Florida Gators Erik Murphy

Erik Murphy played four years at Florida under head coach Billy Donovan. While he was there, Murphy was a big part of Florida’s success. He didn’t shy away from the big moment and was a threat from behind the arch.

Basketball is the Murphy’s blood. His father played in the NBA, his mother played for Finland’s national team, his younger brother Alex played at Duke, Florida, and Northeastern, and his youngest brother Tomas, currently plays at Northeastern.

After graduating Florida, Erik was drafted  in the second round (49th overall) by the Chicago Bull in the 2013 NBA Draft. Erik played one season with the Bulls. Since he last played in the NBA, Erik has had success in the NBA DLeague, Turkey, France, Italy, and he currently plays in Germany for Fraport Skyliners. Erik also plays on the Finnish national with his brother Alex.

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You had a successful career at Florida playing for Billy Donovan. You made the Elite Eight three times while you were there. What else stood out for you during your time at Florida?

The biggest things for me at Florida were how close we were as a team and playing for coach, and the influence he had on us. We had a mix of guys from all different backgrounds, but we really bonded and bought in, which I give credit to coach for. He obviously was a great coach on the court, but off the court he was a great person too and kept all of us focused on the right things. He made us all better players, but also better human beings.

In 2013 you were drafted in the 2nd round by the Chicago Bulls. How was it to play for Coach Thibodeau and be surrounded by players like Carlos boozer, Derrick rose, Joakim Noah and Jimmy Butler?

My rookie year with the Bulls was amazing. Thibs was another great coach that I had the opportunity to play for. That team had a bunch of great veteran guys on the roster that I learned a lot from. I didn’t play much, but I had an amazing year with those guys and learned a lot.

Since your one season in the NBA you’ve played in Turkey, France, NBA Dleague, and now you signed in Germany. What kind of role have you played in your career overseas?

In my overseas career, I’ve played a bunch of different types of roles. I’ve been on teams where I didn’t play much, been on teams where I was the 6th man, and have been on teams where I started. The biggest thing for me is going into a situation where you have an idea of what’s ahead. I had some things happen my first year in Turkey that I wasn’t ready for and didn’t see coming, so knowing the situation you’re going into basketball wise, living wise, and organization wise is very important because you’re in a foreign country. You need to make sure you can focus your energy on the game.

You also play on the Finnish National team. How has your time representing Finland been?

The national team is important to me. I’m half Finnish and my mom is full Finn. I’ve had Finnish citizenship since I was a child and I’m proud of my heritage. I used to visit family every summer when I was young until summers became all about basketball. I’ve been fortunate enough to now have my summer basketball be with the Finnish national team. The guys and coaches on the team are great and I’ve become close with them and I just really enjoy playing with the team.

 

Article written by Tom Ballato

*Photo used in this article is not my own.

Willie Reed waiting for his next NBA call

Willie Reed signed a NBA G-League contract a few weeks ago with the goal of returning to the NBA. Willie Reed played one season for Brooklyn Nets (2015-2016) and Miami Heat (2016-2017), while he split time last season with the Los Angeles Clippers and Detroit Pistons (2017-2018). After the season, Reed became a free agent. Reed played for the Eberlein Drive in the TBT Tournament this summer. He was a big addition to an already loaded team. They finished as the runners up of the tournament.

Reed was selected with the first overall pick in the 2018 NBA G-League draft by the Salt Lake City Stars (Utah Jazz affiliate). Reed isn’t expected to remain in the G-League very long. His ability to play defense and rebound will help an NBA team’s bench.

“One day at a time I’ll keep working until I get back.” -Willie Reed

Willie Reed

What got you into the game of basketball?

Basketball has always been a passion of mine. (I) fell in love with the game and how it brings people together from day one.

How would you describe your journey so far professionally? 

My journey so far has had some ups and downs, but I thank God for being healthy, my wife and kids, and opportunity to keep living out my dream. I look forward what’s next.

What are your goals for this season?

My goal for this season is to get better everyday, while also helping those around me. Become a better leader and word my way back to the NBA.

You recently signed with the G-League. Did you have options before signing?

Yes, I had other options beside the G-League like China, but for me it’s about continuing to chase my dream of being an NBA player and impacting a team and it’s success.

Your career has taken you to Brooklyn, Miami, Los Angeles, and Detroit. Is there a moment in your career that has stood out for you?

The bond i’ve built with teammates has definitely stood out. Basketball wise my second NBA start ever I had 22 points and 18 rebounds and that is special and a dream come true.

 

Article written by Tom Ballato.

*I do not own the rights to the photo used in the article. Photo owned by PumaHoops.

New team, new mission for Tariq Owens

Tariq Owens spent the last three years at St. John’s University. After transferring from Tennessee, Owens sat out a year as per NCAA rules and then went on to play two seasons for the Red Storm. “I chose St. John’s because of Chris Mullin, Mitch Richmond was assistant coach, and my family is from New York. The opportunity to come home to be closer to my family was a big factor.”

At St. John’s, Owens became a defensive presence and improved his game each year.  When asked what his biggest takeaway from St. John’s was, Owens replied, “Having a leadership role and communication was important because guys on the team were from different countries, so communication was key.”

Last spring, Owens graduated with a degree in sports management and had one more season of eligibility. After testing the transfer market, Tariq ended up transferring to Texas Tech for his final season.  “I enjoyed my time at St. John’s and it was a hard choice to leave. It was a tough, but it was the best decision for me.”  Throughout the transfer process, Owens claimed, “A return to St. John’s was never out of the question. It was always between St. John’s, Maryland, and Texas Tech.”

“Last year upsetting Duke and then beating Villanova on their home floor was fun and we grew as a team, but it was down year for us.” Owens made it clear that St. John’s is headed in the right direction and he enjoyed the brotherhood he had with his former teammates and coaches.

Now Tariq is ready for his last go around. “I hope to get better and improve as a player and to make a tournament run with my new team.” Getting acclimated with his new teammates hasn’t been hard according to Owens. They spend a lot of time together and really put in the necessary work. Owens has put on weight, worked on his body to get stronger, and improved his jump shot since we last saw him at St. John’s. “The culture down here is to work hard. The staff and players spend time together and they grind.”

Tariq is feeling things out as a stretch four for Texas Tech. He is going to be a defensive presence, but also be that high energy guy on the wing. With the improvements to his jump shot, Owens hopes to be ultilized on the outside where he can either shoot, drive, or find an open teammate.

 

Article written by Tom Ballato.

*I do not own the right to these photos.

Former Arizona guard and Iona alum Momo Jones

Lamont “Momo” Jones bursted into the scene in 2009, when he became a member of the Arizona Wildcats. A scoring point guard, Jones made a splash in 2011 when Arizona beat Duke, who were led by Kyrie Irving in the Sweet 16. The Blue Devils were overpowered by Jones and company.

At the conclusion of the season, Jones left the program to be closer to home in New York. He committed to Iona, where he would make go on to finish a strong collegiate career. Jones finished top 3 in scoring his senior season.

I talked to Jones about his college and professional career which he has described as an unforgettable experience thus far.

You began your collegiate career at Arizona. In 2011, you guys blew out Duke in the Sweet 16 to reach the Elite Eight where you lost to the National Champions UCONN Huskies by 2 points. Describe that run you guys made that season.

That run was amazing. Kind of unexplainable. I think at the start of the season we were the only ones that believed we had the ability to go that far and make some real noise nationally! We were just a group of guys that really got along and had each other’s back! It was a real brotherhood that year. It was like we had known and played with each other for years with the chemistry we had to. Most importantly we just had hungry player, guys that had something to prove and guys that wanted to be the best. We really believed we were the best team that year! Obviously we came up short, but was it one fun year!

From playing Memphis to the end of the round in Anaheim in front of basically our home crowd was amazing. At that point in our lives, I don’t think any of us had the first class treatment we received during the tournament which made it that much better!

At Arizona you played with Derrick Williams (who was the #2 pick in 2011), Solomon Hill (a first round pick), and Kyle Fogg ( an elite overseas player), who have all gone on to have great professional careers. You were also coached by Sean Miller who just started at Arizona around that time. Did you guys know from the start you had something special at Arizona?

I mean I think that first year we were all there it was hard to believe we had something special! After that freshman year and the following summer, we knew we had something. We knew we were building towards something special because we were all committed to working together and trying to turn around the ship that we knew if we stayed the course something big was going to come, as it did!

You transferred to Iona after 2011 to move closer to home in New York City to be with your family. Your first season at Iona you shared a backcourt with Scott Machado and received an at large bid to the NCAA Tournament. How did you two connect and get it to work?

As far as me and Scott go we were very familiar with each other obviously both coming up in New York and playing against each other throughout the years. Coming up I was very known and established as a young kid and throughout the years Scott had grown to have the name he did and was really doing big things with leading the country in assists and putting Iona back on the map.

I think when I came that just further helped me put Iona over that hump and break through to where they/we wanted to be. He was the assist guy and I was the scorer. I had the experience coming off a big NCAA run and being a intricate part of that run. So I brought something to the team that no one else had. I also respected the pecking order when I got there. I didn’t come with the mindset that I was better than everyone, but more so to fit in and add my talents to a team that was already good. I think in doing that helped us work together very well! I checked my ego at the door and played my part and contributed in the ways I was needed to rather then forcing things and trying to be the man because of where I was coming from.

In 2013, you were named MAAC Player of the Year and were the nation’s third-leading scorer with 22.6 points per game. Did that help you get any invites to summer league or training camps?

I had my fair share of workouts for the league, went to mini camp with Portland and Dallas. I definitely think being one of the top scorers in the country helped with the process, although it didn’t go how I would have liked it, the league wasn’t my only dream and so at the end of the day those things still helped me to live out my dream of playing professionally. Playing over the water and experiencing things I never could have dreamed of as a little kid.

Where have you gone on to play professionally since you graduated Iona?

Since Iona, I’ve played in Japan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Finland, Montenegro, and Germany! I’m actually in my second year in Germany! Last season, I played in Weissenfels, Germany for a not so good team, but finished 4th in the league in scoring which helped me sign a two year contract this summer to play for Ludwigsburg which was final four team in Germany and in the basketball championship league last year! So it is safe to say my career is going great and I’m still scoring that rock at a high clip!

I’ve been fortunate enough to have played in 25 countries in my first 5 years after college. Once again something I a kid from Harlem could never have dreamed of in a million years!

Where are you now and what do you hope to accomplish this season?

Right now I’m actually headed to Italy for a few days to participate in a preseason tournament out in Sardinia, Italy. It’s actually my first time in Italy so I’m excited about that! As far as my goals for this season it’s to win, to get back to the playoffs, and continue to get better. Be better then I was a year ago. Right now my coach has me focusing solely on the defensive side of the ball, so I’m hoping to cause havoc with that part of my game this year. I have a 3 month old daughter and my girlfriend is out here this season, so I’m just trying to maintain being a family man, managing my time as well as I can between my career and family is one of my goals as well this year. Of course it’s always a goal to be one of the top players if not the top player/point guard in my league! That’s always been the goal and will forever be the goal!

 

Article written by Tom Ballato

*I do not own the rights to the photo in this article.

LIU Brooklyn’s very own Joel Hernandez

LIUIt has been a crazy ride for Joel Hernandez throughout his career at LIU Brooklyn. In 2016, the Blackbirds were gearing up for a big season, but the season took a big hit when Hernandez dislocated his thumb the first game of the season.  That thumb injury costed him the remainder of the season which allowed him to be redshirted.

At the end of the 2017 season, LIU hired Derek Kellogg to be their next head coach. With Joel coming back for his redshirt senior year, the LIU Blackbirds were primed and ready to compete. Kellogg did a nice job adding two freshman and four transfers to a team that already had talent returning.

LIU finished the season 18-17 overall with a conference record of 10-8. They were lead by Hernandez who averaged 20.8 points per game. Their finish placed them 4th in their conference tournament. LIU went on to beat St. Francis and Fairleigh Dickinson and then  to face regular season champions of the NEC conference Wagner. An electric game from the start, LIU lead by Hernandez’s 32 points defeated Wagner to secure an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

I talked with Joel Hernandez who recently played for the National team in the Dominican Republic and asked him about his experience at LIU and his professional career thus far.

Describe your time at LIU? What are somethings that you guys are proud to have accomplished?

My time at LIU has been filled with many mixed emotions. I’ve been frustrated, gone through injuries, didn’t get along with past coaches, felt like I should’ve been playing more, but I still met some great people. Me getting an extra year and having coach Kellogg as a coach was the best thing that ever happened to me. We put trust in each other that ultimately got us an NEC championship. That has been my goal ever since I was a freshman and to say that I accomplished that on my last go around is a great feeling.

How was the conference tournament that you guys won last year? You had fight and ultimately ended up making the tournament.

The conference tournament was tough as it is every year. At the same time, I knew what it took because I’ve seen it for five years straight. I was determined to give it everything I had for 3 games. In the semi finals, we were playing FDU and we were down 10. I remember my dreams just slipping away from me. We eventually starting chipping the lead down and we were down by 1 or 2 points I can’t remember, but I got a steal and breakaway dunk and then FDU called a timeout. I have never heard the WRAC that loud ever. The fans played a big part in that win. Then the championship game comes around and we’re playing Wagner who was undefeated at home. A lot of people were doubting us because they were the #1 seed. It’s never easy playing Wagner, but I wanted to win the championship so bad. I played with a different type of animal in me that game and my teammates followed suit.

After you graduated did you get any invites or workouts?

After I graduated, my agency had a pro day where we worked out in front of all NBA teams and scouts then I had workouts with the Suns and Spurs.

Your first year professionally and you are playing in the South Korea. What has been experience been like so far and what are your goals this year?

I’m playing in South Korea for my first year. The experience has been great so far. I’m looking forward to having a good season and making a playoff run this year.

 

Written by Tom Ballato.

*I do not own the rights to the photo in this article.

National Champion Marcus Ginyard

Marcus Ginyard played at North Carolina from 2005-2010 under Coach Roy Williams. He was in the same recruiting class as Danny Green, Tyler Hansbrough, and Bobby Frasor. He was know for his defense, but had a knack for scoring and playmaking. Although Marcus was redshirted due to injury in 2009, he was a big part of the National Championship team. Since North Carolina, his career has taken him all over the world. He’s played in Germany, Israel, Poland, NBA Developmental League, Russia, Greece, France, Macedonia and Romania.

Marcus continues to still be a fan favorite at Chapel Hill. I had the chance to ask him a few questions about his career and what he is up to today.

You played 4 years at UNC. Could you describe what it is like to be part of the greatest rivalry in sports (against Duke)? How big of a factor is being at home, on the road, and crowd play?

It’s a feeling that’s impossible to describe. The whole world is watching that game and everyone knows how important it is to win this game. This game has so much energy surrounding it, with ESPN running ads weeks before, the whole town getting involved, and of course family and friends always chiming in as well. You can’t help but treat this game different than all the rest. All year long you’re constantly coming into contact with Duke fans since you’re so close, so ‘bragging rights’ is just one of the huge motivating factors behind this match up. The crowds play a huge factor in this game! In both venues, its nearly impossible to hear yourself think during big moments of this game. I love my home crowd, but the fiery atmosphere in Cameron is every competitors dream as well!

At UNC, you stood out for your defense. What have your roles been for the teams you’ve played for overseas?

My roles have varied throughout my career, but have definitely expanded since my days at Carolina. I am still extremely proud to see myself as a PLAYER, not a position, or a defender, just a player who can do a lot of things to contribute to his team.

What are your plans this season?

I just signed to play in Romania, for CSM Oradea.

Written by Tom Ballato
*I do not own the rights to the photo in this article. Photo taken from Marcus Ginyard.

Taking a stand with former Michigan St. alum Anthony Ianni

Everyone has a story. For Anthony Ianni, his story goes beyond the basketball court. Anthony was diagnosed with autism and many doctors believed that he would not be able to live a normal life. Anthony set out to prove people wrong, but it didn’t come without obstacles. He was bullied for being different, but that didn’t stop Anthony from chasing his goals and dreams. Anthony became the first Division I basketball player in NCAA history with autism. He transferred to Michigan St. and played under coach Tom Izzo. He played for some really good teams while in college and after his playing days were over he became a motivational speaker.

I first heard of Anthony’s story from friend and Michigan St. alum Kevin Negron. Kevin shared with me that everyone knew Anthony, that he was a fan favorite, and he had a special story. I reached out to Anthony about his story and I also got to ask him some questions about Michigan St. basketball.

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Photo of Kevin Negron and Anthony Ianni at Michigan St. Both are MSU alumni.

From what I’ve read Coach Izzo was a role model for you. What is your relationship with him like?

Ianni: Coach Izzo and I have a very good relationship. Like with all of his players, current or former, he always has my back on things and he’s always checking in on me to make sure things are going well and that my speaking career is still going well. He separates himself from other coaches just by the relationships he’s developed with his players and the family atmosphere that he’s created not only at our program, but throughout the university.

You were on some great teams during your time at Michigan State. Last guy off the bench that all the MSU fans knew. Describe the atmosphere in the Berslin Center and your time on the team.

Ianni: There’s no other college basketball atmosphere that compares to the Breslin Center. It’s our student section, “The Izzone”, that makes the atmosphere at the Breslin so crazy and above every other place in the country. That’s including other places UNC, Duke, Kentucky and Kansas. We have, in my opinion, the best fans in the country and they’re the reason why playing at the Bres is so tough to play at. As far as my time in the program, I wouldn’t have traded it for anything. It was always my dream to play at Michigan State and be on scholarship. Both of those things were able to happen for me and I’m incredibly blessed for the opportunity I got to wear that jersey. Every time I put on my jersey I took a lot of pride in it because I knew that playing for the name on the front was a heck of a lot more important than the one on the back. In my opinion, there’s not a person who took more pride in wearing the Green and White more than I did.

You played on the same team with Draymond Green. How was he as a teammate and did you see him becoming a star like he is today?

Ianni: Day Day was an incredible teammate. There’s a reason why in my opinion he’s one of the greatest leaders in the program’s history. He treated others around him with respect and he always had everyone’s back. Whether you were a coach, player or team manager he was there for you. That’s the one thing people don’t see with him today because all they see is what he does on the court, but if you got to know him off the court, he’d be your favorite right away. I knew just from playing against him in practice and seeing how hard he worked, I knew he was going to do great things in the NBA. Right when he was taken in the second round of the 2012 NBA Draft, I quickly thought to myself that the other teams that passed up on him, are quickly going to regret it.

Now lets move on to your person life. You were diagnosed with Autism at a young age and doctors told your parents you wouldn’t graduate, become an athlete, and believed eventually you would have to live in a group home. You were also bullied for being different when you were younger. How did you overcome all the bullying and limitations you were given?

I endured a lot of bullying and disrespect from a lot of people when I was in school. A lot of the bullying was because of my autism, I would say and do things different than others, and my height was another reason because I was six feet tall and wore a size 13 shoe at 11 years old. No matter how tough things would get, I would just let my actions to the talking for me because I was taught to never use my hands, feet or words. Just let my actions do the talking for me and that’s what I did.

Autism is very big today and there is still a lot we don’t know about it. Did you have to step outside of your comfort zone to play basketball and become a motivational speaker?

Ianni: Early on in my basketball days, I had to step out of my comfort zone because I was a shy kid and I knew that I had to get along with my teammates and play a team game. As far as motivational speaking goes, I never had to step out of my comfort zone or anything of that matter because I knew that this is where I belong and this is what I wanted to do. Plus playing in front of big crowds in college help me get used to speaking/performing to crowds as a speaker.

Today you are a motivational speaker across the country and an anti-bully advocate. Tell us about what you do and is this something you always wanted to do? What would your message be to children with Autism or disabilities whose goals or dreams still might be limited by others?

Ianni: So I’m a National Motivational Speaker and I do all of my work through the Michigan Department of Civil Rights. I’m on the road at most 5 days a week and I speak to schools, colleges/universities, conferences, business and sports teams about my life with autism. I do speeches on different topics such as Autism, bullying, transitioning and motivational talks. So some people might just think I’m only an Anti-Bullying speaker, but I’m actually more then that and I wanted to be more then a one dimensional speaker. At first being a speaker wasn’t even on my list of what I wanted to do after college. I actually wanted to work in NCAA athletics just like my father has for over 30 years.

 

Written by Tom Ballato.