Meet the Wildcats: Family, basketball at center of Murray’s life

A new season brings new players and new stories to tell. Over the next several weeks, CoachCal.com will be profiling Kentucky’s newcomers in its annual and exclusive “Meet the Wildcats” series. Each story will be accompanied with video. Next up is Jamal Murray, the hard-working, basketball-centric guard from Canada.

D
octors say babies begin reacting and relating to their surroundings at the age of 3 months old. It’s a time where they begin interacting with people and smiling for the sheer enjoyment of it. For Jamal Murray, it was the age he first fell in love.

Murray’s father, Roger, placed a basketball in Jamal’s hands at the tender age of 3 months old. And while doctors don’t conduct studies of what this interaction can have on a baby, for Jamal it was the beginning of a relationship that has only grown with time.

For the Kitchener, Ontario, native, it was love at first site. The orange ball with dots all over it may have just been a fun thing for a young child to play with, but over time that toy became a hobby, and then a passion, and perhaps now an obsession.

When he wakes up each morning he doesn’t need to be motivated to work out, to get up shots or go to practice. For Murray, basketball is something he always wants to be playing and to be around for the rest of his life.

Bio Blast

Position: Guard
Date of birth: Feb. 23, 1997
Parents: Roger and Sylvia Murray
Hometown: Kitchener, Ontario
High school: Orangeville Prep
Nickname: Mally Mal
Twitter: @BeMore27
Instagram: @jmglitxh27
Favorite TV show: Everybody Hates Chris
Favorite food: Steak
Favorite superhero: Ironman
Favorite player: Stephen Curry
Favorite hobby outside of basketball: Videogames
Favorite movie: The Avengers
Favorite artist: J. Cole

“It’s a sport I love,” he said in an exclusive interview with CoachCal.com. “I’m not doing it for anything else. I’m doing it for me and my family and how much I love the sport. My individual passion for it is something that I never want to get out of. If I’m not playing I’m coaching. If I’m not coaching I’m helping. I’m doing something with basketball. That’s what I want a profession in.”

Talk to the 6-foot-4 guard for just five minutes and it becomes crystal clear there are two things at the center of his life: his family and basketball.

As a child, Murray would go with his dad, a former track athlete who specialized in the 100-meter but also played a little basketball, to the gym. As his dad played basketball with his friends, Jamal would sit on the sideline or dribble around while he was playing, taking mental notes and working on his own game.

“He’s very competitive so I just remember bits and pieces of him yelling or something like that during a shot,” Murray said. “He’s real athletic. He’s always been around me on the court. Every time I’m on the court in the summertime he’ll come and train me or practice with me. We’ve always been on the court together.”

His dad, however, isn’t the only one who’s made a great impact on his life. While Roger has helped Jamal with the basketball side of his upbringing, his mother, Sylvia, has helped keep the balance for him, and his 8-year-old brother, Lamar, is someone he always looks to spend time with.

Jamal Murray has had a love for basketball since he first held a ball at the age of 3 months.

Jamal Murray has had a love for basketball since he first held a ball at the age of 3 months.

“She’s always been helping me,” Murray said of his mother. “She helps me with my schoolwork sometimes. She would talk to me and send me messages when she’s at work telling me she loves me and bless my heart, stuff like that. She’s always had a positive attitude toward me. Very supportive of what I do. I’m not there all the time. My dad spends most of the time with me for traveling reasons. She’s very supportive and takes care of my brother, holds it down at home.”

“I’m always there for him,” Murray said in reference to his younger brother. “I try to be at his games. I’m not home a lot of the time but I try to spend my time with him, whether that’s taking him to the park to play basketball or something like that. Just simple stuff. If my parents are going out I’ll stay home with him, do something together. I try to keep in touch with him, call him every day. He’s my brother; I always love him and take care of him.

Now 18 years old, Jamal has seen his stock skyrocket over the past 12 months from a once four-star prospect to a potential top-five pick in the 2016 NBA Draft.

In April, Murray, despite being a year younger than many of his counterparts at the Nike Hoop Summit in Portland, Ore., took home MVP honors with a performance that raised eyebrows, leading the World Team to a win over Team USA with a 30-point, five-assist performance. Murray’s 30 points in the game are the second most by a World Team player, behind only Dirk Nowitzki, the future Hall of Famer of the Dallas Mavericks.

“Jamal is one of the best guards in the country. He showed that in practice at the Nike Hoop Summit and in the game. I had so many people call me to tell me how unbelievable he was. You’re talking about a 6-5 playmaker that can score and can guard multiple positions. He can make an impact from anywhere on the floor. I can’t wait to start coaching him.” – Coach Cal

Just days later, Murray backed up that MVP performance with another one at the inaugural BioSteel All-Canadian Game, leading all scorers with 29 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds.

“I got a lot of recognition after that and people started to realize I can play,” Murray said. “I just (had to) go in there and prove myself, and I did that. Got the opportunity and took advantage of it.”

All of a sudden, schools from all over the country began recruiting the then-high school junior in hopes of landing him for either the 2015 or 2016 class, depending on if he would ultimately choose to reclassify or not. Murray, however, didn’t worry about the recruitment and instead let his dad handle it.

“He took care of everything,” Murray said. “He talked to all the coaches, talked to all the staff members of each team. He really took care of everything so I didn’t have to worry about that.”

Prior to Murray’s eventual commitment, the Wildcats already had three guards on its roster. There was sophomore point guard Tyler Ulis, who was seen by some national outlets as one of the top five sophomores in the nation, regardless of position. Then there was class of 2015 McDonald’s All-American point guard Isaiah Briscoe, a consensus five-star, top-15 ranked prospect. And finally, there was junior guard Dominique Hawkins, a defensive menace who has two Final Four appearances on his résumé.

But in his lifelong dream to play in the NBA and continue to get better and better, the University of Kentucky still stood out above the rest. As UK head coach John Calipari always says, to play at Kentucky “you have to want this,” and Murray certainly does.

“This is a different level of passion that you have to have if you’re going to come here,” Murray said. “You have to be determined each and every day, even if you don’t want to play. Coach Kenny (Payne) calls you and says go work out. We’re on call here it feels like. It’s like one of those jobs where you go into work and you leave, but then they call you and say you have to do overtime. It’s one of those ones, but that’s what I like about it.”

With his commitment made, Murray joined the Canadian men’s national team as it competed in the Pan Am Games in nearby Toronto with hopes of qualifying for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Once a four-star prospect, Murray burst onto the scene this summer, skyrocketing up to become a top-15 player.

Once a four-star prospect, Murray burst onto the scene this summer and moved up the ranks to become a consensus top-15 recruit.

Similar to the Nike Hoop Summit and BioSteel All-Canadian games, Murray stole the show. The second-youngest player in the entire Pan Am Games field, Murray averaged 16.0 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.4 assists, highlighted by a semifinal win over Team USA in which he scored all 22 of his points in the fourth quarter and overtime.

“That was a big one,” Murray said. “… It was a different experience (playing) with Canada, especially when you’re playing in front of your own fans, friends and family that came out to watch me and the team. Obviously I got all the recognition after that. It helped me get to where I am today.

“I think it gave me more confidence playing with older guys. They’re 28, 34. I was the second youngest to enter the tournament. If I can play with older guys in the FIBA games, which is a lot harder than what we experienced … I just feel like I went there and did my thing. First time Canada ever played for a medal and we got the silver.”

All of a sudden, Murray was the talk of the town. College basketball analysts heaped praise after each performance and prophesized what he could do for the Wildcats. Still, Murray remained even keeled, humble and hungry, thanks, in part, to his upbringing and relative absence from social media.

As of this writing, Murray, who says he only goes on Twitter when he’s actually posting a tweet, has tweeted just 16 times since joining the social media platform on April 19. He follows just 39 people and has favorited one tweet ever. By staying away from social media, he’s been able to keep more focused on his goals and aspirations.

His handle, @BeMore27, is a way for him to pay homage to something he and his dad would always say. Under his jersey, Murray wears a T-shirt that says “Be More,” and he tells himself those two words every time he’s tired or dealing with something difficult as a means of motivation to overcome the adversity.

“I’m always ready to play and I’m always ready to get better. It’s something you have to keep at. You can’t take a break. You can’t get lazy or complacent. You just have to keep going and eventually it’ll all pay off.” – Jamal Murray
Multiple outlets have pegged him as a lottery pick in next summer’s draft and tabbed him to be the second Wildcat taken behind teammate Skal Labissiere. Instead of getting caught up in the projections, Murray ignores them. In addition to staying away from Twitter, he grew up without cable for most of his life.

“Just keeping my mind focused and knowing what I want to do,” Murray said. “My dad used to (tell me), if you want to work for long; what can distract (you), and what can’t. He’s the reason why I’m here today and how I am. Just staying focused.

“I don’t let (projections) get to my head. You can tell me something, but I don’t see the reasoning behind it. I don’t see how people come up with a mock something or a prediction. You haven’t seen anything yet. We haven’t played. We haven’t started our team – we don’t know our sets yet. We haven’t started practice. There’s nothing you can base it off. Just people talking and that’s what it is – two people talking. So I just go out there and play the game I love to play.”

And that love is very easy to tell. A relationship that started at 3 months old has blossomed into a full-on marriage. It’s taken him from an overlooked prospect to an elite one. From a country where basketball isn’t the main sport to the winningest basketball school in the nation.

A job, an obsession and a dream wrapped up in one, Murray is now ready for the next step in his basketball career.

“I’m always ready to play and I’m always ready to get better,” Murray said. “It’s something you have to keep at. You can’t take a break. You can’t get lazy or complacent. You just have to keep going and eventually it’ll all pay off. You won’t see it immediately, but eventually you’ll see it down the road, how much it pays off.”