St. George's player has it all — on court with Saints, in everyday life

Matinee idol Murray modest about hoops excellence
By Gerald Narciso, Special to The Sun

Emerson Murray's just got it. The Hollywood looks, the smile, everything. Like Will Smith, circa 1991, Emerson rocks a stylish high-top fade that easily adds two inches to his already 6-3 frame. And every time he walks down those posh halls at St. George's, the Grade 8 kids freeze up in his mere presence.

"Emerson's the guy that all the guys want to be like and all the girls want to date," says Pasha Bains, the former UBC and Richmond High standout who coached Murray's AAU team last summer. "He's just that guy. He's like the Fresh Prince. His personality is infectious."

On the court, he turns heads too. In his first year on the varsity team, the Grade 11 swing guard is quickly becoming known as one of the best players in the country.

Heading into the provincials, Murray was averaging 20.4 points, 7.4 rebounds, 3.8 steals and 3.5 assists per game. The online recruiting publication HoopStars Canada ranks him as the ninth-best high school prospect in the country, and his freakish athleticism is becoming legendary. One video clip of his high-flying arsenal has garnered more than 10,000 views on YouTube.

"From a skill standpoint, he's a next-level player," says St. George's head coach Brian Lee, who pauses to gather his thoughts before shaking his head and smiling. "Some of the stuff he does on the court ..."

Off the court, Murray is anything but showy. He is terrible at talking about himself. Ask him about his athletic ability and he'll tell you that his brother, Leo, can actually jump higher. Ask him about the 33 points he scored on Vancouver College last month and he'll just shift the credit to his teammates and coaches.

"He's unbelievably modest in terms of how much hype is around him and how much people try to boost his ego," says teammate Joshua Robertson.

"Emerson is sort of innately like that; he's always had this peaceful aura about him," adds his mother Jane. "He is a very kind person."

On top of being named to the all-tournament team at the HSBC Classic last December, Murray was also honoured with the Gil Puder Memorial Award for Most Exemplary Citizen. He also attends the piano recitals of coach Lee's five-year-old daughter, Daje, who calls Emerson "uncle."

"Yes, he's a terrific athlete, but it's his character that everyone will speak about," says Lee. "Anybody who has had any interaction with him will walk away saying 'wow that's a classy individual.'"

Murray was born and raised in the Fleetwood section of Surrey, and athletics was big in his home. His father Mike, a native of Jamaica, was a sprinting coach for the Canadian national team at three different Olympics. His older siblings, Leo and Novelle, excelled at track at Surrey Secondary, and Novelle went on to be one of the top discus throwers in the NCAA with the University of Hawaii. But it was a gift Emerson received that broke the cycle. "When I was two I got a Fisher Price hoop for my birthday and been hooked ever since."

As an eight-year-old, he'd play guys almost triple his age at the Don Bosco Youth Centre or the local YMCA. By the time he entered St. George's in Grade 8, he was six-foot and already dunking. As a member of the JV team last season, Murray led the Saints to a third-place finish at the B.C. Junior Championships and was named Most Outstanding Player.

Murray took his game up a notch last summer as a member of the Vancouver-based AAU team, Drive. Competing in Las Vegas and Bellevue, Wash., he put on a show against his U.S. counterparts, bringing down the house after dunking on a player from Mater Dei High School in California.

"One of his own teammates asked Emerson for his autograph after that game. The teammate was like 'I've got to get this before it's worth something,'" Bains says with a laugh.

The kid is still just 16.

"He's got the tools, he's got the skill set," says Bains. "But I don't think he's found his niche as a player yet. I don't think he's even scratched the surface of what he can do."

Published in the Vancouver Sun on March 11, 2009.

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