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Mike Casazza: Murray has work to finish at WVU

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Aaric Murray leads West Virginia in scoring, rebounding, field-goal percentage and blocked shots.

He also tops the team in technical fouls. He's been benched for the first half of one game and left on campus for another game against a top-five team.

In short, he's met most of the expectations for his first season with the Mountaineers.

Murray is a talented player, sometimes devoid of effort, other times awash with emotion and frequently in possession of the ire of his head coach, who has come to understand Murray is not easily understood.

"Here's what I can answer," WVU Coach Bob Huggins said. "Have I taken some of the ignorant stuff he's done personally because I know that? I don't know what he thinks."

Though there was never a clear declaration of such intent, many thought and still do think Murray is using WVU as a catalyst to a professional career. It's been attached to him since he transferred here in the summer of 2011 after two seasons at La Salle. He was supposed to sit out and fit in, flourish under Huggins and make it to the NBA.

A lot of people put it out there that it would happen fast, that the 2012-13 season would be his only in a WVU uniform and he'd skip out on his senior season.

It was just never going to happen so quickly or so easily for Murray.

That's not a slight, but rather an observation about a person who has stuttered in the past, about a player possibly peaking at the end of the season, his first in action after sitting out last season and rehabilitating a broken hand that kept him out of practice.

 "It's yet to be determined," said Huggins, who was one of the people who logically presumed Murray would graduate in the spring and take a look at the NBA.

Murray's future can be so bright, so long as he does again in Saturday's 1:30 p.m. game at Texas Tech (9-9, 2-5 Big 12) what he's done of late. Murray had 17 points, seven rebounds and two blocked shots against No. 2 Kansas on Monday.

He had a double-double two days before that against Oklahoma State.

He was not as good, almost no good at all, before that. But he's actually stood his tallest after the voices against him rose to be their loudest. Yet these are not new things to happen to or to be said about Murray, who turns 24 in July.

When he left La Salle - where the coaches harped on him about effort and consistency and he was benched for one game and sent to the end of the bench during another - the head coach said he didn't think Murray much liked basketball.

Murray was a tantalizing prospect, though, one who had many schools coming after him once he decided to leave the Explorers. He had averaged 12.2 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game as a freshman.

A year later, he was at 15.1 points and 7.7 rebounds and blocked one more shot than he had the season before. He took better shots, raising his shooting percentage four points and making many more trips to the free-throw line, where he shot 10 points better.

The progress made sense. Murray hadn't played AAU basketball, a rare deed for someone who had so much hype and promise after high school.

And that high school? That wasn't a particularly strong proving ground for college. He went to the Glen Mills School, which calls itself a "residential school for court referred young men," in Pennsylvania's Delaware County.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Murray was sent there for persistent truancy. He told the paper he once missed 150 days of school in a year and said he had to repeat the eighth grade twice because of attendance problems at a separate disciplinary school in Hunting Park.

He started to gather himself in the classroom at Glen Mills and found himself on the basketball court, where he'd never spent a lot of time before. Within a year, he had plenty of scholarship offers, including one from the Mountaineers.

He's ultimately been united with Huggins, who for some players is also not easy to understand. Murray has had troubles with his coach like Huggins has had trouble with Murray, who, remember, was arrested for marijuana possession in December 2011.

Huggins pulled Murray from the game early Monday, saying Murray was "miserable" and asking Murray if he even wanted to play. Murray ended up playing his best game at WVU (9-11, 2-5).

"You can't let Coach get to you if he's yelling at you," Murray said. "You've got to listen to the message and not how he's saying it. I was listening to how he was saying it instead of what he was saying and I was getting frustrated worrying about him instead of playing the game. When I stopped worrying about him, everything was fine."

He said his sudden and still brief uptick has come from other revelations, namely that he needed to better filter motivation, needed to play stronger if the team was to play stronger, that he needed to understand Huggins would rather lose with Murray sulking on the bench than slacking on the floor.

Murray also seems willing to at least admit he might not be NBA ready and might need more of the time he needed in the first place.

"I don't want to leave like this," he said "I'm not leaving like this.''

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at or 304-319-1142. His blog is at


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