Kennedy boys’ basketball coach Diallo Nelson needed a point guard when practice began in November 2009, and somehow, a 5-foot-1, 110-pound freshman seemed to fit the bill. The coach, now in his 13th season at the Silver Spring school, had never started a freshman before, but Marcus Murray took over the Cavaliers’ offense right away, almost instantly carving out his niche on a veteran squad.
“One thing I do know: If you’re going to be successful as a team at any level, you’ve got to have a point guard,” Nelson said. “We probably weren’t going to win a state championship [in 2009,] but we had some nice pieces to the puzzle. I knew he was going to get pushed around, get beat up a little bit, but I said, ‘Hey, let’s start him.’”
More than three years later, Murray is Nelson’s first four-year starter, and he isn’t ready to give up the keys to the car just yet. Now 5-foot-7, 150 pounds, the point guard has long been known as one of Montgomery County’s most consistent scorers, but this year, he has a supporting cast that’s helped him become more comfortable as a distributor, too.
Murray still ranks third in the county in scoring at 18.2 points per game and he’s also averaged six assists for Kennedy, which will go for its 15th win tonight in its regular season finale at Wheaton. The Cavaliers have earned the No. 4 seed in the Maryland 4A West and will open up postseason play next week against Bethesda-Chevy Chase.
“As a point guard, you have to be another coach on the floor,” said Murray, who has four teammates averaging at least seven points per game. “Mostly this year, I became a better assist man instead of always looking to score first. I’m a facilitator on the floor. I’m looking to get these guys shots.”
Heading into the playoffs, Murray knows what to expect. He’s played in seven postseason games thanks to back-to-back Maryland 3A West semifinal appearances in his first two seasons. The Cavaliers lost in the first round to Gaithersburg last year, so no current Kennedy player other than Murray has ever been part of a playoff victory.
A year ago, Murray missed the final five games of the regular season with a high ankle sprain. He acknowledges now he wasn’t ready to return for the playoffs, but he willed his way into action in the loss against the Trojans. The Cavaliers finished the season with just nine wins.
Bound to take his share of hits on a nightly basis because of his attacking style, Murray has kept last season’s ending in mind as the year progressed. His newfound help on the offensive end has helped spare his body, too.
He did tweak his ankle last week, but he’s expecting to play tonight and be at full strength when the Barons visit on Tuesday. With two wins, Kennedy could face defending state champion Magruder, which would match Murray up with the county’s other heralded point guard, J.J. Epps.
“I’ve been trying to care of my body this year — ice up, wrap up, tape up,” Murray said. “I’m doing whatever it takes to avoid injury. I feel like we have a good chance of getting to Comcast [Center], and I don’t want anything to keep us from taking our best shot.”
On the recruiting front, Murray’s still waiting for a suitor to come through with an offer. He’s had interest from several low Division I schools with Jacksonville and St. Francis (Pa.) keeping the most consistent contact.
Nelson said the floor general is a full academic qualifier with a 3.1 grade point average, and he’s been honest with Murray, telling him to trust the process.
“I’ve always told him, ‘There’s not a huge market to sign a 5-7 point guard early, especially when they can find a 6-1, 6-2 guy who can do the same things you do.'” Nelson said. “That’s just the way recruitment process works a lot of times.”
Since averaging nearly 12 points per game as a way-undersized freshman, Murray has been beating the odds. He views himself as a Division I prospect, but he’ll iron out the details after the playoff run.
“It’s going to be on my mind,” Murray said. “I feel like if I keep working and going out there and trying hard like I’m supposed to, hopefully an offer will come.”
Related: Kennedy boys’ basketball