'His recruitment is wide open': Iowa State among the many trying to pluck Matthew Murrell out of Memphis
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Penny Hardaway was announced as Memphis' basketball coach on March 20, 2018. Immediately, he began trying to build a wall around the city to keep top talent in town.
And he's doing a good job so far.
First, in 2018, he landed city stars Tyler Harris, Alex Lomax and Ryan Boyce.
Now, in 2019, the county's No. 1 recruit, James Wiseman, plus Malcolm Dandridge and Damion Baugh, all three Memphis kids, have committed to the former NBA All-Star.
"It’s a lot of excitement right now," said Faragi Phillips, head coach at Memphis high school power Whitehaven. "Everybody is so in an uproar about Memphis basketball."
But Phillips also wants to make one thing very clear ...
Despite the Tigers' recruiting momentum, his star combo guard, Matthew Murrell, is not a lock to follow in his peers' footsteps and commit to Hardaway.
"His recruitment is wide open. I cannot stress that enough," Phillips said. "Memphis has no lock. Nobody has a lock. Because the perception is Memphis has a lock on all kids in Memphis, and that’s not the case.
"He’s not a lock for Memphis in no shape, form or fashion. Memphis has to recruit him as well as everybody else will have to recruit him."
That's good news for Iowa State, which is trying to pluck Murrell from the city.
A physical, 6-foot-4 guard who looks like a safety and can score in just about every way, Murrell entered April's live period with offers from Iowa State, Memphis, Ole Miss, Tennessee, Auburn, North Carolina State and Florida, among others.
He played well over the weekend and has picked up offers from Alabama, Vanderbilt and St. John's this week. Kentucky head coach John Calipari was on hand for one of Murrell's games, too, and there's talk the Wildcats could eventually get involved.
Despite the crowded offer list, Phillips and Murrell say Iowa State is squarely in the mix.
"I just like their program," Murrell said. "It’s a college town. I like college towns, but I also like big towns. It don’t matter to me. I think they could get me to the next level."
It helps Iowa State that it jumped in early. Well, first, actually.
Assistant coach William Small gave Murrell his first offer during his sophomore year.
Phillips originally told Small about Murrell, then just a middle-schooler, when the Cyclones assistant was still at Murray State with Steve Prohm.
Small and Phillips grew up near one another in Mississippi, and the two have become good friends over the years. So, when Murrell continued to look like the real deal in high school, Phillips called Small, who was now in Ames.
"I said, 'Remember that kid I was telling you about a few years ago? You guys better get an opportunity to come and see him, man. He’s going to be very good,'" Phillips said.
"And the rest is history."
Murrell's stock surged after his Iowa State offer, and it's on the verge of explosion right now. College coaches haven't stopped calling Phillips since Sunday night, he said.
Hardaway came to visit Monday.
Ole Miss and North Carolina State visited Tuesday.
Tennessee and Alabama were there Wednesday.
Florida, Georgetown and Vanderbilt were expected Thursday.
But as long as Small and Prohm are on staff, the Cyclones have a shot with Memphis kids. Folks haven't forgotten what those two did with Cameron Payne, a city product who is now in the NBA after a successful career at Murray State.
Phillips said Iowa State is doing everything right so far with Murrell.
"Iowa State, man, they have a really great relationship with Matthew," he said. "Coach Small has done a phenomenal job of recruiting Matthew over the last 18 months. He's been down to see Matthew several times throughout the season. He’s been to some games. As it pertains to recruiting, he’s done his due diligence. Coach Prohm has also come with Coach Small to see Matthew and visit with his mom and dad.
"It’s a great relationship that they have in terms of them pursuing Matt and making him feel really wanted. They’ve done their due diligence in recruiting one of the country’s best players."
Murrell's suitors will have to fight to fend off Hardaway.
Since taking over as Memphis' head coach, Hardaway has prioritized Murrell, who is considered the top junior in the city.
"I think he’s their biggest 2020 guy," said Murrell's AAU coach with Team Thad, Norton Hurd. "He’s got a great relationship with them guys, so it’s just going to come down to his fit and whatever he wants to do.
"Iowa State is in there good. Tennessee, North Carolina State. He’s still open now. I think he loves the city, but I think he's still open to do what’s best for him."
Murrell said he feels like a priority for Memphis, and that there's a lot of attention around the city focused on his college decision.
He also said Hardaway isn't the only one recruiting him to the Tigers.
"It's players, too," he laughed. "Whenever I’m around Alo (Alex Lomax) and Tyler (Harris) and them, they always try to tell me come to Memphis."
The four-star prospect reiterates what his high school and AAU coaches say — that his recruitment is wide open. He mentioned Tennessee, Florida, Iowa State, Auburn, Memphis, Ole Miss and North Carolina State as schools recruiting him the hardest, although this was before his Alabama and Vanderbilt offers.
In terms of the future, Murrell said he plans to visit Florida in June. Other than that, he has no timeline in mind. He expects to narrow his choices in late summer or early fall.
And, judging from how his stock is heating up right now, he'll have plenty of choices.
Matthew Bain covers recruiting, Iowa/Iowa State athletics and Drake basketball for the Des Moines Register and USA TODAY Network. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @MatthewBain_.