The Current

Jamal Murray, the rising Canadian basketball star, is 'the real deal,' says man who scouted him

The man who discovered rising Canadian basketball star Jamal Murray says the young athlete is like “a heat-seeking missile” the sport has never seen at this level, and at his age.

'It's something we just have not seen before at this level…. He's carving his own path,' says Rowan Barrett

Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray has been making waves in the basketball world. Rowan Barrett, who discovered him says what sets Murray apart is his unrelenting ability to stay calm on the court. (David Zalubowski/The Associated Press)

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The man who discovered rising Canadian basketball star Jamal Murray says the young athlete is like "a heat-seeking missile" the sport has never seen at this level, and at his age.

The 23-year-old from Kitchener, Ont., has been taking the NBA by storm as of late, scoring the Denver Nuggets 40 points in Tuesday's Game 7 win that eliminated the Los Angeles Clippers — now home to former Toronto Raptors star Kawhi Leonard — from the playoffs.

And with the Raptors now out of the running for the championship trophy as well, Murray is giving Canadian fans something to cheer for.

The Current's Matt Galloway spoke with Rowan Barrett, the general manager and executive vice-president of the senior men's program for Canada Basketball, about what sets Murray apart.

Here is part of their conversation.

What were you thinking watching that win the other night? I mean, a lot of people were thinking that the L.A. Clippers would be in the finals and Jamal Murray had something else to say about that.

I was thinking that … if it was a close game, that Denver would win. One, just because they know how to …  play together. They're moving the ball.

And, you know, Jamal Murray is a closer. There's not a ton of those guys in the NBA. But he is one of them. And he's been that for Denver for a number of years now.

What does that mean? He's a closer.

In the most pressure-packed moments, some players … can step up and make plays to win games. And Jamal has kind of always been that person in his life. And now it's just kind of showing on the biggest stage.

Murray, who plays for the Denver Nuggets, is quickly becoming one of the best players in the NBA. He is originally from Kitchener, Ont. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Should Toronto Raptors fans take extra pleasure in the fact that Jamal helped beat former Raptors star Kawhi Leonard, who left the Raptors for fame and glory on the West Coast?

You know what, I'm just happy this is a good old Canadian boy that is playing, you know, at the top level in the most difficult moments in the NBA playoffs here.

I think it's something we just have not seen before at this level, for a player at this age. He's carving his own path. It's tremendous. I know everybody's happy in Kitchener, as we should all be all around Canada.

OK, tell us about him. When was the first time that you knew about, saw Jamal Murray play?

I think I saw him first at 14, turning 15. I went and watched his workout at one of the clubs … and I saw the best workout I'd ever seen. 

I called our coach at that moment, and I said, "Look, man. I've got a ringer right here. This guy's going to come lead our team this summer." The coach said, "Rowan, you're all excited. Calm down. You saw him one time." 

I thought, "I don't need to see him another time. This guy is the real deal." And absolutely he was.

Murray drives past former Toronto Raptors star Kawhi Leonard during the first half of the Denver Nuggets' 110-101 victory over the L.A. Clippers on Sept. 5 in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Mark J. Terrill/The Associated Press)

You see a lot of kids play. What is it that you saw in him that got you that wound up?

Outside of the talent, the skill — all those things were there — there was decent athleticism, clearly he could shoot. But he was competitive.

It'd be in an open gym, right, where nobody is going to see this. He's like diving on the floor for the loose ball to make sure his team won the game. It's something you just generally don't see in a pickup run.

And his mind — I mean, very serene, very calm. In difficulty, [he's] able to rise and make plays.

If you could look at his psychological profile, if they were grading that on an all-star level, he'd be one of the top players in the NBA for sure in that area.

Do you see that now? I mean, you talked about the fact that he's a closer. You watch him play and it's like he believes that he's supposed to be there.

As a player … one of the things you always looked at, you looked at your opponents. You wanted to see any kind of difference in their body language. Any kind of rising emotion [that] you might be able to use to beat them. 

He's like a heat-seeking missile. He's looking for what's hot. He's looking for that moment in the game to just detonate on, and he's always been this way. ​​​​​​- Rowan Barrett, Canada Basketball

You don't see that with him. Look at him. He's calm, right. Shoulders back. He's walking calmly. He's not giddy, he's not jumping up. He's calm in that moment. He's looking for that moment. He's like a heat-seeking missile. He's looking for what's hot. He's looking for that moment in the game to just detonate on, and he's always been this way. 

It took some time, right, just kind of finding [his] footing in the NBA, like most young players. But now he's clearly in his groove and he's showing it to the world.

There's that extra thing. The secret sauce. The little, you know, extra bit that's going to push you into that other level. You've worked with a lot of players. Where does that come from?

Well, I'm sure some of it's internal. But I mean, his father, the way he raised this kid, I mean, that kid was outside doing pushups in the snow, right. Like, there is no snow, son. There is no snow. It's not cold. Like, this is kind of how he grew. He's sitting in front of the television with the television off, meditating as a teenager. 

You walk into the gym at Kentucky, he's sitting over in the corner for half an hour, meditating, getting his mind ready.

Murray drives the ball against Patrick Beverley of the L.A. Clippers during Game 7 of the Western Conference second round on Tuesday in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

There's been a lot written about his meditation practice. What do you think that does for him?

I think you're seeing it at the end of the games. In the most difficult moments, he's calm. 

He fully trusts himself. He knows his ability, he knows what he can do, but he's not afraid. You know, the heart's not pumping faster. 

And then I think the other thing is just his expectations of himself are very high. It's not like I want to be, you know, the top free throw shooter in the NBA. It's like, I want to be the top free throw shooter ever. Like it's not that I want to be the best player in the NBA, I want to be the best player ever. 

And so when you start putting, like, the work ethic with the skill, the talent, with the grit, resiliency, and then on top of that, you put the mental, the psychological part of it altogether, you've got a monster on your hands.

He's the pride of Kitchener, Ont. [He] did his prep in Orangeville, Ont. Is he ever going to be coming back home to play for the Toronto Raptors?

You know what, who knows, man. You need a crystal ball to figure that one out. 

But I know that he's very proud of his country. 

He drapes himself in the flag any time he can. So hopefully we'll at least see him play for Canada pretty soon.

Written by Kirsten Fenn. Produced by Ines Colabrese and Kate Cornick.

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