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THE NBA: 1994-95 PREVIEW : Gym Rat Turns Into Big Cheese : Raised in Basketball Environment, Murray Aims to Make Leap From Cal to Clippers

November 01, 1994|CHRIS BAKER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Lamond Murray, the Clippers' top draft pick, was dunking before he was out of diapers.

Murray's father, James, who played basketball at UC Riverside in the early 1970s, used to hold Lamond over his head so that he could dunk.

"When he was 3 years old he wouldn't play with his Tonka toys, Big Wheels or anything," James Murray said. "Just a basketball. He used to sleep with the ball and the ball was bigger than him.

"When I played at Riverside, they had a temporary nursery set up in the corner of the gym and the cheerleaders would baby-sit while we practiced and all he ever heard was the thump of the ball.

"After he got potty trained, he went everywhere I went. If I said he couldn't go with me to play basketball, he'd hide in the trunk (of the car) or the back seat."

James Murray instilled the spirit of competition in Lamond too, at that early age.

"When we played, I played not to take any hostages," said James Murray, who had served a two-year hitch in Vietnam before starting college.

"The rules of war stipulate that if you take a hostage, you're supposed to give him medical care and feed him, but over there you just shot them in the head again because you couldn't be dragging them through the jungle. And that was my mentality when we played. If he had the ball, he was the enemy and we just played rough."

Lamond Murray practically lived and slept on the court.

"I put a basketball hoop above the garage and he'd play until he got exhausted," James Murray said. "Once I found him asleep, leaning up against the ball."

Lamond Murray's obsession with basketball has paid off.

The seventh player selected in the NBA draft, the 6-foot-7 forward from California was so highly regarded by the Clippers that they chose not to meet All-Star forward Dominique Wilkins' price. Wilkins signed with the Boston Celtics.

"We are counting on him to be an integral part of the future of this franchise," Clipper General Manager Elgin Baylor said. "No one is saying he's going to come in and turn everything around. He's not Shaquille O'Neal or Michael Jordan, we all understand that."

Said Murray, "I think there'll be a lot of pressure, but I haven't really felt it yet because I'm not on the floor. But I think I'll be able to deal with it."

Whatever his future, Murray has basketball in his genes.

Cousin Tracy, a former UCLA star, plays for the Portland Trail Blazers. Tracy's younger brother, Cameron, a 6-1 guard, is a freshman at USC.

"We were close until his family moved up to Northern California," Tracy Murray said. "We'd go play ball on the weekends and stuff. Lamond always had a nice hook shot. He got that from his dad."

James Murray, 45, and his brother, Robert, 46, were star basketball players at Blair High in Pasadena in 1967.

James, a 6-foot-4 power forward who was an outstanding rebounder and post player, went on to play at Pasadena City College in 1970, after serving his Army hitch, then transferred to UC Riverside.

Invited to open tryout camps by the Seattle SuperSonics and the Portland Trail Blazers, Murray declined because he had a wife and son to support and couldn't afford to leave his job. He decided he would live through his son's career.

"My dad was a big influence on me because he played ball in college," Lamond Murray said. "He taught me a lot about the game, not just about shooting or defense, but about how to think the game, which I think is essential to you doing well out there on the floor."

Robert Murray, a 6-3 1/2 guard and an outstanding outside shooter, played at Cal Lutheran. Son Tracy, who set a state scoring record at Glendora High before going to UCLA, where he became the Bruins' fifth leading scorer, inherited his father's shooting touch.

Tracy and Lamond played together every day last summer in pickup games with other NBA players at UCLA in an attempt to prepare Lamond for the NBA.

"He's going to do just fine," Tracy Murray said. "Just let him get adjusted. When he gets adjusted and he's calm and playing his game where he feels comfortable, you're going to see the real Lamond."

And there's another Murray on the way.

Lamond's girlfriend, Carmen Allen, is pregnant with their first child and due next week.

However, Murray might not be with Allen for the birth of their son because he's set to make his NBA debut Friday in Yokohama, Japan, against the Trail Blazers and cousin Tracy. The Clippers, who left today, will return Sunday.

"Japan's not the best place to be because it's a long flight back and by the time I get back it'll probably be over with," Murray said. "I want to be here for the birth of my first child. It's very difficult."

Why doesn't he skip the games in Japan and stay here?

"I don't know if I can do that," Murray said. "For the amount of money they're paying me ($13.5 million for five years), I don't know if I can do that."

Murray and Allen, who plan to get married next summer, have already decided to name their son Maurice, which is Murray's middle name.

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