Cal didn’t begin recruiting combo guard Emerson Murray of Vancouver, B.C., until perhaps three weeks ago, but the courtship moved quickly.
A 6-foot-3 combo guard, Murray settled on the Bears immediately after a campus visit with his parents last weekend, calling the decision “a no-brainer.”
“I feel wonderful,” he said in a phone interview tonight. “I’ve never felt so sure of something. I signed because everything was just right from the get-go.”
Murray, 18, said he felt connected when assistant coach Travis DeCuire visited Vancouver three weeks ago, adding that after his campus visit “everything was just solidified.” Markhuri Sanders-Frison and Bak Bak served as his player hosts and “they were just so genuine.”
“As soon as I stepped on campus,” he said, “I just fell in love.”
Murray said he plans to sign his scholarship papers and letter-of-intent as soon as they arrive in Vancouver, perhaps as early as Wednesday.
Regarded as perhaps the second-best backcourt prospect in Canada, Murray will come to Cal in the wake of the exit of five seniors who led the Bears to their first Pac-10 championship in 50 years. Adding to the need to restock the roster was the departure after the season of sophomore guard D.J. Seeley, who is transferring to another school.
Murray said it’s up to him to secure playing time as a freshman.
“They just told me to come in and work. That’s what I plan to do. Hopefully, I’ll be able to play a big role in the team’s success next season,” he said. “Even if that doesn’t happen, I’m able to work to be able to do that down the road. Anything, really, is just a blessing.”
Murray said he’d like to eventually play point guard for the Bears. “I hope so. With the resources I have with those wonderful coaches, I hope I can take in everything they have to say and make them make me a point guard.”
Murray acknowledged his game is nothing like that of the most famous player to emerge from British Columbia — two-time NBA most valuable player Steve Nash.
“I’d say it’s a little different. He’s more of a finesse guy,” Murray said. ”He’s so amazing, it’s hard to say what he does. He’s so unorthodox. If you see him in the street, he’s kind of an average Joe.”
He likes to think his game more resembles the way Derrick Rose or Russell Westbrook plays.
“Kind of that fast, athletic guard who likes to play both ends of the floor and likes the transition game,” Murray said.
Pasha Bains, who coached Murray the past two summers with the Drive Basketball Academy traveling team, agreed that the Derrick Rose comparison has some merit.
“He’s athletic and durable, ultra-fast. Some of the dunks he can pull off are amazing,” said Bains, who played college ball at Clemson. “He’s a great player, a great kid.”
Howard Tsumura, who covers high school sports for The Province newspaper in Vancouver, said of Murray, “He’s a special kid. If you want to talk about intangible qualities, a kid who’s going to play big in a big game, that’s him.”
As a junior at St. George’s School in 2009, Murray hit the game-winning shot with 2.6 seconds left to win the B.C. provincial championship. He averaged 24 points that season, then won the slam-dunk contest as one of just three juniors at the All-Canada Game. He broke his ankle last August in a game at Las Vegas and did not join his high school team this season until January.
SLAM magazine last summer, in a not-too-subtle bit of hyperbole, called Murray “the Canadian clone of John Wall,” adding, “Now that we have your attention, this might be a slight exaggeration; however Murray possesses similar tools to resemble the top point guard of the ‘09 class. Emerson can get up with the best of them, his speed and quickness are clearly above average and his leadership skills are second to none.”
Murray’s older sister ran track and field at the University of Hawaii and his father Mike, a native of Jamaica, served as the Canadian national sprint coach for the 1992 and 1996 Olympics. Murray also was a young track standout before focusing solely on basketball starting about three years ago.
Gonzaga, Washington State and Washington also recruited Murray, who canceled a planned visit to UCLA for this week after settling on the Bears.
Murray said he’s especially excited that both his parents also are firmly behind his choice.
After the trip to Berkeley, Jane Murray said, “All three of us walked away and just said, `Wow.’ It fit all the criteria.”