This isn’t about rankings. This isn’t about stats. This isn’t about no type of analytics or advanced scouting. Just watch Jaylen “JuJu” Murray play ball and it’s clear that JuJu Murray plays ball.
It’s crystal-damn-clear that he’s the definition of a hooper. And if you get the chance to see him play outdoors in New York City, it’s even more claro that no per-game averages can quantify his impact on the community. JuJu has spent the past few years making NY proud, taking on any challenger who has enough cojones to step up, whether national or local, with a game that was built on the blacktop. No matter where he goes in New York, a hero’s welcome waits for him. He doesn’t have just one playground. The whole city is his playground.
“I get love everywhere, man,” Murray says.
How nasty is JuJu? At the SLAM Summer Classic this past August at Dyckman Park, it was JuJu who took home the MVP honors, beating out a who’s who of the country’s most valid high school players for the trophy. He capped off his showcase with an and-one lay that had people rushing the court just to get a piece of the city’s most popular guard.
“Dyckman is a place where you can really get in your zone,” Murray says. “Dyckman is not for everybody. If you ain’t ready for that type of environment, there’s no reason for you to play in it.”
His rise, unlike a lot of his peers, has been legitimately earned. He started off at Cardinal Hayes High School in the Bronx, playing alongside Joe Toussaint, now suiting up for the University of Iowa. He worked his way up, learning from Toussaint, an ill point guard in his own right. And while he was playing at Cardinal Hayes, he was also solidifying his rep at the park. The city is one big jungle and JuJu is a certified lion. That’s exactly why he decided to leave and attend Putnam Science Academy in Connecticut.
“The move to Putnam was to get on a bigger stage and get more focused,” Murray says. “I felt like the city was going to distract me a little bit.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a distraction, but, like, it’s a lot of people that are just going to tell you what you want to hear,” he continues. “Out here, people tell me what I want to hear: Best guard in the city. When I go to Putnam, they tell me, You’ve got to work on this, you’ve got to do that, you’re not good at this stage. People telling me what I’ve got to do to get better, that’s good.”
There are certain things that JuJu can’t learn at Putnam, certain things that can’t be found outside the city. Like what he calls “automatic kill mode.” He learned that in New York.
Portraits by Johnnie Izquierdo.