Columnist image

TSN Raptors Reporter

| Archive

TORONTO - There are a few perks to being one of the first in the gym and the last to leave, as 18-year-old Jamal Murray is quickly learning.

With Canada's seven-day training camp winding down, his first opportunity to be around the full senior squad, the young point guard recalled some of his personal highlights from the week that was.

One stood out: a game of H-O-R-S-E with a certain two-time NBA MVP and future Hall of Famer.

"I mean, I wasn't thinking smart," Murray joked, telling the story in a sit-down interview with TSN this past weekend.

Steve Nash debuted for the Canadian National Team four years before Murray was born. Murray was still in the womb when Nash played his first NBA game, eight years old when Nash won his first MVP award. Now here they were - Captain Canada and the kid, facing off, attempting to replicate each other's shots.

The 41-year-old Nash would come out on top, but just barely.

"I [chose] free throws," said Murray, embarrassed. "And [then] I was like, 'Wait a minute, he's like a 98-per-cent free throw shooter.' I'm like, 'What [am I] doing?'"

"So I tried to do 360 layups and stuff like that to try to be creative and show him what I have."

As they prepare for next month's FIBA Americas Olympic qualifying tournament in Mexico City, Nash, head coach Jay Triano and Canada Basketball officials are not expecting to have Murray around when the team breaks camp on Thursday.

They had hoped he could be made available but knew it would be something of a long shot. In order to maintain his eligibility for a full season of NCAA ball, Murray will have to report to the University of Kentucky for his first semester of classes, which begin on Aug. 26 and conflict with the dates of the tournament.

So, why even bother inviting him to camp? He's here to further his development and cohesion with a program he's hoping to be a part of down the road, for the opportunity to spend time with and learn from the coaches and his future teammates, and for unique experiences just like the one he so eagerly recounted. He's here because he has proven he belongs.

"We expect him to be part of our national team program for a long, long time," Triano told TSN. "And the more time we get to spend with him the better it is for him. He understands our concepts offensively and defensively, he gets to play with players that he's going to be teammates with in the future. We've seen a tremendous amount of growth."

"Playing with these guys is always beneficial," said Murray. "If you're just playing one-on-one, even that helps. Just getting to know the intensity level, how guys move, how guys play, just little tips on the FIBA game - there's a lot of holding and moving screens. So just getting used to all that and trying to figure my way around it."

The last few months have been a whirlwind for Murray. From scoring 30 points and winning MVP honours at the Nike Hoop Summit in April, to announcing his college commitment live on TSN in June, to starring for Canada's silver medal-winning club at last month's Pan American Games - where he averaged 16 points a game - the Kitchener, Ont., native is getting more attention than he could have ever imagined.

"It's a good feeling, to be out here and get the hype and the recognition of all the hard work I've put in now," Murray said. "So I'm just going to go out there and do what I have to do and not pay attention to it because I don't want too big a head or anything like that. So I just take it straight-minded and focus on what I need to do."

It's evident in the way he's carried himself throughout this process - while thriving in big moments, against advanced competition – that Murray is not easily fazed. He's poised on and off the floor, mature beyond his years. In camp, he's been receptive to the advice and teachings of his peers, eager to take advantage of this opportunity. He says he owes these qualities to his father, Roger.

"It comes from my dad," said Murray. "He's exactly the same way. He took martial arts, he played basketball, he did track and field, so he's a multi-sport athlete. He's taught me everything he knows about mental toughness and staying focused and straight-minded on your path and on your goals."

With Team Canada, Murray is the youngest member of an already youthful 16-man training camp roster. Still, their practice court - located on the third level of Air Canada Centre - is routinely filled with people able and willing to share their knowledge.

Nash, the senior team's general manager, happens to be the best basketball player this country has ever produced and one of the top point guards the sport has seen. Triano, an NBA assistant and former head coach, has been with the program for over three decades. Veteran guard Carl English has a wealth of international experience to pass down while Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett have each faced the pressure that comes with being a top pick.

"The team has done a good job [with me]," Murray said. "All the guys are willing to help me on the court and off the court, whether it's plays or positioning on defence, stuff like that. They've all been good about giving me reminders on what I need to do on the defensive side, mostly."

"I sometimes go to those guys to just be around them and see where their head's at about my game and what I need to do more or less."

Although his experience playing for Canada this summer will more than likely come to a reluctant end when the final cuts are made on Thursday, Murray is better off as a result of it. We, like Nash and the Canadian basketball program, have seen what he's capable of and that is reason enough to get excited about what comes next.

"I think him not being able to play is going to be a small negative for us because we'd love to have him," Triano said. "But at the same time, this summer has been a huge, huge boost for him and for our program because we've introduced a player that's going to be a part of our future."