The Times West Virginian

Bob Herzel

December 21, 2013

HERTZEL COLUMN- Ex-Mountaineer Murray cashes in on second chance

MORGANTOWN — Each of us has to find our own place on Earth, and that often isn’t an easy thing to do.

Life, you see, is a complex endeavor.

If you need proof, look no further than the divorce rate or the abortion rate or at how many people have jobs that may satisfy the debts but come nowhere close to satisfying the soul.

All of this multiplies many times over with youth and with the spotlight of celebrity, be it a celebrity on a local level or national.

All I need do is offer two words to make this point, Lindsay Lohan.

We look into this today because someone who glared brightly in our spotlight recently has thrust himself into the sporting headlines, leading to some necessary soul searching somewhere, although it is difficult to figure out where.

Aaric Murray came to West Virginia University after being a successful basketball player for a couple of seasons at LaSalle in his native Philadelphia. Upon his arrival, he ensured all that he was coming to prime himself for a future as a player in the National Basketball Association and was welcomed as such, many believing he would be a one-and-done player … especially since he had sit out his first year as a transfer.

You could see what coach Bob Huggins saw in him, 6-feet, 11-inches tall, reed thin with the moves of a ballet dancer. He was athletic, could shoot from the outside and block shots on the inside.

He just never found a way to fit in.

After playing that one season he was done, excused from the program by Huggins for reasons only he knows but obviously reasons that were necessary, for no one understood more than Huggins how much he would need a big man this season.

Now it was true that Murray gave him many a sleepless night, being arrested for marijuana possession during the season he sat out and being suspended in an underachieving last year – the underachieving certainly resting on Murray’s shoulders but also due in part to the fact that Huggins saw Deniz Kilcili as a better player than he turned out to be on a losing team.

Murray went looking for a home after last season when he averaged 8.8 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.5 blocks for West Virginia, far down from the numbers he put out at LaSalle, where he averaged 15.2 points and 7.7 rebounds as a sophomore.

He found the perfect place, a small-time school trying to rebuild from its own scandal with a big-time coaching staff that was headed by former Indiana coach Mike Davis and former NBA star John Lucas.

In this setting Murray became the man and stunned the college basketball world this week when he returned to Philadelphia to play Temple and hung 48 points on the Owls in a 90-88 upset. The 48 points were the most scored in Division I this season.

So it was that as Huggins was preparing his team, which has certainly shown improvement without Murray, that he was asked his thoughts on Murray’s performance and anything else he could add to clarify the situation surrounding his departure.

It was a question that Huggins couldn’t really do much with, short of what he did.

“We’re happy for Aaric Murray,” he said. “I texted him and told him so.”

Diplomatically, Huggins opted to go no further, which was the expected and the most intelligent route to take, there being nothing to gain by going into the past.

Murray has left doubt via his Tweets from the time he left Morgantown that he didn’t really want to leave and that he enjoyed his time and experience here, that not being a strange happening for students at WVU.

But the paths his behavior took him down, however, did not fit into what Huggins was trying to do with the team.

Juwan Staten has become something of a spokesperson for the Mountaineers this year and having sat out a year himself after transferring from Dayton and rooming with Murray, probably knew him best. Asked his thoughts on why Murray seems to be succeeding at Texas Southern where he couldn’t a WVU, Staten put it this way:

“It’s a new season and a new year. Things are happening this year from players that didn’t happen last year, and that’s just the game of basketball.

“I know Aaric is a great player. Who knows if he could have had a 48-point game here or not? That’s something we’ll never know. I mean, he had great games here, and he had great moments here. That’s just another great moment he had at another school.

“I don’t know if it was anything that happened on our part or his part that prevented him from scoring 48 points. I just know it’s a new team and a new year.”

And with that it seems best to put the Aaric Murray saga to bed.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.

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