STILLWATER — Philip Jurick's career journey has been, well, a journey.
From coveted high school big man and Top 100 recruit, signing with the home-state Tennessee Volunteers, leaving one year later following a redshirt season, then beginning anew at junior college and finally landing at Oklahoma State … phew.
And that's not all.
Jurick's stop-and-go course has included more than a change of address. There have been a couple of minor run-ins with the law, including August misdemeanor marijuana and paraphernalia charges that resulted in a one-year deferred sentence, community service and him missing OSU's exhibition tour of Spain. And he's battled injury issues, with an Achilles tear at the end of last season looking at the time like a devastating setback.
So when Jurick's final game at Gallagher-Iba Arena is celebrated Saturday in a Senior Day ceremony before the Cowboys take on Kansas State, he's earned it.
“It wasn't what I expected,” said Jurick, considering his basketball path to this point, “but I'm glad it worked out this way.”
It's worked out fabulously for Jurick, who has emerged from it all — most notably the Achilles injury — to fill a vital starter's role for a No. 13-ranked Cowboys team that has won games and fans in a needed turnaround season following two down years.
“There's no question, he's helped us win a lot of games this year,” said Cowboys coach Travis Ford. “He's a guy who totally gets his role.”
And it's a role that's fluid, often changing from game to game, depending on the style and size of the opponent.
A traditional center at 6-foot-11 and 260 pounds, Jurick is best suited for other true bigs, such as K-State's 6-11 Jordan Henriquez. But when teams are small, or go small, two frequent occurrences in the Big 12, Jurick can be relegated to sideline supporter.
In Wednesday night's loss at Iowa State, against a Cyclones squad essentially operating with five guards, he played just seven minutes and less than two in the second half. So he's thrived against the likes of Kansas center Jeff Withey, but also taken a seat to guys six inches shorter.
“There are some games where he matches up better, some where he doesn't,” Ford said. “There have been some games going in that I thought he'd struggle and subconsciously didn't play him as much as I should have. I maybe should have thought there were some things he could do to help us, too.”
Considering the Achilles injury, and the implications of such an injury to a big man, his contributions might be considered a minor miracle. Ford didn't expect Jurick back in the lineup until January, if at all.
Instead, Jurick committed himself to rehab, dropping 30 pounds to aid his recovery and working long and hard to make it back. And he's beaten the odds and the expectations, starting 27 of OSU's 29 games, ranking second on the team in average rebounds (5.9) and blocked shots (31). He doesn't hoist up many shots, yet picks his spots well, shooting 64.6 percent from the floor (42-of-65).
“Not knowing if I was going to play this year, and finally getting out there and helping my team, it's been really rewarding,” Jurick said.
Finally, Jurick's journey delivers reward.
For Saturday's Senior Day presentation — where Jurick stands alone in the spotlight — he'll have a group of 10 friends and family members on hand, including his mother Barbara, who will see him play at OSU for the first time.
It could have been so different, had things worked out at Tennessee, where this adventure first began following a standout career at East Ridge High School in Chattanooga.
And yet, different may not have been better.
“Going to Tennessee out of high school, I would have never thought I'd be this far from home and comfortable,” Jurick said. “But with the coaching staff here and the community, it was an easy transition.
“I've loved it.”