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Commentary Bob Lutz: Toure Murry’s versatility earns him a spot in the NBA

  • Published Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013, at 8:16 p.m.

Toure Murry is a basketball player who grows on people.

His talent doesn’t hit anyone over the head. His stoic demeanor can be misinterpreted. But give Murry enough time and you start to see the rewards.

At 6-foot-5, he can defend almost anywhere on the floor. He can guard a point guard or a shooting guard, sometimes even a small forward. He passes well, shoots well, rebounds well.

Obviously, the New York Knicks like what they’ve seen from Murry, not only last season in the NBA Development League with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, but during his summer and preseason with the New York Knicks.

Murry will be in a Knicks uniform Wednesday night when they open the regular season inside newly-renovated Madison Square Garden against Milwaukee. And the former Wichita State guard, the Shockers’ all-time assists leader, is still pinching himself to make sure this dream is true.

“Oh man, any time I’m around these guys and on the bus with them, it’s not a normal feeling I’m having,” Murry said Tuesday afternoon after a brief Knicks practice. “It’s a very different feeling.”

If you saw Murry as an NBA player following his senior season at Wichita State in 2011-12, you’re probably in the minority. He was an instrumental Shocker, perhaps the most indispensable Shocker as he gained experience.

But it was also difficult to ignore his average shooting ability. Murry made some big shots during his Shocker career, but he missed a bunch, too. He shot 40.5 percent from the field during his four seasons and just 31.1 percent from the three-point line.

Those aren’t the numbers you associate with NBA potential, especially for a guard.

Murry wasn’t drafted. He set out to find a basketball career overseas, but was cut by a team in Israel and let go by a club in Turkey because of a paperwork snafu.

He landed in the D League, where he averaged 8.3 points, 2.8 assists and 2.5 rebounds for Rio Grande. His shooting was improving and Murry, as always, stood out as a defender. But there wasn’t much in those numbers.

Then came the playoffs last spring. In six games, Murry averaged 14 points, five rebounds, 4.8 assists and 2.8 steals. He was everywhere, doing everything. Something clicked.

“It took a while to make a mark because there’s so much player movement and guys are being sent all over,” Murry said. “I was even put on the inactive list for a couple of games in the D League. It was a long road.”

But the playoffs turned out to be Murry’s Emerald City. The Knicks took notice and signed Murry as a free agent. It was still a long shot that Murry would make the team, but that’s better than no shot.

“I think they figured out that I have a skill that an NBA team can really use,” Murry said. “Being 6-5 and able to guard three positions is something that I think was very intriguing to teams. And me being able to play offense well also helped. Basically, I think they saw that with my overall game, I could fit.”

Murry is on the Knicks’ 15-man roster. That hardly guarantees him significant playing time. In fact, there will probably be games in which he doesn’t get on the floor. New York has a stockpile of point guards (Raymond Felton, Pablo Prigioni, Beno Udrih) and shooting guards (Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith, Tim Hardaway Jr.).

But Knicks coach Mike Woodson has told the New York media numerous times how much he likes what everybody likes about Murry — his versatility.

“I got great training for this at Wichita State,” Murry said. “Coach (Gregg) Marshall, his hard coaching pushed me every day. Each year there I became better and I had to add something to my game. Marshall brought that out and made me a better player.”

Nothing has come easily for Murry, as you would expect. He’s forced himself onto the NBA’s radar with grit and determination. Murry might be quiet on the outside, but there has always been a slow boil going on inside.

“I probably had my most doubts last year when I was getting cut by those teams overseas,” Murry said. “I thought, ‘Man, the NBA is kind of far-fetched.’ Any time you get cut, that’s not a good thing.”

Murry had to take less money to play in the Development League, but it turned out to be a blessing.

“I always talked to my dad (Ken) and he told me it was just a part of the grind,” Murry said. “He said that if I wanted to make it where I wanted to make it, then I would have to go through tough times. Everybody wants to play in the NBA but not many know what it takes or the bumps in the road you have to go through. Everybody has a different path and my path was rough. But I enjoyed every step along the way.”

Now Murry is his own Dreamland. Like millions of kids, he aspired to play in the NBA.

He looks around the team bus and sees Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudamire, Tyson Chandler.

“I’m definitely one of them now,” Murry said. “Starting off here, nobody really knew who I was. But playing with them and being able to showcase some of my ability in training camp and in preseason games, everyone kind of took notice of me. I think now they really vouche for me.”

Murry grew on his teammates like he grows on everyone else.

Reach Bob Lutz at 316-268-6597 or blutz@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @boblutz.

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