MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - To say that Aaric Murray's first season at West Virginia has been a disappointment would be an understatement.And in more ways than one.The 6-foot-10, 245-pound junior was supposed to be one of the missing links for the Mountaineers and coach Bob Huggins, who loves athletic centers who can play inside and out. Murray's presence, along with that of fellow transfers Juwan Staten and Matt Humphrey, was to enable West Virginia to compete well in its first season in the Big 12.For the most part that hasn't happened, as evidenced by WVU's 9-11 overall record and 2-5 mark in league play following Monday night's 61-56 loss to No. 2 Kansas at the Coliseum.
Because it hasn't, something else that was assumed true regarding Murray now seems doubtful, as well. Had both he and the Mountaineers played to their potential, the chances seemed good that Murray's first season at WVU would also be his last. At least that was the prevailing thought before the season began - that a year of proving himself against top-level competition would be all that was required for him to begin flirting with the NBA.Now, though, even Murray seems to have done an about-face regarding his immediate future."I was thinking about that just [recently],'' Murray said. "I don't want to leave like this. So I'm not leaving like this.''That, of course, could change. Between now and the spring deadline for declaring for the NBA draft, a whole host of things could happen to change Murray's mind.West Virginia could turn things around and finish the season strong, something that seems at least possible after a strong Monday performance against Kansas.Murray would turn things around with his game, becoming more consistent and realizing more of his vast potential. His Monday night performance against Kansas All-America Jeff Withey was certainly a step in the right direction.Or just the opposite could happen, at least as far as WVU's performance is concerned. Murray could become disenchanted with a team that could well finish with a losing record and decide to move on even if his draft stock is not what it could - or should - be.But at least for now, Murray seems committed not only to doing all the right things as far as his game is concerned, but doing it at West Virginia for another year."I've actually fell in love with this place,'' said Murray, who is from Philadelphia and played two seasons at LaSalle before transferring. "I want to win a national championship. I want to play in those big games like [Monday's against Kansas].''In truth, one must take what Murray says with a grain of salt most times. He can be despondent one day and hopeful and committed the next. Much of it has to do with his play and his playing time, both of which are roller coaster-like.Murray was left at home when West Virginia played Michigan in Brooklyn, but then had a double-double off the bench the next game and played a season-high 38 minutes after that within the next week.
He was taken out of the lineup on Jan. 5 at Texas after starting 10 of the first 13 games and responded with his second double-double that night and made the game-clinching steal in the final seconds in Austin.But then just when it seemed he was settled in, he played a combined 31 minutes in games against Iowa State, Purdue and TCU. His response? His third double-double at Oklahoma State and then Monday's performance against Kansas.Part of Murray's up-and-down nature is that Huggins sometimes gets to him. Huggins can get to anyone because he's not shy about telling you what you're doing wrong. But Murray is learning to deal with that."You can't let coach get to you if he's yelling at you. You have to listen to the message and not how he's saying it,'' Murray said. "I was listening to how he said it instead of what he was saying and getting frustrated and worrying about him instead of playing the game. When I stopped worrying about him, everything was fine.''As for his performance against Kansas, that one might have been his best, even though it didn't start out that way."He was miserable,'' Huggins said of Murray's play at the start, when he came off the bench and was on the floor for part of Kansas' early 14-0 run that ultimately proved the difference in the game.
For the last 30 minutes, though, Murray was on the floor most of the time and looked every bit the one-and-done transfer he was thought to be. He scored 17 points, had seven rebounds, blocked two shots, stole the ball twice and made three 3-pointers. And he did it against arguably the best center in the country.Of course, that might have had something to do with it."Everybody was talking about him, about how he's the best center in the draft,'' Murray said of Withey. "I needed to show I can play, too.''He did. Withey didn't exactly shrink away, finishing with 15 points, seven rebounds and four blocks, including one on Murray in the final desperate seconds of the game. But the take-away moment from Murray's performance - at least in regard to battling Withey - will probably be when he picked the 7-footer clean in the backcourt and dribbled half the court and dunked.If Murray showed those skills - as well as the shooting and rebounding and shot blocking and everything else - consistently, there's little doubt he would be nearing the end of his college career. There is also little doubt that West Virginia would be a lot better than 9-11 right now.Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or email@example.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.