Commitment Notebook: Murphy & Braman a big pair of verbals

Aidan Murphy (left) shoots a free throw in a game for Glenbard West (provided photo). Luke Braman (right) blocks a shot in a postseason game for Roanoke-Benson. – Photo provided by Suzy Thompson

Aidan Murphy is springing into the future, one leap at a time. For someone who has added at least nine inches to his vertical leap thanks to studious training, the potential outweighs what Murphy has already done on the court for Glenbard West.

The 6-6, springy Hilltoppers senior made his commitment to Division III Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on Oct. 28.

“I chose Carnegie Mellon first because of the world class education,” Murphy said. “(I) felt connection with coaches and style of play, and really felt it would suit my game. I think I can contribute early as well with my shooting ability.  Absolutely loved the campus and think it’s the perfect size. Pittsburgh is one of the great sports towns and I’m very excited to play in it.”

Murphy, like many of the members of the Hilltoppers — both he and coach Jason Opoka believe at least eight or nine players on the team are capable of playing collegiately — has long worked toward playing at a higher level. He also said that he especially loved the campus

“I dreamed of playing in college since I started playing at age five,” Murphy said. “My goal was always to play at the best institution possible and Carnegie Mellon felt like the perfect fit for me.  Got Up before school to get shots up since eighth grade. Learned what it takes from some great mentors like Justin Peirce and Josh Ruggles.”

Part of a lengthy team, the Hilltoppers needed Murphy to play out of position during the 2019-2020 season that saw Glenbard West finished 16-13 a season ago. Namely with the skills and athleticism of a 2-guard who can sometimes play point, Murphy found himself frequently manning the post offensively and defensively as a junior.

In the offseason, Murphy has not only worked on improving his vertical leaping ability through rest after injury and intense training, but he’s also put on weight and has worked tenaciously on his scoring ability. Able to leap 27 inches toward the end of the season while playing at far less than full strength (playing at 65 percent by his estimation) and missing months of action, Murphy can now leap 36 inches.

The knee injuries and pain didn’t stop him from showing flashes of potential in limited action, as he played in 24 games, scoring 4 points per game, while knowing he was capable of more.

“He has a quick release, high stroke,” Opoka said. “With the guys around him, he’ll fit any role that we need him to play.”

Opoka later added, “You’d be amazed with his bounce.”

Murphy credited people like Justin Peirce and Josh Ruggles with assisting him in the offseason, as well as a litany of others.

Opoka made note of Murphy’s ability to be a spot-up shooter, his maturity and intensity and that he also demonstrated “toughness” and “grittiness.” Watching Murphy dunking the ball easily off of one foot or two is just one recent development that pleases Opoka.

“We’re super excited about him,” Opoka said. “Last year he played injured pretty much the whole year. We would never get 100% of Aidan Murphy so we were pretty excited to see his growth and development.”

The Hilltoppers return other lengthy players like seniors Danny Mulcare (6-6), Troy Glover (6-7 with a 6-11 wingspan), and junior Braden Huff (6-9).

“(I) should have probably taken an off year but wanted to help the team,” Murphy said. “Played at 65 percent and played out of position.  Played center a lot. Didn’t get to show what I could do as a wing.”

At Carnegie Mellon, he’ll potentially be paired up with Stevenson graduate R.J. Holmes. If given the chance with the uncertainty of Covid-19, Murphy is geared up to show exactly what he is capable of this year.

“I wanted to commit early so I could focus on the team this year at West, and on winning without worrying about stats (and) pressing on where I was going,” Murphy said. “Have a heck of a team this year and maybe the biggest and best ever at West.”

Braman wants to be pushed

Luke Braman is by no means a small person and certainly does not have small goals. The 6-9, class of 2021 Roanoke-Benson forward makes no bones about his collegiate expectations.

Braman, along with a strong class of 2020 group of seniors, led Roanoke-Benson to Class 1A state semifinals before Covid-19 ended a potential matchup with Goreville.

Provided photo by Suzy Thompson

Braman has moved past that, and has turned his attention to personal improvement and one more strong season if he’s lucky, before heading off to NAIA stronghold Olivet Nazarene in Bourbonnais.

He said he wants to be nothing short of the caliber player that Olivet Nazarene’s Alex Gross is, and Gross is a large part of the reason he’s headed northeast to Bourbonnais.

“I (want) to be able to lead our team and be an outstanding player, be like like big Alex Gross,” Braman said of the honorable mention all-American performer who is now in his junior year. “That’s pretty much how coach (Nick Birkey) wants me to be. That’s why they recruited me … they said I play like him.”

Braman, who has wanted to play collegiately since middle school, said that the challenges of working with fellow H.I.T (Hoops Intensity Training) trainee and player Brian Matthews, a UMass commit at DePaul College Prep, encouraged him to up his game.

The attitude of wanting to play against better players has long been visible in Braman, according to Roanoke-Benson boys basketball coach and athletic director Abe Zeller.

“There are kids who like being at the playground if they’re the biggest and the baddest,” Zeller said. “Luke’s the kid who wanted to get beat up by the big kids.”

Braman was the big kid by the time high school came around. He’s gone from 6-6 as a freshman to his current height of 6-9 and says he’s “insanely more coordinated” than he was just a few years ago. Braman averaged 13.6 points, 9.4 rebounds and 1.6 blocks as a junior, shooting 62 percent from the field. He was part of a group that led Roanoke-Benson to a school record 36 wins, with just one loss.

“The season as amazing but the ending was terrible,” Braman said about having the season cut short by Covid. “It is what it is. It sucks not being able to play. It was our first time in school history being able to go to state in basketball. We had a chance to win it all, but it just ended like that.”

Braman went on about what it was like playing with the experienced, senior-laden squad.

“We were playing absolutely amazing team basketball,” he said. “It was all together. Not everybody. There wasn’t just one person scoring all of our points, we had multiple people getting double-digits and playing together and playing defense.”

According to Zeller, Braman has played a huge role in helping put the program more prominently on the map. And while Braman said Zeller pushes him in everything, he’s especially worked hard since March on extending his shooting range.

“He’s willing to always put the team first,” Zeller said. “Like anyone, most enjoy thinking they have good stats … stats are definitely important, but that was never (just) it. Luke, no matter how much he may have wanted to, wanted to find ways to win.”

Zeller still thinks the ceiling is much higher for his senior forward.

“You haven’t seen how good Luke will be until he does get to college,” Zeller said. “Once he puts on more weight and his athleticism, even last year to this year, … people will see another level from Luke.”

Reid headed to the Hawkeye state

Marmion Academy point guard Nick Reid is heading to the land of tulip petals in Pella, Iowa, where he’ll play for the Division III Central College Dutch.

Reid, a 6-1 smooth-shooting senior with noted leadership skills, will join a Dutch program that had five players from the state of Illinois on its roster for the 2019-2020 season. He committed on Friday, Nov. 6.

Pair of pickups for Jaguars

Proviso East’s Gabriel Wright and Homewood-Flossmoor’s Tai Walters recently announced their verbal commitments to Governors State in University Park.

Wright, a 6-5 combo guard, committed on Nov. 2 to be part of the winning program. The now Proviso East senior, who previously attended Glenbard West, runs the floor well and has a high, smooth release point on his shot that extends out beyond the 3-point arc.

A lengthy, 6-3 guard with quickness and strong anticipatory tendencies on defense, Walters will join a Jaguars squad that went 17-13 last season. He committed Nov. 4 after receiving an offer from GSU on Oct. 27.

The current Homewood-Flossmoor senior guard joins GSU, who is 51-32 in Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference play in head coach Tony Bates’ time at the helm since 2014.

Haynes headed south

Class 3A honorable mention all-state post player Natalie Haynes announced her verbal commitment to Quincy University.

Haynes was a strong post performer on an 11-16 Streator squad this past season, and heads into the uncertainty of a potential season without knowledge of what will happen with teams locally.

The now senior forward is Streator’s all-time leading scorer, and she averaged 20.6 points, 16.4 rebounds and 5.3 blocks per game as a junior. At Quincy University, Haynes is committing to a program led by coach Jeni Garber, a Metamora High School graduate who played at Illinois Central College ad Virginia Tech.

Haynes’ presence down low was impactful for the Bulldogs, as she posted, according to J.T. Pedelty and Brian Hoxsey, individual game stat lines of:

-24 points, 12 rebounds 5 blocks

-16 points, 17 rebounds

-21 points,14 rebounds, 5 blocks

Big leap for Dwyer

Stagg High School’s Kelsey Dwyer is set to take her shooting talents to DePauw University.

The now senior shooting guard was a sectional finalist in the 3-point shooting contest, and used that ability to score in quick fashion. As The Daily Southtown’s Tony Barenek detailed in a Jan. 31 article, Dwyer, a 6-0 guard, was averaging 9.7 points, 6.5 rebounds and had knocked down 37 3-pointers at that point of then season.

With more chance to help push Stagg girls hoops forward in an uncertain senior season, Dwyer joins Laila Barakat as a talented duo returning for a squad that went 13-18 in the 2019-2020 season.

The historically successful DePauw program in Greencastle, Indiana (the Tigers own two Division III national titles in the last 13 years) went 28-2 and a perfect 16-0 in the North Coast Athletic Conference in 2019-2020.

Senior Fox close to the edge

Yorkville Foxes senior Kenzie Senffner became the second Illinois prospect in recent weeks to commit to Edgewood College after Downers Grove South’s Jake Dimovski did so in October.

In 2019-20, Edgewood posted a record of 25-3 overall and 18-2 in the Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference, finishing second in the regular season before winning the conference tournament.

Senffner was part of a Foxes team that won a Class 4A regional title with a 13-21 record when she was a sophomore and then went 10-20 this past season. She has demonstrated a 3-point shooting touch, having once made 6 of 6 3-point shots in a 2018 victory over Rochelle.

Morrisey to the Bay

Heading north to the Green Bay-area, St. Viator’s Emma Morrisey (class of 2021) will join the Saint Norbert College women’s basketball program in De Pere, Wisconsin.

The now senior guard has shown comfort handling the ball and scoring it, and thrived in many facets for the Arlington Heights-based school, namely shooting from deep with a super consistent shooting stroke. She helped lead a competitive Lions team that went 14-17 and won a Class 3A regional title last season. She will join a St. Norbert program that went 9-16 last season.

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