The foundation has been laid.
Year one under new head coach of the Norther Arizona Lumberjack basketball program was a drastic improvement over the previous season that saw the team lose as many as 18 games in a row. It was the first year for Jack Murphy as the head coach of a college program after spending time as an assistant at the college and NBA levels, and it was one that saw the program accomplish goals they set our for in year one.
“We wanted to set a foundation in our first year by first making the Big Sky Tournament,” said Murphy. “Seven teams make it in and we finished seventh. I thought that was a big accomplishment having missed it the year before.”
“Last year was like one long day,” Murphy mentioned. “It started with my opening press conference back in April and continues until we lost in the Big Sky Tournament in March and I woke the next morning and though that was a long day.”
That long day saw many highs and lows throughout the year. NAU grew as a program taking on programs like Arizona, Oregon, Colorado and UNLV and gained toughness from those games that carried over to Big Sky Conference play.
One deflating aspect to the 2012-13 season was that NAU would string a couple of nice wins together but was never able to manage to get a streak of three or more in a row. But with a core of leaders returning from last season, including returning starters in DeWayne Russell and Max Jacobsen, the learning experiences to create longer winning streaks will be more then prevalent in the eyes of the head coach.
“It’s difficult to get winning to be a habit,” Murphy mentioned. “We would win one, win two and then the third one would be a struggle and we would lose in overtime. We lost a lot of close games.”
Taking a look at this upcoming season, there are a lot of new faces. In total there are three returning starters but close to half the team was not in Flagstaff a season ago.”
“We have a lot of newcomers,” Murphy explained. “Four new high school freshman and three junior college transfers. When integrating seven newcomers into the system along with the returners it becomes difficult, but the expectations and the challenges remain the same. We want to win and compete and finish on the upper-half of the Big Sky.”
Murphy mentions that the strength of this team perimeter athleticism.
“We are getting better and more athletic on the wings,” Murphy stated. “We’ve got a little more size though than we did last year. We were very, very small last year both on the perimeter and inside.”
“Defensively is where we need to continue to work,” Murphy added. “Last year we were not one of the better teams in the Big Sky Conference. We gave up too many easy shots, didn’t get teams to turn the ball over enough, it’s one of those things where we need to turn up the pressure and get better on the defensive end.”
All-in-all, the Lumberjacks believe they are at the beginning of something special in Flagstaff.
“I am excited about year two,” stated Murphy. “I think I am more prepared for what’s going to happen both basketball-wise and academically, socially, everything with a year under my belt with the program.”
NAU kicks off their 2013-14 season on the road November 9th against the University of Texas-San Antonio, followed by Texas Tech, USC and Loyola Marymount. Their home opener is not until the end of the month on the 23rd, when they take on San Diego Christian.