Program offers Total Package

Craig Murray can’t guarantee a total package, but he is in the business of getting kids ready to achieve the total package.

And at the same time, he’s getting kids in the West Sound ready for the big time. And a few of them are already there.

Murray, a former high school star at Garfield High in Seattle who went on to play college ball at Hawaii and Idaho State before becoming an assistant coach at Olympic College, has turned his love of basketball into a quest to help others achieve their highest goals and have a little fun while doing it.

Murray started Total Package Basketball about three years ago and has seen it grow into just what he envisioned — a chance to help local players learn the game of basketball the right way and get the exposure needed to move on to the next level.

And a big part of that is going on today as one of Murray’s Total Package teams is taking part in the Reebok Big Time Tournament this week in Las Vegas — the nation’s biggest and most successful tournament of its kind

“Right now, it’s a recruiting period for college colleges,” Murray said. “Right now, they can be out watching players play so they can get a feel for who they want to recruit for their upcoming year. So this is our initial start to that process.”

Murray took his varsity team, made up of 11 kids from all over the West Sound, to the Reebok Big Time, a national tournament where coaches from more than 300 four-year schools will be present.

The goal is obvious.

“It gives the kids the opportunity, where otherwise they may not get seen, they get a chance to be seen by other schools,” Murray said. “You never know who it might be that might want to recruit one of our kids.”

The team left Wednesday and will play a series of three seeding games before the tournament starts for real on Sunday. The tourney runs through Tuesday.

The team is made up of high-school underclassmen from South Kitsap, King’s West, Olympic, North Kitsap, Port Townsend, Gig Harbor and other schools in the area.

“I can’t wait,” said Jamil Moore, a guard who plays at South Kitsap. “There’s going to be a lot of scouts there and I just want to compete.”

He and his teammates will get that chance, along with 330 other team from across the nation.

And the program is far-reaching. Murray has an assistant in Scottsdale, Ariz., and he does some work in Alaska as well.

“One of the main reasons I started it in this area was I felt there was a need to push the level of basketball in this area,” Murray said. “Everyonce in a while you’ll get a blue chipper like (Bremerton’s Marvin Williams, who will play for North Carolina this year) coming out of here. But our goal is to get the kids to stay over here and work on their game so we can compete with the team’s over in Seattle.”

But the emphasis isn’t on teaching one system to all the kids, it’s more geared to teaching the fundamentals in hopes of seeing each individual improve.

“I’m not trying to coach these players for their (respective) teams,” Murray said. “I’m just trying to help their skill level get better for their team’s success. I’m not trying to tell them how they need to play for their coach, they have to play for their coach. I want to help their coaches help their players to get better.”

That’s a thought that has gotten through to his players.

“(For the year-round basketball), that and to improve our game for next season at South,” said South guard Derrick Webb of his involvement in the program. “Just to see what we can do for our team.”

Although the program is growing, Murray works with 75 to 80 kids in the West Sound area and has another 25 in Arizona — both boys and girls — don’t mistake this for a simple summer camp.

“It’s not for every kid,” Murray said. “These kids are dedicated and committed to the game of basketball. It’s not a recreation deal where we come in and just throw the ball up and have a good time. When we come in, we want that kid that’s serious about getting better but has some skill in the game of basketball and is looking to improve in that area.

“It’s a year-round process and you’ll start to notice the kids that have been in the program versus the kids that maybe don’t take it as serious,” Murray said. “There’s nothing against a kid that doesn’t want to do it. It’s a credit to those kids that do want to give up that time and want to do it.”

And those that have made it this far have been traveling the state all summer playing in tournaments — the team has played in Seattle and Vancouver — and is now in Las Vegas.

“One, it’s a reward for them because they’ve put in a lot of hard work, effort and energy,” Murray said. “And the reward is that you get to go to Las Vegas and play in front of college coaches. It gives them a chance to also see other players throughout the country — how experience and how much skill and development they have, so they have an idea of what it really takes.”

But they also have a goal in mind.

“We’re going to win the tournament,” Webb said.

But Murray also wants to see the sport of basketball continue to grow in this area.

“For so long over here, it’s kind of been we’ll play basketball when basketball is appropriate to play, and that’s basketball season,” Murray said. “The way it is today, maybe back a while ago you could do that, but these kids are playing year-round and they’re playing at major tournaments. So they’re getting better, and if you don’t try to get better like that, when it comes high school season, you can’t compete. That’s just the way it is. It’s a lot of time, but hopefully at the end of day, it’s worth it for the kids.”

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