Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Kentucky Guard Jamal Murray Is Canadian Basketball's Next Big Thing

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Kentucky Guard Jamal Murray Is Canadian Basketball's Next Big Thing

Article excerpt

Murray shining for Kentucky Wildcats

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - The night before Canadian teenager Jamal Murray led the Kentucky Wildcats to their 13th victory of the season, coach John Calipari had the team over to his house.

He handed each player a ticket for Wednesday's record-setting US$1.5-billion Powerball lottery -- they each coughed up the $2 ticket price -- and then asked them if they knew what the odds were of hitting the jackpot.

"It's 292.2 million to one," Calipari told them. "'That ticket is not a winner. You're not winning with that ticket.'

"I then said 'You already own a ticket. YOU. It may be 50/50 that you hit the lottery, or 70/30. But you have to fight, you have to want it. You have the ticket.'"

Calipari's lesson wasn't lost on Murray. The 18-year-old freshman from Kitchener, Ont., would go out a night later and lift Kentucky to an 80-74 win over Mississippi State, scoring a game-high 22 points in front of some 23,500 fans -- and scouts from more than a dozen NBA teams -- at Rupp Arena.

"It made a lot of sense, and it kind of put things into perspective of what I want to do with my career and what direction I want to go," said Murray, whose photo was on the program cover for Tuesday's game.

"I look at my opportunity that I have here, playing at one of the best colleges not just in America but the world, having a chance to come to a new country and show what I have. . . I'm just trying to make the most of my opportunity."

Murray is Canadian basketball's next big thing.

He was one of Canada's best players at last summer's Pan American Games, particularly in a 111-108 semifinal win over the U.S. Scoreless through three quarters, the young player took over in the fourth and overtime, exploding for 22 points.

Three months earlier, he scored 30 points to earn MVP honours at the Nike Hoop Summit, which pits the best high schoolers in the U.S. against their international counterparts. (Murray wore the grey sweatshirt from that event in his post-game interviews Tuesday night.)

His natural scoring ability is one of his biggest strengths.

"He can do it in a lot of different ways," said Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress, which has Murray going ninth on their most recent 2016 mock draft. "Whether he's shooting with his feet set or he's pulling up off the dribble, he just has a knack for knowing how to create space, how to play at different speeds. . . he takes a lot of tough shots but he also makes those.

"He's not the most explosive guy but he finds ways to finish with his skill and with his intelligence, using floaters, and off-balance, off-hand finishes, off the wrong foot. . . all that Steve Nash stuff that the young guys are really studying today."

Murray's college commitments kept him out of the Olympic qualifying tournament, and Givony believes his absence may have cost Canada an Olympic berth. …

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