Toure Murry picked Wichita State to win the NCAA title in the Rio Grande Valley Vipers office pool. He finished second and won $20.
Murry got his championship when the Vipers won the NBA Development League title with a best-of-three sweep over the Santa Cruz Warriors in late April. Murry recorded a triple-double in the first game and averaged 14 points, five rebounds and 4.8 assists in six playoff games.
“He had a really great year for a rookie in this league,” Vipers coach Nick Nurse said. “With about 20 games to go, we needed him to start. He never let go of that starting job.”
Murry, a 6-foot-5 guard who played from 2008-12 for WSU, should be set up for a good summer after his D-League accomplishments with the Houston Rockets affiliate located in McAllen, Texas. He made the All-Rookie third team and the All-Defensive second team. His performance in the playoffs, taking over for league MVP Andrew Goudelock, raised his profile. He should play in the NBA Summer League, likely with the Rockets. He played for the Lakers last summer and expects to play a larger role no matter which team picks him up. Nurse expects him to get invited to an NBA training camp in the fall.
“Then it’s finding the right situation,” Nurse said. “He’s on the verge.”
If so, Murry will get to the NBA by building on the skills that made him one of WSU’s most versatile players. He played both guard spots for most of the season and took over at point when the Lakers called up Goudelock.
“That was my time,” Murry said. “I had the ball in my hands more.”
He started 30 regular-season games and all six in the playoffs, averaging 8.3 points, 2.8 assists and 2.5 rebounds for the season. He opened the series against the Warriors with 17 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.
“To have a triple-double in a finals game, that was big-time for me,” he said. “It was a great feeling, rookie year, being a part of that team.”
Nurse loves his length and tenacity on defense and used him to pressure full court. Murry worked tirelessly on his outside shooting and made 36.9 percent of his three-pointers. He improved his pick-and-roll skills, the play on which many NBA teams base their offense.
“(Nurse) really had confidence in me running the team,” Murry said.
Murry, WSU’s career assists leader, briefly played in Turkey and Israel before landing in the D-League and the situation initially bothered him. Playing overseas pays better. It is not unusual for players to make six figures in Europe. While the D-League won’t confirm its salary structure, published reports indicate players average between $15,000-$25,000.
The D-League advantage, in addition to the comforts of the United States, is its growing relationship with the NBA. It is moving closer to the baseball model of a true minor league and NBA scouts keep a close eye on D-League games.
The D-League life, however, is not stable. Murry, for example, lost playing time when the Rockets assigned Patrick Beverly to the Vipers for three games.
The Shockers traveled on charter flights. The Vipers bus and fly commercial to places such as Portland, Maine and Fort Wayne, Ind.
“It’s very cut-throat,” Murry said. “The pay is not great. It’s just about being patient and going through the grind. Once you establish yourself, it’s great.”
Murry did that in his rookie season. He earned a running start for the NBA summer leagues and, if the NBA declines, should find a good situation overseas in the fall. First, however, he is proud to walk in WSU’s graduation ceremony on May 17.
It is WSU’s highest outdoor ranking. The Shockers finished the 2011 season No. 25.
Three Shockers rank in the top 10 nationally — Tanya Friesen (No. 5, heptathlon with 5,757 points), Mariah Garcia (No. 6, discus at 181 feet, 9 inches) and Aliphine Tuliamuk-Bolton (No. 3, 5,000 meters with a time of 15 minutes, 18.86 seconds and No. 3 in the 10,000 at 32:07.20).
WSU is off until the Missouri Valley Conference championships beginning Friday in Des Moines. The women are the two-time defending champions.
WSU also placed Illija Cuic on the men’s all-select team. Erick Reyes (No. 6 singles) and the doubles teams of Ostojic-Pereira (No. 1) and Tomislav Gregurovic and Guillermo Nicol (No. 3) earned all-conference honors. On the women’s side, Julia Schiller (No. 2), Lucia Kovalova (No. 3) and Carla Venticinque (No. 6) made the all-conference team, as did the doubles teams of Pedrazzi-Venticinque (No. 2) and Montse Blasco Fernandez and Satjaporn Mahajaroenkul (No. 3).
Ostojic and Pedrazzi were also named Freshmen of the Year.