Murray Making A Mark
Former NBA player Tracy Murray is helping the Shock continue to compete despite their record.
by Stephen Litel / @stephenlitel
Some were surprised when former NBA player Tracy Murray signed on to join the Tulsa Shock coaching staff a few weeks back, but after seeing how the players have responded to him since his arrival, it was a good call.
“Teresa Edwards took over the head coaching spot in Tulsa and when a legend calls, you answer that call,” said Murray. “She needed somebody to work with the posts and I’ve played inside and I’ve played outside. In the league, I didn’t play inside, but I played inside for most of my career. I can help out in that situation.”
When a team has a season such as the Tulsa Shock have had in 2011, it’s good to shake things up. The Shock did so when Nolan Richardson left the team, paving the way for now-Hall of Famer Teresa Edwards to take the helm of the team. Edwards is already more than happy with her decision to add Murray into the mix.
“I like the NBA experience he brings and provides to them,” said Head Coach Teresa Edwards. “It’s always great to have male energy and I love that we have young male energy to get in their faces and tell them the truth about where they need to be and how far they have to go to get there.”
The Shock players enjoy Murray’s presence for a multitude of reasons, but most notably, the team’s center and franchise-building player Liz Cambage is an admirer. While it’s never a requirement, it is beneficial when a team’s best player is behind decisions such as this, especially when they come mid-season.
“He’s a really good guy and he played in the NBA for 12-years, so he really knows about the game,” said Cambage. “We respect him and he’s a great guy. He knows about the highs and lows that happen when you play basketball. He’s got a lot of stories and he loves telling a good story.”
While the feeling about Murray’s addition is positive, the question became why did Edwards specifically call Murray? They go way back, remembering fully their first meeting when Murray was still playing ball at UCLA.
“Going back to 1991, we were going to Havana, Cuba for the Pan-America games,” said Murray. “That’s where we first met and then I think it was 2008 that we went with Basketball Without Borders and went over to Mozambique. We did a couple of clinics and stuff up there, up and down Mozambique. We went to Johannesburg after that, where we met up with the rest of the group. That trip brought us real close and we’ve been real good friends and keeping in touch since then. With us being good friends and her needing a male presence on this team, I said, ‘Why not?’”
The depth in which the two engrossed themselves in the experience brought them close, making them life-long friends. Edwards gained a lot of respect for Murray during that trip, which gave her confidence in knowing he would be a fine addition to her staff.
“He’s a great guy and we had an experience in Africa together that we worked with some kids at a level which most guys would probably go clown or just go enjoy the sunsets,” said Edwards. “Tracy and I got off the plane and we were in the trenches and we were really engulfed in that experience. We worked in gyms never seen before, some with no roofs, the worst floors you’ve ever seen, kids with no shoes on. The way they brought their hearts to that gym and approached it was as if we were coaching a championship squad. Those qualities that he possessed and the experience that we shared in that, I could see how much he loved the game. He would talk to the kids, he’d embrace the young women as well as the young men and just the way he presented himself, I saw something in him that I truly liked. That’s one reason that I called him.”
Murray was confident he would be able to come in and immediately make an impact on the Shock, as he has followed the league for years. After all, he has a personal connection to women’s athletics.
“Of course I followed the WNBA,” said Murray. “I’m very familiar with everybody on all of the teams. In my opinion, basketball is basketball. My Mom was one of those female athletes back in the day that fought for Title 9. While in the NBA, I was able to keep her around the WNBA because it’s something that she enjoys and I was raised to support female athletics. That’s why I didn’t have any problems with taking this opportunity.”
It has been a challenging experience since joining the Shock, as the team is having one of the worst seasons in WNBA history. However, one thing that can surprisingly be said about this team is they continue to fight each and every night, never just going through the motions. That is a reflection of the coaching jobs both Edwards and Murray are doing with this young team.
“I’m coming to a team like this where they’re young,” said Murray. “It’s a challenge to try to make them better, to try to make them believe in themselves. Halfway through when you’ve lost that many games, it’s easy to let go and think the season is over. When you’re a coach, you have to come in with fresh energy and try to reprogram everything that has just happened. We’ve got them playing hard, we’ve got them believing in themselves and now we just have to find a way to make them win. We’re at that stage where they have to play a good four quarters to win, so hopefully we’ll get wins soon.”
In his limited time in Tulsa, Murray has really impressed. It has even started some discussion as to whether he has head coaching potential some day, whether in college basketball, the WNBA or the NBA.
“I think he’s learning a lot really fast and he has that willingness to do whatever you ask him to do,” said Edwards. “If he wants to do it, I know he can because he has the credentials and the will-power to get it done.”
Murray is a man with many interests and someone who also enjoys the challenge of creating his own opportunities. While he doesn’t necessarily have the goal of one day becoming a head coach, he does light up some when asked if he would take an opportunity if it presented itself.
“Of course you dream or running your own ship, but some things you can’t control,” said Murray. “Just keep going. Teresa is a legend—a four-time Gold medalist—and she stumbled across this situation. Situations happened where all of a sudden she’s running the team by herself. Whatever calling or whatever situation comes up, you have to just be ready when it calls you.”
He is focused on the here and now. His main focus is working with the post players and, more specifically, Liz Cambage. While Cambage is already greatly talented, if Murray is able to help her understand even more fully what it means to be a professional basketball player, Cambage may be one of the most dominant forces in the WNBA for years to come.
“He does work with the post players,” said Edwards. “There’s really no major development time in this league. It’s all preparation for the next game, so the time we have he does do the post work for me. He’s pretty much taken the helm now and is running with it. He will do whatever I ask him to do, but I specifically asked him to work with the young girl Liz (Cambage) and get the post players mentality for professional basketball.”
“He’s still got it,” said Cambage. “He’s played against Ivory (Latta) in shooting competitions and he loves getting down in the post with me. It’s nice to have a big body like that around. He’s just very positive to have around.”
Murray has the size to bang in the post with Cambage, something she’s not used to regularly. While it may be great to have a sparring partner in Murray, Coach Edwards is somewhat cautious of letting the two go at it every day.
“He did get out there one day,” said Edwards. “He did and he wants to get out there more, but I’m afraid his NBA days might come back and he might hurt somebody. Remember, he’s big, but he was a shooter.”
Cambage isn’t scared and, actually, quite confident that things would turn out differently if Murray were to get on the court with her again.
“Oh yeah, he’ll probably get hurt,” said Cambage.
Murray is quite enjoying his time battling Cambage, but he reminds of the bigger, more important reason for joining Tulsa.
“As I said, when a good friend and a legend asks you to help them, you do it,” said Murray. “That’s our friendship. I would do anything for her.”
The Tulsa Shock have a long way to go, but if the franchise continues to make good decisions like the one to bring Tracy Murray into the mix along with Coach Edwards, they will be well on their way.