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USF basketball continues downward spiral with Murphy loss

Freshman guard Caleb Murphy has entered the transfer portal following two seasons at USF. USF ATHLETICS PHOTO

USF men’s basketball has hit rock bottom. 

Just a month after finishing its worst season under coach Brian Gregory, USF is likely to lose its top scorer, and face of the program, in freshman guard Caleb Murphy. 

Reports surfaced Monday of Murphy’s decision to enter the NCAA Transfer Portal in search of a new basketball program in 2022. Whether he moves onto another school or declares for the NBA Draft, as Nathan Bond of The Daily Stampede reported as a possibility, USF is left scrambling.

The exact reasons for Murphy’s decision to leave have not been confirmed. One that makes sense, though, is the bleak outlook on the future of USF men’s basketball.

When the curtain closed on the 2021-22 season, there wasn’t much about the season to remember fondly aside from a resounding blowout victory over UCF and a couple of late-game heroics. 

One silver lining, however, was the growth of Murphy, who stood tall as the team’s leader in points and assists. He was a constant on the floor for coach Brian Gregory, often initiating the offense, directing play and making key decisions. 

It’s more than just finding someone to fill Murphy’s minutes and stats. After a promising true freshman season in which he earned AAC All-Freshman Team honors, Murphy established himself as the de facto leader of the group in his second season, perhaps not vocally, but certainly on the court. 

Bulls fans could reasonably have started anticipating the season to come, with a seasoned point guard at the helm of an offense that — let’s face it — couldn’t be any worse than what they saw this past season. 

Now, even that bit of optimism is gone. USF will have to pivot to either handing the keys to the offense to freshman Trey Moss or hope to play the transfer portal game once again to lure a more experienced guard, much like they did in the previous offseason with senior Javon Greene.

That game is familiar to Gregory, who attracted Greene and eight other transfers to Tampa prior to last season. Not to discount the effects of injuries, personal issues and yet another wave of COVID-19 on the team’s ability to build rhythm, but clearly the mass turnover within the program did not go smoothly.

Murphy isn’t even the first to enter the transfer portal. Sophomore forward Jalyn McCreary did so in late March. What sort of domino effect this will have on the rest of the roster remains to be seen.

A lot may happen between now and when the 2022-23 season tips off, but only then will Bulls fans know how well the program responds to losing its cover star. 

The ownice is on Gregory to improve an underperforming team, especially under the spotlight of a contract extension announced in January. In fairness, his deal was essentially agreed upon following the 2019 season, but did not go into effect until recently due to the pandemic, according to The Daily Stampede.

It’s a tougher pill to swallow now, but the success the program was enjoying back in 2019, a 24-win season and a College Basketball Invitational win, was worthy of a contract extension. Things were on the up at the Yuengling Center and that was reflected on the recruiting trail.

When he arrived in 2020, Murphy was the star acquisition for a program that attracts very few players of his caliber. Gregory was just a year removed from the winningest season in program history and its first postseason title of any kind. 

A lot can change in two years.