MORGANTOWN - If Aaric Murray hadn't yet understood the old adage about being careful what you wish for, well, he was indoctrinated to it shortly after his arrival in Morgantown.And it came on more than one count.First, there was his wish to play for a coach like Bob Huggins, which seemed wonderful in theory, but something quite different the first time he stepped on the practice floor."I thought," Murray said, "he wasn't the same person he was when he was recruiting me."
Yeah, well, when Huggins was recruiting Murray he didn't take his big black pickup truck with a treadmill loaded in the bed. Of course, if he had Murray might have wanted nothing to do with Huggins or West Virginia.The second thing Murray wished for after he made the decision to leave LaSalle after two years and go somewhere else was a bigger stage. Granted, he grew up in Philadelphia and played two years in the Big 5 at LaSalle, and Morgantown isn't exactly what anyone would call a bigger stage. But this is a guy who yearned to be involved in a program that wasn't obscured in its own city by the likes of Villanova and Temple and St. Joe's.At West Virginia, where the Mountaineers are the only game in town and where the conference was the Big East (when he arrived) and the Big 12 (now that he's here), it more than fit the bill.
"The fans here love you, the whole town loves you,'' Murray said. "Everywhere you go there are WVU logos. It's not like Villanova here, Temple there, St. Joe's over there. It's all WVU and everyone supports you."Most people in Philly didn't even know I played basketball. And I think that's why it was so easy to walk around and get in trouble. Here there are too many people watching you and waiting for you to mess up or do something stupid.''And therein lies the second of Murray's unintended wishes fulfilled. While he sat out last year as a transfer, he was arrested in Philadelphia on a marijuana charge while he was at home and the team he wasn't yet eligible to play for was at a tournament in Las Vegas.So much for being in the spotlight as opposed to blending in with the crowd. When he was busted last Thanksgiving week, everyone in West Virginia knew about it.
But at least he learned from the experience."Oh, I learned a lot,'' He said. "Being here, you don't want to blow the opportunity. This is what they mean when they say the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. It's a lot greener over here than it was in Philly.''The hope, of course, is that the grass is also greener for West Virginia this season with Murray around. He is not only the best true post player Huggins has had since he came here five years ago, he's pretty much the first. The 6-foot-10, 245-pounder has an NBA body waiting for an NBA game to grow into it.And that's the reason he didn't mind finding out quickly what a taskmaster Huggins is. He knows in order to reach that level, he has a lot of work to do. And who better to work for than one of the most demanding coaches in the game?
So when he found out that Huggins wasn't nearly as mild in practice as he was on the recruiting trail, there was never a thought that he'd made the wrong decision."You don't think you made the wrong decision. You just know you can't quit,'' Murray said. "You know the NBA scouts will ask, 'How is he? Does he like to work hard?' And this is the person you need to vouch for you. If you can work hard for Bob Huggins, you can work hard anywhere.''And it's not as if Huggins is out there working guys to a frazzle just for the pleasure of watching them suffer. Murray also quickly discovered that."You have to know who he is and what he wants,'' Murray said. "He wants us to be successful on and off the court. He doesn't care how talented you are, if you don't do what he wants you to do, you'll sit on the bench.''And Murray has already spent too much time on the bench. Since leaving LaSalle, where he averaged 15.2 points as a sophomore and led the team in rebounding and blocks, he's hasn't been able to do much. He broke a hand last season while he was practicing with the team and lost most of the year that would have acclimated him to Huggins' system.But Murray says the year he spent on the sidelines has revitalized him and made him hungrier and happier and more motivated just to be playing.
He wished for that, too, and so far hasn't been disappointed.Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dphickman1