Men’s basketball poised to make a splash in a new era

By Joel Delgado ’12 MS ’17

Long after Tymell Murphy plays his final game in an FIU jersey, he wants people to talk about what he and his teammates are able to accomplish this season.

Murphy, a senior, believes this year can be the year that FIU men’s basketball morphs from a perennial afterthought into a consistent contender, and wants to be remembered as one of the people who helped make it happen.

“At the end of this season, I want people to think ‘Wow, this school has transformed into a basketball school.’ I just want basketball to be something that people are super, super excited about,” Murphy said. “I want people to say, ‘that team, that year started it all.’”

Now a new member of Conference USA under new head coach Anthony Evans, the Panthers hope to build on last year’s successful winning season with a new mix of players on the court.

“We just have to keep it going from where we left off,” Murphy said. “We need to make sure that last year wasn’t a fluke year.”

The team

Murphy (#15), who led the Panthers in scoring (14.6 points per game) and rebounding (6.8 points per game) last season, has been called on to resume his leadership role.

“He’s one of the first guys at practice and one of the last to leave,” Evans said. “That’s the type of work ethic I’m looking for.”

Murphy added, “I want to always be a plus for the team, never a negative. I just want to win basketball games.”

Tymell Murphy FIU basketball

Murphy feels he is surrounded by a mix of experienced talent and new arrivals that will help him do just that.

Three players who were forced to sit out last season due to transfer rules, a pair of Florida Atlantic transfers – guards Raymond Taylor (#2) and Dennis Mavin – along with former Louisville forward Rakeem Buckles, will all be eligible to play this season and are expected to make a significant impact right away.

“I learned a lot more by watching the game,” Taylor said of last season. “When you’re in the situation, it’s hard to see everything but when you’re on the outside looking in, you see a lot more. That helped me become a better basketball player.”

The benefits have been apparent to those around him, drawing praise from his new coach and teammates as the season approaches.

“I think Ray is going to give coaches headaches on the scouting report,” Murphy said of Taylor. “He’s a one-of-a-kind player and he’s always going to give us an advantage on offense. I love the way he plays the game. He plays with passion and, like me, he doesn’t like to lose.”

Season preview: New coach looks to build on success while establishing a foundation

FIU made waves last year with an up-tempo style of play – which included a strong half-court defense and transition offense – that Evans hopes to reproduce this season.

“We will press and try and get out in transition and get those easy baskets,” Evans said. “We’re going to try to play the way basketball is supposed to be played. We’re going to play hard and I think people will enjoy watching us.”

The schedule

The team’s schedule is filled with intriguing matchups, including home dates with one of last year’s NCAA Tournament “Cinderella” teams – Florida Gulf Coast – and the team that went on to win the national championship: Louisville.

“To have Louisville come down here and to be able to coach against Rick Pitino is definitely an honor,” Evans said. “They’re the defending champs and I think everyone will be excited. Fans will enjoy watching the game and we’ll enjoy competing against them. It helps prepare us for the conference schedule.”

And unlike in seasons past, the Panthers find themselves with a new slate of opponents – and new challenges – that come with entering a new conference.

“It’ll be a challenge going in the first time around because there are a lot of unknowns,” Evans said. “When you’re in a league for a little while you know what the travel is going to be like. You know the hotels and the places to eat… there’s a routine. There are a lot of unknowns that we’re going to have to face.”

Ray Taylor FIU basketball

Still, Murphy and Taylor just want to get on the floor on Nov. 8 when FIU participates in the Kennesaw State Tournament in Georgia to kick off the season. The Panthers will then return to South Florida to play Florida College in their home opener on Nov. 14 at the U.S. Century Bank Arena.

“It’s fun to hear about Louisville, Georgetown and South Carolina, but I’m just excited about playing basketball at the end of the day,” Murphy said. “I’m focused on Nov. 8.”

Despite sanctions, for academic reasons, that have eliminated any possibility of a postseason, Evans and his team are determined to show that this program has the potential to become a contender in Conference USA.

“Wherever I’ve been, we always go into every game to compete to our highest capability and that’s what we’re going to do this year every time we step onto the floor,” Evans said. “It doesn’t matter who we’re playing.”   

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