Father-Son Bond the Foundation of Murray’s Success
Jamal Murray was all set to announce his plans to declare for the NBA Draft.
Reporters were assembled, cameras were rolling and microphones were hot, but something was missing. There was only one chair behind the podium and Murray was not going to do this by himself. He was not going to do this without the man who had been with him every step of the way.
Quickly, another chair was brought for Murray’s father, Roger.
“My dad’s been here the whole time, put me in this position and helped me get to this spot,” Jamal said. “He’s taught me everything I know. I’m thankful to have him in my life as my best friend, mentor, biggest critic and biggest fan.”
Once he took his seat next to Jamal, Roger beamed with pride.
“He put a lot of work to get here and to achieve his goals,” Roger said. “I know what I put him through in trying to learn and trying to be a young man and trying to be respectful of himself and his peers. It was something he can carry for life and carry on through his kids. So I think I did my job.”
It was a job that started at birth and continued as Roger taught Jamal how to play basketball at a young age in Kitchener, Ontario. Roger worked to make sure Jamal cross-trained in everything from track – Roger’s specialty – to Kung Fu as a youngster, only exposing him to basketball in bursts. When he did Jamal often got the best of older opponents, but that wasn’t what told Roger his son could be special.
“It was more the smile he had on his face,” Roger said. “At one point I had to tell him to stop smiling so much on the court. It’s like falling in love on the court every single time he was on the court. Night and day we’d be at it. Late at night we’d be at it, even as a kid.”
Sensing his potential, Roger and Jamal Murray went to work.
“He wants to be the best player that ever lived, and that’s the path he’s on,” Roger said. “We always envisioned being here, but we knew the work it would take to get here. He committed his own life to being here and did the work. It’s not an easy thing, but it’s very rewarding. Looking at him right now, that’s it.”
What followed was a moment that made clear exactly how much Jamal needed his father there. They shared an emotional hug 19 years in the making.
“He’s helped me,” Jamal said. “He’s guided me, frustrated me, annoyed me, but I love him and he did everything he could. Without him, I wouldn’t be here, so I thank him for everything that he’s done.”
One of the hardest things Roger had to do was let Jamal go. Fortunately sending him off to Kentucky into the capable hands of John Calipari made it easier.
“Coach Cal is like a second father for all the kids, and he challenges the kids to get through that,” Roger said. “You can’t take this back, a school like this. It’s for life. He plans to come back to pursue an education and all that. It’s like a second home for him, as he said. This experience is exactly what he needed.”
The experience ended sooner than Jamal would have liked. Jamal averaged 20 points per game and led UK to Southeastern Conference regular-season and tournament championships, but UK fell to Indiana in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Nonetheless, Jamal – who was disconsolate in the immediate wake of the defeat – has gained perspective on all he and his teammates accomplished.
“I came here with a goal to improve myself and I did,” Murray said. “I cherished every moment I was on the court. I made Kentucky my second home to Canada. Coach Cal and the staff told me that I would have to work hard every day and that they would demand the best of me. I’m thankful for how much they’ve pushed me to become a better player, teammate and person.”
Thanks to them, Jamal is poised to become a top-10 pick in the NBA Draft, fulfillment of a lifelong goal shared by father and son. If and when that happens it will be special, but it will be tough to top that hug they shared on Friday.
“When you put in sweat, blood and tears, and you hope for the best, it worked out,” Roger said. “Words can’t explain that. It can’t. I wouldn’t even try. It was a good moment between us, he knew the reason why. It’s just been awesome. Life is awesome sometimes. This was one of the moments where it was awesome.”