Theodore Roosevelt called it "the crowded hour," the make-or-break time when decisions must be made and action taken. This is Kentucky freshman Jamal Murray's time.
"We just became so accustomed to him making big shots and tough shots in tough moments, it was almost expected," Murray's high school coach, Larry Blunt, said. "He has a knack for the big moment."
Murray's secret? Kung fu.
Because of extensive training in this martial art, Murray believes he is serene during a game's decisive moment while others might be anxious.
Digital Access For Only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
"Typically, when the stage gets bigger, most kids of his age tend to speed up and get going a million miles per hour," Blunt said. "It's very clear watching him things really slow down. He's at a pace that's just calm, steady. And you can just tell there's a mental exercise that goes into playing. Moments aren't moving as fast for him."
Murray's father, Roger, trained his son in kung fu. This enabled father and son to train when the winters in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, made outdoor basketball impossible. Besides, there weren't that many outdoor hoops in Kitchener. So father and son ran and did other mentally challenging conditioning.
"All that fun stuff," Murray said with a chuckle. "We'd just go over mental toughness, and develop a spirit inside you that can always create adrenalin. So whenever you need energy, you can always go to it."
Conversely, the kung fu training enabled Murray to learn to slow his heart rate in stressful situations. It's an ability Murray said he uses often.
"Any time I exercise or work out," he said. "It's breathing. Putting it in perspective. I'm running. Yeah, I'm tired. But I know how to slow my heart rate down."
When other hearts could be beating 180 beats per minute, Murray said, "I'd be 50-something. My heart rate is just calm and cool."
Of course, Kentucky has promoted how it monitors the players' heart rates. The general idea seems to be that more beats equals more exertion. Yet, Murray's heart rate might call for a re-Cal-ibration.
"That is how it is," Murray said of the supposed direct correlation between heartbeats and effort. "It's a training involved that my dad helped me do. He's been great in helping me slow myself down mentally and physically, and really have a different perspective on the game."
UK Coach John Calipari assured reporters that UK's heart monitoring system is sophisticated enough to factor in Murray's kung fu and not automatically translate a slower heart rate as loafing.
Dr. Ben Kibbler, a Lexington-based orthopedic surgeon who specializes in sports medicine, said that the benefits of martial arts were more difficult to measure than, say, strength or speed. But, he said, "it does exist."
Murray had been surprising Calipari long before Kentucky strapped on a heart monitor. His ability to astound athletically convinced the UK coach that Murray was — in a word — exceptional.
"He's a guy you've got to really watch," Calipari said. "Like, really watch. Because he's sneaky athletic. In other words, he just went up and dunked it over his head? What?! And the speed is like 'where did that come from?'"
When the boundaries of the possible are so ill-defined, Calipari has not been sure exactly how to help Murray optimize this talent.
"I don't even know what his upside is," Calipari said. "Like, when I looked at Karl (Anthony Towns), I knew where I was trying to take him. But this kid just started showing me stuff. Like, what in the world? Where is this going?"