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St. Mark’s players look prepped for NCAA success

Kaleb Tarczewski, a former St. Mark’s player, has been a key part of Arizona’s success in the Pac-12.

Getty Images/File

Kaleb Tarczewski, a former St. Mark’s player, has been a key part of Arizona’s success in the Pac-12.

It wasn’t hard for them to keep up with each other this season. It seemed like there was a familiar face on every channel.

“Every time I turn around, I see somebody,” Alex Murphy said.

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He’d turn on the TV in his dorm room at Duke, and it was almost like he was using a trick remote.

“Every time I turn on the TV my brother’s on TV or Kaleb’s on TV,” he said. “Nik’s on TV, Nate’s on TV.”

Erik Murphy and the Florida Gators were always in an SEC dogfight. Kaleb Tarczewski was putting on a big-man clinic in the Pac-12 at Arizona. Nik Stauskas’s Michigan highlights were a one-man instruction video on 3-point shooting. Every night was a battle royal in the Big East for Nate Lubick at Georgetown.

Every night, St. Mark’s School was a click away. If they needed to know how Alex was doing they could find him in ESPN’s top plays hanging on the rim after a dunk.

“It’s a special feeling,” Alex said.

They kept in constant contact on the group text. But it wasn’t just them, it was an entire network of former St. Mark’s basketball players.

“Everybody’s interested in the other guys,” Murphy said. “They want to know how everyone’s doing and it’s not fake. We truly care about each other and to this day we’ll always have each others back no matter what.”

A small school of 350 students in a small town of 9,000 people, St. Mark’s by no means fancies itself a basketball warehouse like Oak Hill Academy in Virginia or Mount Zion Christian Academy in North Carolina. But for the 15 years David Lubick spent bottling lightning as head coach, it was more of a hoops gem hidden away in Southborough, quietly sewing seeds in some of the nation’s top programs.

Now with former St. Mark’s players on five Division 1 teams, this year’s NCAA Tournament feels like a full blossom. At different points throughout the season, each of their teams was in the top 10. None of their teams is lower than a No. 6 seed in the brackets. At some point, the tournament trail could easily lead them to each other.

“I knew we had great players at the high school level,” Murphy said. “But for all of us to be where we are today, playing a high level of college basketball and to be having the success that we’re having, it’s unbelievable. Those are still my brothers to this day. I love those guys. We have a special bond.”

Tough love

It took time to build it.

When Lubick took the job in 1997, he inherited a team that had mustered one win in the three previous seasons and hadn’t had a winning season in nearly two decades.

But Lubick was fully immersed. He and his wife Lisa bought a house on campus.

“Our vacations weren’t going to Turks and Caicos,” Lisa said. “Our vacations were going to Lawrence and Haverhill. Nights watching games in parks. We went to Harlem. My husband, early in his years here was looking for talent. Pretty soon, the kids were coming to him.”

It didn’t matter how young he was, Nate Lubick was always around his dad’s teams.

“I was constantly, constantly traveling with them, at practice with him, hanging out with the guys,” Nate Lubick said. “I was hanging out with older kids, which my parents weren’t always too happy about.”

And because the Lubicks always kept an open door, his house was literally theirs.

“It’s always been like that,” Nate Lubick said. “Even when I go back home for three weeks or so when I come back from Georgetown, I feel like my players and our friends are constantly rolling in and out whenever they’re back. The Lubick household is usually where everybody comes to hang out.’’

Eventually — and inevitably — Nate became both a son and a player.

“It was a little weird coming back to the dinner table at night to the guy that was just screaming at you for three hours earlier in the day being your dad,” Nate said. “But he was kind of like everyone’s dad.”

It helped that Nate and Erik Murphy seemed to be twins split at birth. They had known each other since middle school, when former NBA player and Boston College star Jay Murphy had talked to David Lubick about sending his son to St. Mark’s.

“Going into it I didn’t know what to really expect, but going there, living with those guys, playing with them, they became my brothers,” Erik Murphy said. “The program is just really special for a high school.’’

As a coach, Dave Lubick was maniacal. He preached mental toughness, and pushed players to limits they didn’t know existed. But they embraced it.

“Coach, he has his own unique style,” Erik Murphy said. “He’s tough. He uses tough love. He’ll get on you. He’ll let you have it. Then at the same time, he’s one of the most caring people I’ve ever been around in my life. I think it’s rare to find that at the high school level, maybe any level.”

At 6-feet-8-inches 235 pounds, Nate Lubick has spent 30 minutes a night moshing with Big East big men, averaging 7.2 points and 5.4 rebounds. Murphy put up 12.6 points and 5.5 rebounds a night and toughed his way through a knee injury in the SEC tournament.

“To get more than he believes or knows he’s capable of at the time, it’s got to take commitment from you to him,” said David Lubick, who stepped down last season after winning his last title with his younger son, Eli. “I want to do it for us and for himself and to be a part of something special.’’

Coming of age

Size was always what people noticed first about Tarczewski. Even in middle school he was a tree. But after his freshman year, he hadn’t developed enough to even make the team at his public school in Claremont, N.H.

He found as many basketball camps as possible. His father signed him up for Jay Murphy’s big man camp. He saw Murphy and it was hard not to hide his inner fan.

“I thought it was the coolest thing,” Tarczewski said. “He used to be in the NBA. He was 7 foot, like I was being close to.”

What he didn’t know was that another Murphy was already doing some advance scouting. Eric Murphy noticed Tarczewski the same way everyone else in the gym had.

Erik immediately found his father and told him, “We need to tell coach about this kid.”

After a workout, Tarczewski made his way sheepishly over to Jay Murphy, and said, “Mr. Murphy, I’m from a small town in New Hampshire. I have a great passion for the game. I really want to see where it could go. But I don’t really know how to get there.”

Murphy told him, “I think you’re a great player. My son’s getting ready to go to this place called St. Mark’s. The coach is actually getting ready to come tomorrow. I’d love for him to watch you play.”

David Lubick got a look the next day.

“It wasn’t too hard to see how big he was,” Lubick said.

Tarczewski had a gut feeling, and even though he had to wait a year to enroll, he reclassified and went in as a sophomore. By the time he was a senior, he averaged 20.7 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 2.7 blocks, shot 63 percent from the floor, and earned ISL MVP.

Coach magnets

His first month at St. Mark’s, Nik Stauskas remembers, the team had an open gym scheduled.

Open to Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski. Open to Kentucky coach John Calipari. Open to Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun. Open to Kansas coach Bill Self.

“Every big-time coach you could think of was there to watch us,” Stauskas said. “I remember standing there just looking at the sideline, I was like, ‘This is crazy.’ The fact that we’re just a bunch of high school kids and all these guys are coming out to see us. At that point, I kind of knew something was going to be special about that group.’’

There were past players in top collegiate programs and current players drawing major looks, but it was never competitive. Lubick preached a policy that individual success would always be much greater and they would go much further if you’re associated with a successful organization. There was no better example than Stauskas landing at Michigan. He knew he could score. Lubick wanted him to commit to defense. Eventually, he bought in.

While Stauskas was still an underclassman, Nate Lubick was being recruited by Michigan and Georgetown. Wolverines coach John Beilein was constantly talking to Dave Lubick about his son, but he chose the Hoyas. Still, Beilen and Lubick kept a close relationship.

“When I came along, Coach Lubick told Coach Beilein, ‘I’ve got this kid Nik and I really like his game and I think he fits the way you play. You should check him out.’ Coach Beilein ended up coming to that open gym.”

Ties that bind

Without even seeing the brackets, the thought crossed Erik Murphy’s mind that he could be playing against his little brother on college basketball’s biggest stage.

They talk nearly every day.

“I just try to mentor him as much as I can, give him as much advice because I’ve been through it,” Erik said.

As a Duke redshirt freshman, Alex has been able to lean on Erik’s experience in his first year in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

“Everything that I’m going through now, he’s been there, too,” Alex said. “If I have questions or need any advice, he’s always there for me and he keeps it real. He’s honest and I think that’s the special part of our relationship.”

If they were to meet in the tournament, it would be in the Final Four.

They’ve all taken passing glances, following the lines on the brackets and connecting all the possible dots between them.

In the end, though, the bonds are bigger than the bracket.

“That bond that we developed at St. Mark’s, that’s still there even though now that we’ve kind of gone our separate paths,” Tarczewski said. “It’s still there.”

Julien Benbow can be reached at jbenbow@globe.com.
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