written by: Shane Thomas
The Valdosta State men’s basketball team took the floor for its first official practice on Monday, led by senior forward David Murray who was named Preseason All-Gulf South Conference over the weekend.
Murray enters this season as the lone returning starter from last season, a season in which the Blazers finished 19-10 and advanced to the GSC championship game.
In that game, Murray scored four points on 2-of-3 shooting before a strained MCL sidelined him six minutes into the action.
The Blazers could have used their sharp-shooting forward late in the championship game as the Blazers lost 65-62 to Christian Brothers. Despite the injury, Murray was named to the GSC All-Tournament team.
“It hurt me to go down in the championship game,” Murray said. “I felt my team needed me out there as one of the leaders on the team. It was sad sitting on the sidelines.”
Head coach Mike Helfer understands Murray’s importance to his team and can’t deny the injury affected his team.
“Any game that David plays the whole game, our chances are going to be better,” Helfer said. “Any time you lose a good player, you’re going to have to try to win a different way than you’re accustomed to. We lost by three, but I thought the team showed great heart and determination even after losing David.”
The Birmingham, Ala. native is taking his Preseason All-GSC selection in stride and admits the honor motivates him as he will be looked upon to provide leadership for a team that has 11 new players.
“When Coach called me and told me I was selected, I was shocked,” Murray said. “[The selection] just means I need to work that much harder. When I found out Friday, I was actually in the gym. I’ve been working out four times a day, so it’s about being hungry and humble with it.”
Murray played in all 29 games last season, including 22 starts, and averaged 10.5 points, 4.7 rebounds while making 60 three-pointers, second-most on the team.
Helfer praised Murray’s long-range shooting after Monday’s practice and expressed optimism about the core of shooters assembled for the upcoming season.
“When you can make threes, it opens the court and allows guys that can go off the dribble more room to work and get to the rim,” Helfer said. “At times, we struggled with that last year. We didn’t make shots so teams would pack it in a little bit on us. Hopefully, we’ve corrected that with [David] and some of our new guys we’ve brought in that will be able to make some shots.”
Helfer says he doesn’t need to remind Murray of his role going into the season.
“With seniors, you don’t need to tell them what to do, they already know what to do,” Helfer said. “[Murray] has taken that as his mantra this year. He knows what it’s going to take and what the team needs to do. We’ll give him some freedom but we’re not going to focus on one or two guys, we’re going to try to do it with everybody having a significant role and contributing.”
Now fully recovered from injury, Murray has reasonable expectations for his team, which was picked to finish fifth in the GSC in the Preseason Coaches’ Poll.
“We need to take it one step at a time and not try to win a championship in one game,” Murray said. “We just need to keep coming together. I feel like we’re on the verge of being really good and I love it at the pace we’re going.”
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