As if in a daydream come true, Sonics guard Ronald Murray found
himself dribbling toward Latrell Sprewell, then stepped back and
launched a 13-foot jumper that rolled around the rim before
falling through at the buzzer for an 89-87 win at Minnesota on
Nov. 11. Murray had long awaited such a moment, yet he reacted by
silently raising a clenched fist as if he'd done this kind of
thing before. "A lot of you have never heard of him,"
Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders told reporters. "But you better
learn who he is. He's for real."
After playing only 62 minutes as a rookie last year, Murray was
sixth in the league in scoring at week's end, averaging 23.1
points on 48.6% shooting while leading Seattle to a 6-2 start
despite the absence of star Ray Allen (ankle surgery) and No. 12
draft choice Nick Collison (out for the season after shoulder
surgery). None of this was expected from a player thrown in to
balance the salaries in the Allen-for-Gary Payton swap last
February, though Sonics G.M. Rick Sund had a hint that he might
be getting a bonus. "The night of the trade," recalls Sund, "Ray
Allen pulled me aside and said, 'I want you to know something:
The kid Murray is really good.'"
Ronald (Flip) Murray--so nicknamed by a childhood friend after
the Bernie Mac character in the film Above the Rim--was a
Philadelphia Public League star at Strawberry Mansion High before
his career was derailed by academic difficulties. Sidelined for
all but eight games as a senior, he was unable to make good on a
letter of intent to UMass because he fell 30 points short of the
mandatory 820 SAT score. Over the next three years he attended
Meridian (Miss.) Community College and Philadelphia Community
College but was ineligible for two of those seasons. "People
would see me at home and say, 'Flip's not going nowhere,'"
recalls Murray, 24. "I just took it all in, never said anything
about it and tried to work harder."
Murray spent his final two years at Shaw University in Raleigh,
where as a senior he averaged 23.5 points and 6.2 assists to earn
Division II Player of the Year honors. Bucks G.M. Ernie Grunfeld
picked him 42nd and signed him to a partially guaranteed
three-year contract--rare security for a second-rounder--yet
there was no room for him in Milwaukee's crowded backcourt.
"During games I would sit on the baseline so I wouldn't be
distracted," said Murray, who earns $563,679. "I had a better
view from there, and I learned a lot from watching how people get
open, how they get their shots off, how they get into the rhythm
of the game."
The 6'4" Murray knows where he's going on the court and has the
explosiveness to get there. He can finish in traffic, bury a
three off the dribble or break down a defense and dish off; his
Iversonian crossover dribble with either hand is the stuff of
legend in Philadelphia. After he lit up Grizzlies point guard
Earl Watson for 59 points in two games during the L.A. summer
league, the Seattle coaching staff unanimously agreed that Murray
should start alongside Brent Barry when Allen and Antonio Daniels
suffered preseason injuries.
The Payton trade was initially so unpopular in Seattle that Sund
and team president Wally Walker were assigned bodyguards for the
next home game. Now it's clear that it was a steal: When Allen
returns to the lineup next month, Murray can play the point or
come off the bench and fill either guard spot. Murray agrees with
those who say it's too soon to tell how good he is. "You can't
judge me right now," he says, "because you haven't seen my A game
COLOR PHOTO: JEFF REINKING/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES Murray, who scored a total of 27 points as a rookie, is averaging23.1 this season.