Murray Already Drawing High Praise, Keeping Level Head

Albany head coach Will Brown had a glowing assessment of Kentucky.

He praised the Wildcats’ length and athleticism with Derek Willis at small forward. He predicted Skal Labissiere would be the first or second pick in the NBA Draft. He called Tyler Ulis the best point guard in America.

Through those raves, Brown hadn’t yet mentioned Jamal Murray. Had he forgotten about the star freshman whom he had lauded as the best player in the country in the lead-up to both teams’ season opener?

Nope. Rather, he doubled down and added comparisons to a pair of players who rank among the NBA’s top-10 all-time assist leaders.

“In my opinion, he’s a combination – for you basketball people – of Mark Jackson and Andre Miller, with a jump shot,” Brown said. “Plays at a great pace. Great feel, great size. He can post up. He can score from all three levels. He’s really, really good. I hope I can get a like that this upcoming August.”

It would have been impossible for anyone watching UK’s 78-65 win over Albany to forget about Murray. The 6-foot-4 guard’s fingerprints were all over the game, particularly in the second half. Murray had 19 points, eight assists and three steals in his collegiate debut.

“It felt good,” Murray said. “I had fun and looking forward to many more games. I enjoy playing with this team. Give them credit. They hit a lot of shots and they played well.”

Derek Willis and Marcus Lee were at the top of the list of Murray’s teammates playing well. Willis scored all 14 of his points in the first half, more than doubling his previous career high, while Lee had 12 points, eight rebounds and three blocks. John Calipari cited the pair’s effort and willingness to scrap as primary factors in UK’s win, but Murray was the one who put it away.

Murray scored 13 points and five assists in the second half, including 11 in a stretch of less than eight minutes starting at the 10-minute mark during which UK salted away the victory. Not surprisingly, Brown was impressed.

“He was on cruise control,” Brown said. “He was hanging out, picking his spots.”

John Calipari was impressed as well – noting the big plays Murray made to stretch the game out, including three fast-break dunks – but his thoughts were occupied with the five turnovers Murray and backcourt mate Tyler Ulis each committed.

“Again, five turnovers and they were all of the, why did he do that?” Calipari said. “Like I don't want to say they were casual. Like this game isn't casual. Like every game we play is a fist fight. The other team is trying to beat us. It's the biggest game on their schedule.”

By the time Murray made it to postgame media, he and Calipari had already discussed the issue.

“I get what he’s saying,” Murray said. “I have to take care of the ball more and realize how important a possession is and that’s something I didn’t do today. I’ll make an adjustment tomorrow.”

The adjustment will have to come in short order, as UK will turn around and play again at 8 p.m. on Saturday against NJIT in a rare regular-season back-to-back. It likely won’t happen overnight but if Murray makes it, it’s a bit scary for future opponents.

“I thought Jamal did great,” Willis said. “He was out there defending, he was being active, I thought. He’s just, he’s a talented player. He’s still got stuff to learn, just like me and everybody else, but as the season progresses I think he’ll be the best player in the nation, top player in the nation for sure.”

The praise, just one game in, is coming from all sides for the Kitchener, Ontario, native. Don’t expect Murray to allow it to affect him.

“You don’t let it go to your head,” Murray said. “You don’t pay attention to it. You go out there and play your game and whatever’s said is said, but worry about yourself.”