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Kentucky basketball: Jamal Murray used his one-and-done year to improve

Kentucky guard Jamal Murray announced at a news conference in Lexington on Friday, April 1, 2016 that he will enter the NBA Draft.
Kentucky guard Jamal Murray announced at a news conference in Lexington on Friday, April 1, 2016 that he will enter the NBA Draft. Lexington Herald-Leader

There have been so many of them now, the multitude of one-and-dones who  have populated John Calipari’s time at Kentucky, it’s easy to think of them as just using their time here as a holding station before continuing on to their desired destination.

Jamal Murray got better, however. The 6-foot-5 guard used his time in a Kentucky uniform to grow as a basketball player, to become a better offensive player, a better defender, a smarter player in terms of playing winning basketball.

As expected, the Canada native announced Friday that he is declaring for the upcoming NBA Draft. No surprise there. Murray hasn’t hired an agent, but he said it was “most likely” he will remain in the draft. No surprise there, either.

From the time Murray burst on the basketball scene last season, primarily with his play for Canadian national teams and in the Nike Hoop Summit, it was expected that the prolific scorer would, after re-classifying to the cllass of 2015, end up in the professional ranks sooner rather than later.

When Murray arrived in Lexington, however, he was far from a complete product. He had to learn how to play as a shooting guard, without the ball in his hands. Tyler Ulis was the point guard. Ulis would direct the show. Murray was used to directing the show. And in the early going, the newcomer spent too much time dribbling, trying to create his shot, doing the things that had worked for him up to that point in his basketball career.

As Calipari likes to day, however, “What got you here is not necessarily what is going to get you there.”

By the end of the 2015-16 season, Murry was a much more efficient player. He learned how to play off the ball. He learned how to get open. He learned how to catch and shoot. He learned how to get to the basket and not always with the basketball. He learned how to cut to the basket to accept passes and score. He became a volume scorer instead of volume shooter.

From the Dec. 2 loss at Tennessee through the March 12 SEC semifinal win over Georgia, Murray scored 20 or more points in 12 consecutive games. As for season statistics, he finished his career making 40.8 percent of his three-point shots, which was just behind Devin Booker’s 41.1 percent the year before. And Murray took nearly twice as many three-pointers (277 to 141) as did Booker in the latter’s one-and-done season.

Fans might remember Murray for his bow-and-arrow routine after made threes, but those inside the UK locker room after the NCAA second-round loss to Indiana will remember the way Murray was crushed by the defeat. For the longest time, Murray sat in his locker with his head hidden by a towel, barely able to speak.

During Friday’s news conference, Murray said he thought he was so devastated by the defeat because he knew it was probably his last game at Kentucky and “it would never be the same team.”

Kentucky basketball 2015-16 individual game-by-game stats

He was right on both counts. No teams are the same from year to year, especially now. And that was Murray’s final game at Kentucky, something he confirmed.

The guess here is that Murray will be an outstanding pro, if for no other reason than that he knows how to adjust. He learned that at Kentucky. He used his one year not as a stopover, but as an opportunity to grow.

Draft Express 2016 mock NBA draft

Pick

Team

Player

School

1

Philadelphia

Brandon Ingram

Duke

2

LA Lakers

Ben Simmons

LSU

3

Phoenix

Dragan Bender

Maccabi Tel Aviv

4

Boston

Jaylen Brown

California

5

Minnesota

Kris Dunn

Providence

6

New Orleans

Jamal Murray

Kentucky

7

Denver

Buddy Hield

Oklahoma

8

Sacramento

Jakob Poelti

Utah

9

Milwaukee

Henry Ellenson

Marquette

10

Toronto

Skal Labissiere

Kentucky

Source: Draft Express

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