwards. The trickle-down means that when the Cowboys slide one of those three inside, Stevie Clark and Phil Forte factor more heavily at guard.
Clark's continued development eases the necessity for Smart to play heavy minutes at the point. Clark handed out a career-high nine assists against Robert Morris.
Freshman Leyton Hammonds could also see his minutes increase.
“We've switched up lineups in practice, so we're kind of used to playing with different guys,” Forte said. “It's not too much of a difference. We have a lot of versatile players, too.
“Brian can play four or five different positions. (Nash) can. Marcus can. When you have that versatility it makes it kind of easier to throw in different lineups. With Mike going down now, I think that's going to be key for us.”
The No. 6 Cowboys, now 12-1, will be replacing more than just numbers with Cobbins. As an athletic shot blocker, he impacted games on the defensive end. And, Ford said, his value on the offensive end was underrated.
“Michael Cobbins brought us, obviously, an incredible presence around the rim,” Ford said. “Shot blocking; one of the top shot blockers in the country. Rebounding. But more than anything, he understood every single thing that I wanted and what we do and it all flowed for him.
“He didn't score a lot of points, but he contributed to our offense greatly. In a lot of ways.”
Quickly, the Cowboys must adjust as they continue their quest for a special season. Their preseason pick as co-Big 12 favorites still centers around Smart and Brown. And Nash, Williams, Forte, Murphy and others offer strong complementary pieces.
So the loss of Cobbins is a blow, but hardly a knockout blow.
“Some of these guys we're going to have to have step up, they may not be able to block shots or they may not be able to do some things that he did,” Ford said, “but they're going to have to find their own niche and make up for some of those things that can help us be successful.
“And they can do that. No question.”