The Extraordinary Journey Of Ole Miss’ Murphy Holloway

Transferring is so commonplace in college basketball some even call the issue an epidemic. NCAA transfers must sit out a year unless they are granted a waiver to play immediately. These are supposed to be granted in situations where a player must play closer to home because of family or other mitigating circumstances. However, now essentially any person looking to transfer can file a petition for a waiver and have a chance to get cleared immediately.

This past offseason, Central Michigan guard Trey Ziegler left the school after his dad was fired as head coach and transferred to Pittsburgh. He was granted immediate eligibility. Maryland’s Dez Wells was kicked out of Xavier for being involved in a suspected rape, and was cleared to play this year for the Terrapins. Rice’s Arsalan Kazemi left school in September and transferred to Oregon, where he was cleared less than two months later. The system is flawed and the waiver rule is not applied with consistency. But one shining example of a waiver being granted is for Ole Miss forward Murphy Holloway.

Coming out of high school, Holloway was rated a three-star recruit by Rivals and the No. 133 player in the nation, but he struggled academically in high school. Entering his senior year he was unsure if he would qualify immediately to play college basketball during the 2008-09 season. Because of that, many schools stopped recruiting him. They didn’t want to take a chance he wouldn’t qualify and would have to go to JuCo or prep school for a year.

Throughout it all, Holloway says the Ole Miss coaching staff was there for him. He repaid them for their support by committing to play for the Rebels.

During his first year in Oxford, the Rebels finished 16-15 and Holloway averaged eight points and 6.6 rebounds per game, but it wasn’t exactly what he envisioned. The team was beset by injuries, and finished barely above .500. During his sophomore season, he averaged 10 points and 7.6 rebounds on a Rebel team that went 24-11 and won the SEC West Division during the regular season. However, that record was not enough to get the team over the hump and into the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2002, and that left a sour taste in Holloway’s mouth, despite reaching the NIT semifinals.

“That was really disappointing,” he says, “’cause we worked hard throughout the season but we just couldn’t pull through.”

After the season ended, Murphy expected to return to Ole Miss for his junior season, but then a series of family circumstances forced him to reconsider that plan. He loved Ole Miss. He loved the school, the coaches and his teammates. It was where he wanted to be but not where he needed to be. He needed to be at home in Irmo, South Carolina, just outside of Columbia, with his family. His mother was ill and the mother of his daughter was planning to re-enroll in high school and get her diploma after dropping out the previous year. Someone needed to take care of his mom and daughter, and Holloway realized that it had to be him.

“My family was struggling a little bit,” Holloway says. “My mom was dealing with an illness and the mother of my daughter had dropped out of high school when she got pregnant, and she was looking to go back to school to graduate and get her diploma, so I thought it would be best if I went home for a year and took care of that and put basketball to the side.”

He ended up at South Carolina in Columbia, saying, “If it weren’t for those circumstances, I never would have considered transferring.”

Most players with professional aspirations never would’ve put their basketball career on hold to take care of their family like that. Some would have left school and tried to play professionally and sent money back to their family. Holloway made the selfless decision to put the interests of those he cared about ahead of his own. This was impressive. Even more impressive was that it forced him to walk-on at his new school.

With the Gamecocks and Rebels both in the SEC, Ole Miss refused to release Holloway from his scholarship to attend another SEC school. Holloway says Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy was sensitive to his situation. Kennedy never tried to convince him to stay, and said he understood his need to transfer. Still, Kennedy refused to release him from his scholarship, forcing Holloway to bear the burden of paying his own tuition for a year at South Carolina. Many people would have been angry or resentful toward Kennedy. They would have questioned how much he really “understood” the reasons behind the transfer. But the then 21-year-old Holloway, took the decision in stride.

“I didn’t hold a grudge that they wouldn’t release me from my scholarship to go to USC cause I can understand why they wouldn’t want to do that and play against me in the future,” he says. “They were just doing what they had to do and thought was best for their program.”

As soon as his sophomore year ended, Holloway returned home and enrolled at the University of South Carolina. He didn’t apply for a hardship waiver, partly because traveling with the team would have meant time away from his family, and sat out a year exclusively practicing with the team, even though he probably would have been granted a release to play right away.

At South Carolina, Holloway was conflicted. He knew he had done what he had to do. He knew he made the right decision for his family. He knew they needed him. But his heart was still in Mississippi.

He longed for his teammates and kept up with them throughout the season, and when his season ended, things were looking up for his family. His mother was doing much better and his daughter’s mom had graduated high school, meaning she could now take care of their daughter full time. Holloway began to ask himself what he was still doing in South Carolina.

“After those two situations resolved themselves I kind of asked myself ‘What am I doing here?’ I came for one reason and one reason only and that problem was now fixed,” he says. “That’s when I realized I wanted to transfer back to Ole Miss. I told Coach Horn (the then head coach at SC) and he called Coach Kennedy for me and asked if they would have me back, and Coach Kennedy said yes, so then I started to get all the paper work ready so I could go back.”

So not only did Holloway hold no resentment toward Kennedy for not releasing him from his scholarship, but Holloway still had such an affinity for him, the school and his teammates there that he decided to transfer back. Not many people would have been willing to make that decision, but then again not many people are wired like Murphy Holloway.

Upon deciding to transfer back to Oxford for his junior season, he prepared his petition to the NCAA to play right away. He documented his reasons for transferring to and from South Carolina, his family situation, who would be taking care of his daughter, and his path to graduate from Ole Miss. Despite never dealing with a situation like this before, the NCAA granted him immediate eligibility.

The team started the year 10-4, but finished the regular season 17-13 and made another trip to the NIT. Despite being talented, the Rebels were dogged by off-the-court issues last year. In January, Kennedy kicked leading scorer Dundrecous Nelson off the team for being arrested for possession of marijuana, and also kicked reserve guard Jamal Jones off the team.

Then there was the eligibility of the troubled Jelan Kendrick. Kendrick transferred to Ole Miss in December of 2010 after being kicked off the Memphis Tigers’ basketball team before ever playing a game. Kennedy decided to take a chance on him. It ultimately didn’t pay off. He was late to shootarounds, confronted teammates, and was even engaged in a post-game brawl with teammate Reginald Buckner after a home loss to Vanderbilt. He was ultimately suspended later on in the season before being let go in the offseason.

All of those events essentially sabotaged Ole Miss’ season. Holloway and fellow seniors Reginald Buckner and Nick Williams would have one last chance to take the Rebels to the NCAAs, but they needed help, and that help has come in the form of Marshall Henderson. Despite their recent track record of dealing with players who had character issues, Kennedy decided to roll the dice on the dynamic Henderson. Henderson bounced around from Utah to Texas Tech to junior college and now to Ole Miss. His red flags were there, but so far haven’t shown up in Oxford as he has provided a huge spark to the Rebels (while irritating others with his emotional demeanor and somewhat excessive celebrations).

“He has made a huge impact on the team,” Holloway says. “It has helped me and Reginald a lot because teams used to be able to double down in the post, but now you can’t help off Marshall cause he’s such a good shooter and scorer so it opens up things down low. I love having him on my team. He’s a great player, a very emotional player and he really gets us fired up. Not everyone in the SEC likes him but I love having him on my team.”

With Henderson in the fold, the team is off to a 15-2 start, including a 4-0 start in conference play. Kennedy is trying to temper expectations by saying the team still has a long way to go, but the excitement in Oxford is palpable. The team knocked off then No. 10 Missouri last Saturday by 15, and sold out their second-consecutive home game this past Saturday. Ole Miss beat writer Hugh Kellenberger joked on Twitter: “There’s a scalper looking to BUY tickets at an OLE MISS basketball game. What is happening here?”

With a down year in the SEC, things are starting to fall into place for this team. They have a dynamite scorer in Marshall Henderson, a calming influence at point guard in Jarvis Summers, and then there’s Holloway. He’s big, physical and level-headed. He knows what it is like to fall short of your goals.

Now, he’s just enjoying the ride. With the end in sight, Holloway is glad he gets one last go around to make his mark, and hopefully lead his team to the Big Dance.

How far will Ole Miss go this season?

Follow Daniel on Twitter at @dgm591.

Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.

Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.