Pelicans’ Trey Murphy is hyped for his dunk contest moment: ‘I’m a showman’

DENVER — Trey Murphy didn’t dunk for the first time until he was a senior in high school.

As a lightly recruited kid from Durham, NC, Murphy wasn’t considered one of the best athletes in his state. Throwing down that dunk felt like a major accomplishment.

“I remember I was so hype that day,” Murphy told The Athletic. “That felt like a big check mark on my list.”

In the five years since leaving Cary Academy High School, Murphy has checked off quite a few accomplishments during his rise to the NBA. He plans on adding one more in a few weeks when he participates in the 2023 Slam Dunk Contest at All-Star Weekend in Salt Lake City, as first reported by ESPN’s Andrew Lopez. Rockets forward Kenyon Martin Jr., Blazers guard Shaedon Sharpe and G League guard Mac McClung are expected to be the other three participants in the Feb. 18 event.

“I’m pretty excited. There are definitely some high flyers I’m going against,” Murphy said. “I know those guys are going to come with some great dunks. I’ve seen some of the dunks they’ve done in the past. That just makes me want to come in and do even better.”

Murphy has often joked with his teammates about his desire to participate in this season’s All-Star Weekend, but he always figured it would be a long shot. He even admitted he wanted to “maintain low expectations so I won’t get disappointed.”

But once he got the call, it was a surreal moment. All he could think about was how far he came after often feeling like an afterthought among his peers before graduating from high school.

He grew to 6-foot-9, 206 pounds in college and became the No. 17 overall pick for the Pelicans in the 2021 NBA Draft out of Virginia. In his second season, he’s matured into one of the more talented young 3-and-D wings in the league. He’s averaging 12.6 points and 3.7 rebounds this season as his role continues to expand, and he’s gradually become one of the most important players on the roster.

While Murphy is best known for his 3-point stroke, he does have 58 dunks this season, and he’s thrown down a few crazy ones along the way.

“It really is all God’s favour. I can’t do anything without him,” Murphy said. “His timing is always the right timing. There were times where I’d have doubt or I’d be a little stressed out about my future back in high school. He always had his hand on me, and I knew there would be a path for me.

“If I said I knew I would end up here back then, I’d probably be lying to you.”

Still, Murphy isn’t going to Salt Lake City just happy to be there. “I’m trying to win it,” he said.

While he’s unlikely to be a favourite, Murphy believes he can rise to the occasion once he gets to experience the bright lights.

“It’s a special night. You know it’s one of those nights when everybody is watching you,” Murphy said. “They’re expecting a show. I feel like, myself, I’m a showman, and I try to get the crowd excited. Get the crowd involved. And I’ll make sure I show myself in my best light.”

Murphy didn’t want to reveal too many details about the dunks he has in mind, but he did acknowledge that he hopes to include at least one or two of his teammates. He started preparing before getting the formal invitation, testing out different dunk ideas since the beginning of the season. He’s even tried a few dunks with media present during post-practice sessions. Those efforts have produced more than one viral video.

Murphy has tried to avoid looking at old dunk contests because he doesn’t want to “do the stuff those guys did because everyone’s already seen it.” Instead, he’s studied a few of his favorite dunkers on YouTube and Instagram to adapt a few of their ideas into his routine.

“I think I’ll try to bring some more creativity with the dunks I attempt. I want to put some thought into what I’m doing,” he said. “I know that won’t be easy, but like I said, I’m coming in trying to win it.”

Along with the dunk contest, Murphy will also be participating in the Rising Stars Challenge on Friday during the All-Star weekend, along with his teammate Jose Alvarado.

“I’m excited for him. It’ll be a fun weekend for Trey. He’s excited,” Pels coach Willie Green said. “It’s all a part of the growth and maturity of … all of our young guys. To have an opportunity to participate in All-Star Weekend is a huge honor for them.”

The dual honor for Murphy and Alvarado represents their growth into important contributors, as well as their growing bond since becoming teammates.

“It’s great. I always think about when I was at Virginia and he was at Georgia Tech. I really hated him,” Murphy admitted. “Now, that’s my brother. I love him to death. I’m super excited for him. I’m super excited that we’ll be able to experience All-Star together. It’s going to be a special night. This is one we’ll probably remember forever.”

(Photo: Layne Murdoch Jr. / NBAE via Getty Images)


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