Jamal Murray declares for NBA draft
About 19 seconds. That’s how long Jamal Murray and his father hugged each other Friday.
A room full of reporters attending Murray’s I’m-going-to-the-NBA news conference seemed to fade away as father and son embraced.
The silence spoke eloquently. It told the story of father and son working together to reach a moment when a college star, fortunately for the Big Blue Nation another Kentucky star, announced he would enter an NBA Draft.
By Murray’s count, each second of the unashamed show of affection represented a year of effort.
“Nineteen years and change,” said Murray, who turned 19 on Feb. 23. “It’s 19 years out of his life, too. He did everything he could, and put me in a great spot.”
Of course, with Kentucky, this spot represents a basketball version of a famous question: How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? So few children playing basketball will become NBA Draft picks, yet Murray can become the 26th UK player selected since John Calipari became coach in 2009.
A 27th and 28th player may join the club later this spring when, or if, sophomore point guard Tyler Ulis and freshman Skal Labissiere announce their entry into this year’s NBA Draft pool.
Of course, Calipari has built his version of Kentucky basketball on a foundation of so-called one-and-done players. The six NBA drafts since he became UK coach have seen 16 Wildcats freshmen taken in the first round.
Murray spoke warmly of his one Kentucky season. He learned a lot, he said, and grew as a player and person.
“I’m happy for the experience that it gave me playing in a great environment with great fans,” he said. “I like the (one-and-done) rule.”
Murray, who grew up in Kitchener, Ontario, led Kentucky in scoring (20.0 ppg). He became the first UK player to average 20 or more points since Jodie Meeks in 2008-09. He also became the first UK player to make a three-point shot in every game of a season. His 720 points set a single-season record for a UK freshman (Brandon Knight had 657 in 2010-11).
“He’s an unbelievable scorer,” said Jonathan Givony, an analyst for DraftExpress.com, which projects Murray as the sixth player chosen in the June 23 draft.
“And for somebody his age to be able to come into college basketball and put the ball in the basket the way he was able to do, that’s just really impressive.”
He helped me. He guided me. He taught me. He frustrated me. He annoyed me. But I love him. He did everything he could. Without him, I wouldn’t be here. I thank him for everything he’s done.
Jamal Murray, talking about his father
It’s easy to forget that Murray excelled despite the challenge of playing an unfamiliar position. He came to Kentucky as a lifelong point guard, but accepted a move to shooting guard.
“It was hard at first . . . difficult to get in a rhythm when you weren’t hitting shots,” he said of the change. “I found a way to do that. I played with a lot more energy than I normally do.”
Murray credited Calipari for teaching him how to play “winning basketball.”
But it was his father, Roger Murray, who set the now former UK guard on the path to the NBA.
“Taught me everything I know,” said Murray, who described his father as “my best friend and my mentor. My biggest critic and my biggest fan. . . .
“He helped me. He guided me. He taught me. He frustrated me. He annoyed me. But I love him. He did everything he could. Without him, I wouldn’t be here. I thank him for everything he’s done.”
When asked how his father annoyed him, Murray spoke of shooting drills in the heat of summer and doing pushups in the cold of a Canadian winter. Or making his son rake leaves as a way to strengthen his hands.
“A lot of little stuff I didn’t understand at first,” Murray said. “I understand now.”
Doubtful that Canada could provide enough competition to bring out the best in his son, Roger Murray placed him on a prep team he knew would play teams from the United States. He got his son placed on Nike teams and Nike showcase events.
“I told him when he was a kid that if he listens to me, if he really gives me his ears, he will achieve his goals,” the elder Murray said. “And we set the bar really high. . . . We always envisioned being here. But we knew the work it would take to get here.
“I’m happy he listens. That’s the biggest part of it.”
When asked if there was a moment he knew his son could become an NBA player, Roger Murray recalled a long-ago photograph. The father saw something in the way his son held a basketball.
“It’s hard to describe the word ‘love’ in the sense of a physical thing,” the elder Murray said. “When he held the ball in his hands, it was a physical, emotional, psychological love that he had just looking at the ball. And I knew.
“With that compassion and that energy, you could harness it properly. And that’s what we did.”
As for possible additional NBA announcements this spring, Labissiere came to Kentucky projected as the likely first or second player selected in the 2016 NBA Draft. In projections updated Sunday, DraftExpress.com had Labissiere as the 10th pick. NBADraft.net had him at No. 14. ESPN’s new projections Friday had him No. 15.
That slippage came after a freshman season that saw Labissiere struggle to adjust to the physical play on the college level.
Yet, DraftExpress still projects Labissiere as a lottery pick.
“It’s really hard to find guys these days who are 7 feet tall who can shoot with range and great touch, but also have the ability to protect the basket as a shot-blocker,” Givony said.
When asked if Labissiere’s struggles against physical play in college would concern NBA teams, Givony said, “If he were a finished product, that would be an issue, definitely.”
Givony said that Labissiere had gained about 25 pounds in the last two years and figured to add another 15 pounds or so.
“What he is now, physically, isn’t what he’s going to be in a few years from now,” Givony said.
If he enters his name, Ulis might be the most intriguing NBA Draft prospect this year.
At 5-foot-9, he became the shortest All-American since 5-9 Johnny O’Brien of Seattle in 1953. He was also the shortest consensus first-team All-American since Pittsburgh’s Don Hennon, also 5-9, in 1958.
(Murray was named to The Associated Press All-America third team.)
DraftExpress projects Ulis as the 20th player selected. NBADraft.net has Ulis taken early in the second round with the 33rd pick. ESPN’s new projections place Ulis in the lottery at No. 14.
“If he were 6-3, yeah, he’d be top five, no question about it,” Givony said, “and he might be the No. 1 pick in the draft.”
In trying to put Ulis’ size (5-9, 160 pounds) into perspective, Givony said, “That’s what’s going to prevent him being a top-10 pick. But it’s not going to prevent him from being an NBA player.”
The other possible draft picks from Kentucky this year — Isaiah Briscoe, Marcus Lee and Alex Poythress — are not projected in either the first or second round by DraftExpress.com nor NBADraft.net.
Of Briscoe and Lee, Givony said, “It’s pretty obvious. They don’t have any one elite thing that separates them as prospects. And they have pretty big deficiencies.”