Aaric Murray is Slippery Ground For Interested CoachesPosted by Chris Johnson on July 16th, 2013
Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
The details surrounding the departure of former West Virginia forward Aaric Murray were encapsulated in two words by Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins: “mutual agreement.” Seems simple enough, only it’s really not – not when you look back at the marijuana charge Murray was assessed with while sitting out the 2011-12 season following his transfer from La Salle, or the disciplinary issues Murray ran into that forced him to miss a game in December 2012. There is a clear history of crossing the line with college hoops’ now-most high profile free agent forward, and while the offenses themselves don’t condemn Murray’s future in college (or even professional) basketball, the more important question is, will any team be willing to take a chance on him?
This question wouldn’t be as pressing as it is, were Murray not already graduated from and finished with his coursework at WVU, checkpoints that will allow Murray to play for another school this fall per the NCAA’s graduate transfer exemption (provided Murray enrolls in a graduate program not offered at WVU). West Virginia was brutal to watch last season. This was surprising for a couple of reasons: 1) Bob Huggins almost never coaches bad teams; 2012-13 was a glaring exception. 2) And this is more comedic than surprising, but as the Mountaineers toiled away in the lower half of the Big 12 last season, I kept coming back to the comments Huggins made after learning his team had been picked to finish sixth in the Big 12’s preseason coaches poll. “If we’re the sixth-best team in that league then it’s a hell of a league,” the head coach said in October. Part of the reason that placement baffled Huggins, and came off as a slightly pessimistic evaluation for most other observers, was because Murray promised to give WVU some of the hard-nosed Hugginsian grit his teams so routinely infuse into their collective DNA – the stuff that typically makes his teams so physically demanding and brutal to match up with. At La Salle, Murray was a force on both ends: His 106.1 offensive rating on 26.2 percent usage, 11.0 offensive rebounding percentage, 19.0 defensive rebounding percentage and 7.6 block rate in 2011 underscore that basic description.
And he was nearly as good under Huggins last year! Murray’s season, like almost any other positive individual data point credited to a WVU player in 2012-13, was swallowed by the negativity surrounding arguably the worst season of Huggins’ career. Murray was grouped into the general malaise of a typically competitive program suffering an aberrant down year; he was not the catalyst of the downfall. His off-court actions are a different matter entirely, and there’s little doubt WVU’s dismal season and Murray’s reported “mutual agreement” – or whatever broken rules, violated team standards or defied coaches’ orders came before – are related in some tangential way. Were WVU competing for an NCAA Tournament berth, turning in another typically workmanlike Huggins season, grinding on defense and crashing the glass on the other end, perhaps Murray would have been more motivated to avoid the transgression or, erm, ‘handshake’ leading to the “mutual agreement” to leave the team.
His future with West Virginia is, as of this writing, old news. The mystery afoot is where Murray’s services – which, last time I checked, include reliable rebounding and shot-blocking, a respectable mid-range game and above-average rim-protection – will land next. Which coach will be willing to put aside Murray’s suspect past? Is there a program brave enough to stomach the idea of trading moral standards for potential wins? How much is too much disciplinary leniency? These are the questions various coaches, and athletic directors, will need to ask themselves this offseason before giving Murray another chance. Wins are the bottom-line currency for any college basketball coach. Without them, your contract – for those of us who don’t go by any combination of Alford, Steve – is more tenuous than the piece of paper used to consummate it. The chance to land an impact big man with immediate eligibility might add a few more wins in the short term, but what of the baggage, the negative publicity, the established pattern of impermissible behavior you’re openly agreeing to take under your wing in exchange for a few more post buckets and help side defensive rotations? Where do those two macro concerns – winning basketball games and running a tight proverbial ship – find a common ground? The coach who figures out that balance, and feels comfortable maintaining it with Murray, could be taking a big risk.
The rewards could be just as significant.