Most of the top recruits in the country had made their college decisions by the end of the spring signing period. From wing Brandon Ingram at Duke to power forward Cheick Diallo at Kansas to small forward Jaylen Brown at Cal, a handful of elite players in the class of 2015 inked National Letters of Intent. The possibility remained, however, that a program could upgrade its incoming freshman crop with one of two blue-chip talents from one Canadian prep school.
By June 1, Orangeville Prep (Ontario) center Thon Maker and guard Jamal Murray had yet to decide whether they would play college basketball in 2015-16. But a few days after Maker announced at the NBPA Top 100 Camp that he would remain a member of the class of 2016 but still play in college at some point, reports said Murray would join the class of 2015 and choose either Oregon or Kentucky. On Wednesday, Murray announced his commitment to the Wildcats.
Murray discussed the possibility of reclassifying from 2016 to 2015 in April but it remained unclear whether he could complete his academic requirements in time to gain eligibility for the upcoming season. Murray took visits to Kentucky and Oregon, and an ESPN reporter classified his recruitment earlier this month as a “two-and-a-half horse race” that also involved Michigan while adding that Murray “should” be ready academically for the 2015-16 season.
If that’s the case, Murray projects as one of the best scoring guards entering college basketball.
He garnered national attention when he shined at the prestigious Nike Hoop Summit in April. Playing against a USA Team featuring many of the best players in the high school class of 2015, Murray scored a game-high 30 points and recorded five assists while leading the international team to a two-point win. Writing from the event, SI.com’s Ben Golliver commended Murray for his “attack mentality” while noting that there were some “wild moments.”
At 6'5", 195 pounds, Murray has drawn praise for his shooting, ball handling and ability to create shots off the dribble. Over 21 games with CIA Bounce on the Elite Youth Basketball League Circuit and at the Peach Jam last year, Murray averaged 12 points, 4.8 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.1 steals per game. Rivals.com rated him the No. 15 player in the class of 2016, and the scouting website DraftExpress projects him to be selected with the No. 21 pick in next year’s draft.
“He reads screens well, finds holes in defenses and is a balanced offensive player who can score at the rim, in the mid range and from deep,” Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Eric Bossitold CatsIllustrated.com. “Like most young players he could be a bit better defensively and he can continue to get stronger. In situations where he's running a team, there can be times where he looks for his own offense a bit too often. The best thing about Murray, though, is he is a clutch player.”
Murray’s decision is mildly surprising considering the signs pointing in Oregon’s direction.
Ducks assistant Mike Mennenga formerly served as the co-director of CIA Bounce and had helped Oregon land several Canadian prospects in recent years, including sophomore forward Dillon Brooks, a close friend of Murray’s. At Oregon, Murray conceivably would’ve had less competition to earn major playing time in the backcourt. He, fellow five-star recruit Tyler Dorsey and Villanova transfer Dylan Ennis would have anchored one of the top backcourts in the Pac-12.
What’s more, last week Oregon forward Elgin Cook posted a message to his Twitter account that said, “Welcoming our newest commit Jamal Murray into the family.” The message was later removed.
For Kentucky, Wednesday’s news marks the end of a disappointing stretch on the recruiting trail. Over the past three months, the Wildcats watched center Stephen Zimmerman pick UNLV, shooting guard Malik Newman choose Mississippi State, Ingram select Duke, Diallo opt for Kansas and Brown sign with Cal. The series of misses led coach John Calipari to write a blog post that seemed like an attempt to assuage recruits’ misgivings about the platoon system he utilized this season.
Instead of totally striking out this spring, however, Kentucky made a significant addition to its backcourt. The Wildcats bring back point guard Tyler Ulis and welcomes in five-star recruit Isaiah Briscoe and junior college transfer MychalMulder. The addition of Murray theoretically creates a logjam of sorts in Kentucky’s backcourt, but there probably shouldn’t be too much concern over how its guards will fit together.
Ulis is a savvy distributor who prioritizes playmaking over scoring, while Briscoe uses his size, strength and tight ballhandling to create shots off the dribble and Mulder can space the floor by knocking down threes (he connected on 44.7% of his long-range attempts last season). Murray may be the best scorer of the group, and his skillset is pliable enough so as to not restrict who Calipari can play alongside him at any given time.
Maybe Calipari really isn’t bluffing with his new go-to hoops descriptor, “positionless?”
Either way, Murray’s decision should encourage Kentucky fans on several fronts. For one, it offers proof that the mounting fears over the Wildcats’ recent recruiting misfortune were probably overblown. For another, it infuses more NBA-caliber talent into a roster that already features a likely top-three pick in next year’s draft, center Skal Labissiere, and figured to begin next season ranked in the top 10 of the polls.