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A private showing

SOUTHBOROUGH - Hey, wasn't that Billy Donovan, who coached Florida to the last two NCAA basketball titles?

And Roy Williams, who guided North Carolina to the 2005 championship?

And Ben Howland, whose UCLA team went to the 2006 final and this year's semifinals before losing to Florida?

Yes, indeed, they all checked in, along with Boston College's Al Skinner, Georgia Tech's Paul Hewitt, Marquette's Tom Crean, Michigan's John Beilein, Providence's Tim Welsh, Virginia's Dave Leitao, and top assistants from Duke, Kentucky, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Louisville, and Villanova, among emissaries for more than three dozen of the nation's premier collegiate programs.

In a landmark event in the annals of college basketball recruiting in New England, a cavalcade of America's elite coaches - their private jets idling at regional airports - converged Sunday for a special showcase at St. Mark's School for Erik Murphy, a 16-year-old boy with size 15 sneakers and boundless potential.

Some of the million-dollar coaches also had eyes for Murphy's 16-year-old teammate, Nate Lubick, another blue chip in the high-stakes talent hunt.

Rarely have so many coaching greats flocked to a New England high school gym for such a small private showcase.

"I've never been at anything like this," said Crean, one of eight coaches who already have offered scholarships to Murphy, a 6-foot-9-inch, 220-pound junior. His father, Jay Murphy, starred at Boston College and played in the NBA in the 1980s.

With a school official stationed at the door to ward off photographers and interlopers, St. Mark's responded to intense national interest in Murphy by permitting the coaches to watch him play pickup ball with the 6-8 Lubick and other schoolmates during an "open gym" session on the leafy campus 25 miles west of Boston. The showcase became a recruiting necessity in part because Murphy missed much of the summer basketball circuit with a knee injury and NCAA rules prohibit coaches from observing recruits during the academic year anywhere but their high schools.

For many of the coaches, however, the visit was less about evaluating Murphy's or Lubick's skills than showing them they want them so much that they would dedicate a Sunday to traveling, in some cases, thousands of miles simply to shake their hands, smile at them, and exchange a few pleasantries after dutifully watching them run the floor in a friendly intramural scrimmage. Any more interaction between the coaches and players would have violated NCAA recruiting rules.

The NCAA also prohibits coaches from publicly discussing players they recruit.

"Obviously, it's the outstanding talent at St. Mark's that brought everybody here," Howland said after he crossed the country to show his love for Lubick. "There are a lot of good colleges represented here, that's for sure."

For Donovan, the trip to St. Mark's was his second in 10 days. He is hot for Murphy, who, by some accounts, projects to be a first-round NBA draft choice. Murphy has grown 5 inches in two years - he was nearly 6-10 when Williams measured him last spring in his office at North Carolina - and is likely to match or exceed the height of his 6-11 father, a second-round NBA pick in 1984 who played four seasons with the Los Angeles Clippers and Washington Bullets.

Florida has offered Murphy a scholarship, as have BC, Connecticut, Georgia Tech, Marquette, Ohio State, Syracuse, and Virginia. Others are certain to follow.

"In my view, Patrick Ewing is the most accomplished player ever to come out of New England, but at the end of the day, Erik Murphy will be in the top five," said T.J. Gassnola, who operates the New England Playaz, an Adidas-sponsored national travel team whose roster includes Murphy and Lubick.

Murphy was a regional sensation - BC recruiters began attending his games when he was a freshman - until he captured the attention of many national recruiters with a breakout performance in April at the King James Shooting Stars Classic in Akron, Ohio.

"The phones really started ringing after that," said Jay Murphy, who serves as an assistant coach for the Playaz under former Celtics coach John Carroll.

Scouting services generally rank Murphy among the top three high school juniors in New England, along with 6-9 Alex Oriakhi and 6-6 Jamaal Coombs, both of whom have verbally committed to UConn. Oriakhi and Coombs, who played as freshmen at Lawrence Academy and as sophomores at the Winchendon School, transferred this year to the Tilton School in New Hampshire.

Murphy and Lubick played summer ball with Oriakhi and Coombs on Leo Papile's Boston Amateur Basketball Club until they joined the Playaz this year with Carroll's son, Austin, a junior at Worcester Academy who has received scholarship offers from the likes of Holy Cross, Rhode Island, and West Virginia.

"Erik has great bloodlines," John Carroll said, noting that Murphy's mother, Paivi, played for the Finnish national team and a professional team in Sweden. "But what separates him from the rest of the pack is his skill level. His dad really has showed him how to play. He has tremendous potential."

In Sunday's showcase, Murphy drained 3-pointers, dunked on the break, demonstrated a soft touch with both hands around the basket, and passed well from the post and perimeter. He recently scrimmaged with members of the Florida team during a visit to the campus.

"I'm sure if he went to Duke or North Carolina, he would fit on those teams, too," Carroll said.

Lubick, a sophomore who turned 16 in June, has received scholarship offers from Georgia Tech, Louisville, Marquette, UMass, Rhode Island, Rutgers, UCLA, Michigan, Georgetown, UConn, and Virginia. Florida has expressed serious interest as well.

"It's like a dream come true," said Lubick, whose father, Dave, has coached St. Mark's for 11 years.

It's heady stuff for 16-year-olds, with coaches such as Donovan, Williams, and Howland treating them like basketball princes.

"I try to stay humble," Murphy said. "I'm just glad I have the opportunity."

In Dave Lubick's view, the daily regimen at St. Mark's helps keep the youths grounded.

"They're living a very structured and challenging life here," he said. "There's nobody fawning over them on a daily basis. It doesn't matter if they're talking to a coach from the ACC. They're still going to have two or three hours of homework."

Jay Murphy, 45, a native of Meriden, Conn., who settled in Rhode Island after his playing career and sells commercial insurance, said he counsels Erik to maintain his integrity and respect the game.

"I've told him not to worry about the recruiting, just have fun and play basketball and the recruiting process will take care of itself," he said.

The Murphys said they plan to narrow Erik's college options to a manageable number - 8-10 - before he begins the high school season.

On Sunday, while Erik Murphy and Nate Lubick received their celebrity guests in the St. Mark's gym, their parents marveled at the lengths to which the nation's top collegiate coaches had gone to pursue them.

"I look at these kids who are being recruited, and they seem so young," Jay Murphy said. "But if these coaches are coming to see them and saying they can play at that level, you have to believe they know what they are talking about."

The scene was particularly striking for Dave Lubick, who inherited a winless team 11 years ago at St. Mark's and won only one game his first year on the job.

"I didn't ever dream this kind of attention would happen," he said. "It's all because of the kids."

Bob Hohler can be reached at

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