Unlikely pairing beginning to form with perennial powerhouse
Written by Jose Colorado for On Point Basketball
The University of Kentucky, arguably one of the greatest basketball college programs in the modern era, have found their man in the way of a small town Canadian kid.
Jamal Murray, draped in a mammoth Canadian flag and surrounded by friends, family and loved ones, announced he will be suiting be for the Wildcats next season during a first-of-its-kind nationally televised event.
The resume and lure of Head Coach John Calipari, who has one national championship and three final four appearances since taking over the program six years ago, ultimately influenced the Kitchener native’s decision.
“It was definitely one of the main factors, how he handles everybody and the team – all those great players on one team,” said Murray at the TSN studios as he was swarmed by reporters following his announcement.
“He has a lot of intelligence in the game and I trust in how he will develop me.”
There is a common belief the ‘development’ that Murray speaks of is Calipari’s uncanny ability to turn freshly graduated high school kids into bona fide ready-to-contribute pros within the course of a single season.
Calipari has produced 25 NBA players since joining Kentucky, including 6 in the 2015 draft.
He is also the only coach to ever produce five first-round selections in the same NBA draft (2010) and the only coach to send six players to the NBA Draft in the modern two-round era (2012).
The 56-year-old’s unconventional success and eye for players suited for the “one-and-done” era has even begun to trickle north of the border but not necessarily in the GTA where many would likely expect.
Trey Lyles, who suited up for Kentucky last season was selected 12th overall by the Utah Jazz, hails from the Canadian prairies in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan while Mychal Mulder, who will join Murray on the powerhouse Wildcats, is a Windsor product.
In fact, the last Wildcat from the GTA to make the leap to the NBA would be Jamaal Magloire 15 years ago – long before Calipari was at the university.
“That definitely shows you how much Canada is growing up and competing against the states,” said Murray when asked about the unlikely connection to the smaller Canadian cities.
Following immense coaching success, previous basketball recruitment scandals at the University of Massachusetts and the University of Memphis, and the infamous one-and-done method that has irked many within the college ranks, Calipari’s Wildcats endure an intense barrage of media scrutiny and coverage at a level even Murray has yet to experience.
“I try to not to pay attention to the attention,” said Murray, who also credited his dad for keeping him on the right path. “I just try to focus on the end goal and where I want to be.”
Rowan Barrett, assistant General Manager and Executive Vice President of the Canadian Senior Men’s Program, believes the bright lights shouldn’t be an issue for the small town kid.
“These athletes get so much attention so quickly and it’s so easy for them to lose sight of who they are and ultimately what they’re about,” said Barrett, who played professionally in 11 different countries during his playing career.
“I really got the sense of a player that approaches the game like the last man on the team. Long term, for his success, that is what is going to be key for him.”
Another key is Murray’s unwavering confidence that has him convinced he can play on the big stage and eventually land as a lottery pick despite his humble roots.
“I’m sure everybody wants to do it,” said Murray when asked if he envisioned himself going first overall in the future.
“I wouldn’t see why I wouldn’t be able to say it. I just see myself working hard and trying to get to the top…trying to be the No.1 draft pick.”
Written by Jose Colorado
Photo courtesy of Jamal Ward of Flash Forward Multimedia
Edited by Drew Ebanks