Girls’ basketball: Shen coach isn’t an ordinary Joe

Joe Murphy was never supposed to be a basketball coach. Growing up attending school in football-focu

Joe Murphy was never supposed to be a basketball coach. Growing up attending school in football-focused Amsterdam, basketball was rarely a thought for Murphy besides some action in recreation or CYO leagues.

“I never even tried out for the [high school] team,” said Murphy. “I was just a football guy.”

That is a little strange to think about, considering how much success Murphy has had in his first three years as the head coach for the Shenendehowa varsity girls’ basketball team. Murphy recorded his 50th victory Monday night when the top-ranked Plainsmen defeated Guilderland in the Section II Class AA postseason tournament, pushing his record to 50-10.

The Lady Plainsmen (19-1) will face rival Shaker in the semifinals Thursday night at 7:30 at Hudson Valley Community College.

Granted, Murphy was set up to succeed; the program he took control of from former head coach Ken Strube after the 2011-12 season has long been one of the best in Section II. During Strube’s 33 years as Shenendehowa’s head coach, the Plainsmen amassed 588 victories and won four state titles — but continuing success is never something that is easy, which is why Strube was glad the hard-working Murphy succeeded him as head coach.

“He was the perfect man for it, he was the guy I wanted to get it,” said Strube. “I’d classify Joe as blue-collar. He does his homework, looks at video tape, watches on TV, and he’s a real student of the game, a strategist. That’s always what I saw in Joe.”

Murphy, who teaches business at Shenendehowa, started coaching basketball when he was a student-teacher at Guilderland. He coached outside of Section II for a little bit after that stint, then was a varsity assistant at Schenectady for a few years, and finally landed on Strube’s bench as an assistant coach in 2004. A few years later, Murphy took control of the program’s freshman squad, amassing a record of 68-3 during the course of four seasons before taking the varsity job.

Along the way, Murphy taught himself the game of basketball. He credited Strube and varsity assistant Tony Mingione with helping him, and Murphy has developed a wide network of basketball connections he continues to call upon for help and ideas — but the Shenendehowa head coach is also a self-taught basketball mind. He’s watched countless basketball DVDs to learn new plays and techniques, spent hours in gymnasiums working camps and helping AAU teams and often watches game films early in the morning with his 5-year-old son, Vincent.

While Murphy has logged long hours developing an expertise for the game, Shenendehowa’s junior star Carly Boland — who played freshman basketball for Murphy and has been on each of the coach’s varsity squads — said her favorite thing about Murphy has nothing to do with basketball strategy.

“He always keep us motivated,” she said. “He always wants us to do the best we can for ourselves and for our team.”

Murphy played on the Amsterdam football team that won a state championship in 1995. Frank Derrico, Murphy’s coach from high school, said he was not surprised Murphy had elected to get into coaching.

“He was that kind of player,” said Derrico. “You didn’t have to tell him anything more than once. He always got things right the first time.”

What surprises Derrico, he said, is that Murphy has been able to pick up basketball with such ease. Derrico laughed remembering his failed experiment coaching a basketball team his sons played on as youths, saying he quickly realized he needed to stick to football.

“I’ll be honest,” said Derrico. “I couldn’t do what Joe’s done.”

Strube said it helped Murphy that he came to basketball as something of a blank slate. He never had a basketball coach of his own whose philosophy was hammered into his head, leaving Murphy free to constantly try new things. Often, Strube said, young coaches struggle because they refuse to think outside the box.

“They know what they did, what they ran, so they try to force that on their players — and the personnel is often different and it doesn’t work,” said Strube. “Joe has more liberal thoughts when it comes to his offenses and defenses, and he doesn’t pigeonhole himself.”

Murphy said he is always evaluating his players to try to think about what will work best for his squad as it evolves. Right now, the Plainsmen always play a 1-3-1 zone defense — but he admits that the club likely won’t play such a formation at all within a couple years. Offensive sets, too, come and go for Shenendehowa.

“Some stuff, I’ve kept for years,” said Murphy. “Other stuff, [I’ve used] and I’ve never used it again.”

“He’s really good at assessing what his kids are capable of and not capable of,” said Strube. “I think that’s one of his greatest assets as a coach.”


Top-seeded Hoosic Valley held Macie Holmes to three points and ousted Mekeel Christian Academy from the Class C tourney with a 39-31 semifinal win at Cohoes.

Mekeel, which went into the game as the only unbeaten girls’ team in Section II, fell behind, 20-13, at the half against the Lady Indians, who traditionally play very strong defense.

“We got to within 28-23 in the third quarter, but we just never could get that one basket we needed,” said Mekeel coach Guy DeAngelis. “They made it tough for Macie. I thought we took good shots, but they didn’t fall. They play so well on defense, and they disrupt the shooter.”

Lexy Rychcik led Mekeel with 10 points. Liz Songleton added seven. Seniors L’Rae Brunidge led 18-4 Hoosic Valley with 16 points, and Alyssa Paul added 10.

Hoosic Valley will play No. 6 seed Lake George in Saturday’s final at Hudson Valley Community College. The Warriors held Alexis Case — who had totaled 94 in the No. 2 Witches first two playoff games — to 14 points.



Holmes 1-0-3, Pigliavento 2-2-6, Bath 1-0-2, Ruchcik 3-2-10, Dean 1-1-3, Singleton 3-0-7. Totals: 11-5-31.


Brundige 7-2-16, Paul 4-1-10, Clum 2-2-7, Kennelly 1-0-2, Stannard 1-2-4. Totals: 15-7-39.

Mekeel Christian 5 8 10 8 — 31

Hoosic Valley 9 11 11 8 — 39

Three-point goals: Holmes, Rychcik 2, Singleton, Paul, Clum.

Categories: High School Sports

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