SALT LAKE CITY — Jazz center Enes Kanter says the words with a mixture of confusion, compassion and perhaps a smidgen of contempt.
“He doesn’t even have to wear a pink backpack,” Kanter said of rookie guard Kevin Murphy.
A year ago, when he was a rookie, Kanter’s veteran teammates made him wear a pretty pink backpack on every road trip. It was part of their rather gentle rookie hazing process.
Kanter and teammate Alec Burks went about it without a complaint. They also willingly retrieved all the loose basketballs after practices and shootarounds; made daily donut runs and, on demand, fetched newspapers for veterans like Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap.
Apparently the new-look Jazz — with three new players on the roster — are kinder and gentler when it comes to ribbing rookies.
“He hasn’t even had to bring donuts,” Kanter said.
The truth is, Murphy was asked to bring donuts on the first day of training camp but on his way to the bakery received an urgent phone call from his wife, who informed him she had gone into labor with the couple’s first child.
Murphy, 22, immediately called team officials. They, in turn, got him on the next flight back to his home in Atlanta.
“I don’t know if I buy the story about him on his way to get donuts,” veteran Earl Watson said. “That sounds a little too good to be true. But he’s a smart rookie though, he says the right things.”
Since the day he avoided delivering the donuts, Murphy, a prolific scorer during a four-year career at Tennessee Tech, has witnessed the birth of his son, Kevin Jr., signed a $473,704 contract with the Jazz and found a nice, comfortable spot on the bench.
All part of the life of a second-round draft pick with good talent, big hopes and a lifelong dream of playing in the NBA.
“It’s a hard process coming from being ‘The Guy’ in college to where you’re sitting on the bench,” Murphy said. “It’s hard but it’s what I want. It just makes me work harder.”
Murphy, who now lives in Salt Lake with his wife and son, has appeared in exactly three times this season: an Oct. 31 blowout victory over Dallas; a Nov. 8 blowout loss at Denver and, finally, in Monday’s 102-91 home victory over Houston.
He has played a grand total of three minutes and scored four points on 2-for-6 shooting.
A 16-year NBA player who knows what it likes to be a rookie, Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin has empathy for Murphy and has taken time to give him advice.
“Just keep working, it’s a long season, a lot of things can happen,” he Corbin said. “It’s a lot to learn and figure out. Even when he’s not playing he needs to be learning from watching the other guys.”
Corbin said even though Murphy doesn’t see a lot of playing time during games he gets plenty of work in practice, which is a critical part of any rookie’s existence.
For young players, practice is where impressions are made. And according to Corbin, Murphy is making an impression.
“He’s working extremely hard (in practice),” Corbin said. “He’s coming along pretty good.
At Tennessee Tech, Murphy scored 2,019 points, ranking No. 2 on the school’s all-time scoring list. As a senior last season he averaged 20.6 points in 32 games, all starts.
The Jazz did not have a first-round pick in 2012 draft. Instead they patiently waited and grabbed Murphy in the second round, No. 47 overall.
The team likes his offense and ability to shoot the 3-pointer, but they are deep at the shooting guard position and want to see if Murphy can develop into being an NBA-level defensive player.
“There’s a lot of tricks you’ve got to learn,” he said. “I’m just learning them as I go, just picking up on things as I’m watching. I’m just learning little tricks here and there.”
And he’s doing so without the use of a pink backpack or a box of donuts.