DON KETCHUM is a native of Phoenix. He was a sportswriter for The Arizona Republic/The Phoenix Gazette for nearly four decades. He covered high school sports on several occasions as well as the Arizona Diamondbacks, Arizona Cardinals and Arizona State sports. From 2008-14, he was a staff writer for, the web site of the Arizona Interscholastic Association.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Basketball a pleasure for Xavier's Vanessa Murphy

Vanessa Murphy’s approach toward the game of basketball is simple.
“I’m not going to let pressure exceed the pleasure I get from playing,’’ she said.
Murphy and her Xavier Prep teammates open the Division I state tournament at home against Phoenix Horizon on Friday night (Feb. 19) and “I always try to control my effort, always control,’’ she said.
The 6-foot-2 senior has been doing that all season for the Gators, who are the No. 7 seed and are 18-8. Horizon, the 10th seed, defeated the Gators 54-44 on Jan. 8. The winner will advance to the next round, on Tuesday (Feb. 23) at Arizona State’s Wells Fargo Arena.
“I don’t have to tell them. They know,’’ XCP coach Stephen Moss said of the players’ motivation.
Xavier will need Murphy to be near the top of her game. She is averaging 14.8 points, 9.3 rebounds, 3.6 blocked shots and has made 44 three-pointers.
Moss usually has Murphy start in the post, but once the flow of the game gets going, she is all over the floor. It is not the sign of a selfish player. It is what the team needs.
“If you want her to score 30, she comes close, like she did a couple of times earlier this year when Alana (Kelley, forward) and Leilani (McIntosh, point guard) got in foul trouble,’’ Moss said.
“I have the way I want the offense to look, but you also have to have flexibility and that’s what we have with Vanessa. You don’t want to take away her productivity just for the sake of the structure. It could end up costing you the game.’’
Said Murphy: “I like it that coach Moss gives me that freedom, going back and forth from guard to the post. I just kind of watch to see what we might need in a particular game.’’
Murphy began her career down the street at Phoenix St. Mary’s, which had a dynasty going for quite some time. But a strong core of players graduated and coach Curtis Ekmark departed. The cupboard definitely was bare.
So Murphy transferred to Xavier, where her sister, Sam, had paved the way before going on to star at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix. Vanessa had to sit out her sophomore season because of transfer rules, but was allowed to practice with the Gators.
“My decision (to transfer) wasn’t really related to basketball. I don’t think I was being challenged academically the way I needed to be,’’ Murphy said.
Murphy will follow her sister to GCU and her initial plan is to study engineering.
She said she had other offers but liked the coaching staff and the atmosphere at GCU.
“GCU will be lucky to have her,’’ Moss said.
Murphy used her sophomore hiatus to work on her shot, her dribbling skills and playing better defense.
It paid off with a strong junior season, although the team struggled with injuries and coaching changes.
This season has been pretty much a complete opposite for the Gators.
“It’s definitely a blessing this year,’’ Murphy said. “Maybe the biggest change is that everybody is on the same page. We work together. We are determined to make our mark. All of the seniors don’t want it to be our last game.’’
Spoken like a true leader, a player sure of herself.
With that, she returned to practice. It wasn’t long before she scored on a putback of her own miss, then pulled up off the dribble near the three-point arc and sank the long shot. Here, there and everywhere.
For Murphy, it is the pleasure of playing.

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