Erik Murphy's life was rolling along rather nicely until one "moment of stupidity" changed everything.
Murphy and Florida teammate Cody Larson were arrested in April, accused of attempting to break into a car in a St. Augustine bar parking lot. Murphy was suspended from the team for five months, embroiled in legal issues and forced to face that he didn't appreciate enough what he had.
"All that stuff made me grow up really quick and look at things from a different perspective," said Murphy, 21. "I've got a limited amount of time (at UF), and I've got to make the best of it. It made me realize that every day you've got to focus on that day. You can't really have any slipups."
His determination to mature and improve has been evident on the court. The junior forward is averaging 10.6 points and 4.2 rebounds per game in a starting role for the No. 14 Gators, and he's playing 24 minutes per game, up from nine last season.
"I think he did a great job of learning from it and using it to build on his experiences and play better this year," teammate Scottie Wilbekin said.
Last season Murphy averaged 4.3 points and 2.3 rebounds in a reserve role. Billy Donovan always believed Murphy could be the player he is becoming, but the coach is convinced the evolution might not have begun if not for the arrest, for which Murphy accepted deferred prosecution and avoided jail time.
"Believe it or not, I felt terrible about what happened in the spring; Erik does too," Donovan said. "But you know what? I do think there was a lot of good that came out of that, as painful as it was for everybody. ... And I think it probably really forced him to do some soul-searching in terms of what was important to him and what he wanted to do.
"I think it's made him better as a person and made him better as a player. He's becoming more and more reliable for me than he had ever been his first two years. We would get some pretty good moments out of him, and then he would disappear. He still has some of those moments, but I think he's grown up and become a much, much more consistent player."
At 6 feet 10, Murphy, the son of former Boston College standout and NBA player Jay Murphy, not only has the ability to provide a strong inside presence, he also gives Florida another offensive threat with his ability to shoot the 3-pointer.
"He's a lot more aggressive (this season)," center Patric Young said. "There have been questions about his toughness, but I think he's a really tough guy. People don't know how hard it is to have to guard me every day. I split his eye open, I've elbowed him, I've kneed him. The guy goes through a lot, and he's been stepping up and taking on the challenge this year."
The challenges have included missing two weeks with a knee injury and receiving eight stitches for an eye gash compliments of a Young elbow in practice. Not a problem, Murphy said. As long as he's playing, he will deal with whatever adversity is thrown his way and be happy about it.
"I'm trying to come out and do everything the team needs and the coach asks for," Murphy said. "I'm mentally preparing more for games and practices every day than I have in the past. The offseason issue made me grow up. It definitely helped me. It was a blessing in disguise, I think."
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No. 14 Florida vs. No. 18 Mississippi St.
When/where: 1:30 p.m. today; O'Connell Center, Gainesville
TV/radio: Ch. 38; 620-AM
Records: Florida 16-4, 4-1 SEC; Mississippi State 17-4, 4-2
Notable: The Gators return home less than 48 hours after rallying from a 16-point deficit to beat Mississippi. ... This is the first of a three-game UF homestand, the Gators' longest of the season, and it is the first home game against a ranked opponent this season. ... Mississippi State has won four of its past five. ... UF has all five regular starters averaging in double figures; Mississippi State has four. The Bulldogs are led by Arnett Moultrie, who is averaging a double double of 17.1 points and 11.2 rebounds.