By Frank McLean
“We the North” was a marketing slogan the Toronto Raptors adopted a few years ago to announce to the rest of the NBA that the only team not located in the United States of America was finally a legitimate contender and it gave its rabid fan base a rallying cry so to speak.
“We the North” could also be a rallying cry for basketball players born in Canada as each year more and more players with a Canadian birth certificate can be found on NBA rosters making major contributions to their team’s fortunes.
On opening night this year there were 12 Canadian born players on NBA rosters. The only country to have more native born players in the NBA is the United States.
The latest is Kitchener, Ontario’s Jamal Murray who after playing one year at the University of Kentucky for John Calapari is now with the Denver Nuggets where the hope he is the last key to make them a legitimate playoff team.
Being drafted by the Nuggets (seventh overall) Murray was the player they had circled that they wanted on draft night. “It’s a good feeling to know that you were being selected by a team that really wants you.”
Head coach Mike Malone is bringing him along slowly, giving him a chance to just relax and learn how to play in the NBA. Mainly because this is a guy the organization really wanted and he is not going to ruin him as a potential NBA player.
“We tell Jamal (this) all the time. Listen, whether you go out there and score 20, or you score zero, we still love you, we still believe in you and we know that at some point, you are going to do great things for this franchise,” Malone said recently about Murray. “What I love about Jamal, and it’s a big credit to his mom and dad, he’s a well-balanced kid and for a young kid, he’s very poised. He doesn’t get too low, he doesn’t get too high.
“He’s a young man, 19-years old and won’t be 20 until February. A lot of poise, a lot of confidence, shot-making ability, can get his own shot, but he’s more than just a shooter and scorer, he can play-make and rebound for his position as well.”
When you talk to Murray he is very soft spoken. Like a true Canadian, not a braggart not full of himself, but he is confident of his abilities.
“Don’t look at yourself as a rookie,” Murray said. “A basket is a basket, free throw is a free throw,” was his advice to himself. “You just have to go out there and shoot efficiently and not over-think it. At the end the day it’s just a game so you can’t put things in your head to give yourself excuses.”
“I worked for it to happen, I truly believed it would happen,” Murray added.
Murray says the one big difference between college and the NBA is that everything about the game is faster and that you have to adjust your reaction time because everything is happening at a faster pace.
He is getting 20 minutes a night and averaging almost 8 points game which is a good chunk of minutes for a rookie to get his feet wet in the NBA.
He is with one of the good young coaches in the NBA in Mike Malone. He was doing wonders in Sacramento and winning games with another Kentucky product named DeMarcus Cousins until ownership fired him because the wins weren’t exciting enough.
He will make a great mentor for Murray.
Murray is in a great place in Denver and he’s going to be all right, making the basketball community in “We The North” proud.
Veteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.