Pine Bluff senior Roosevelt Murray missed his entire junior year but made up for his year-long hiatus by averaging nearly 20 points a game his senior year — earning the Southeast Arkansas Player of the Year award.
“It means a lot,” Murray said. “I have been working hard all year for it.”
During his break from high school basketball, Murray played for the Arkansas Wildcats in the Amateur Athletic Union. Murray led the Wildcats to a 22-3 record in the summer last year and was averaging about 24 points a game. Murray believes the Wildcats won four tournaments.
“I was the leading scorer there as well,” Murray said. “I just basically made sure I stayed in shape. I knew I was going to have to score for Pine Bluff High.”
Murray also averaged two assists, three rebounds and two steals a game with the Zebras.
“He has always been able to put the ball in the hole,” Pine Bluff head coach Carl Smith said. “For him to take a year off and still have that offensive talent, that says a lot.”
The Zebras made it to the quarterfinals of the 6A state tournament before losing to Little Rock Hall in Jonesboro.
“Mentally, he has always wanted to be the man,” Smith said. “He got that opportunity and he did good with it.”
Smith said while Murray excels offensively, his defense needs work and it wasn’t until midway through the season that it really started to improve.
“His offense was upscale, but on the defensive end, he had to work on it,” Smith said. “You got to drop down and play. Stay down and cover and do that kind of stuff.”
Murray said one of the main differences between playing for Pine Bluff and playing for the AAU team is the focus that is put on the defensive side.
“In high school, there is more strategy on defense,” Murray said. “They play harder in high school than AAU.”
Murray has not only turned things around on the court, but also off the court.
“He’s a good student,” Smith said. “He showed me how he pulled up his grades. … He is starting to take his work more serious.”
Smith said Murray is starting to understand that his future is now and he “needs to do the right thing in the classroom.”
“I’m proud of him for the way he played,” Smith said. “But I’m also proud of how he became eligible and took care of his class work.”
Pine Bluff finished 15-8 overall and 11-3 in the 7A/6A-South conference.
Murray said he has not given much thought to where he would like to go after high school and at this point has not received any offers. Smith, who coached Murray in the ninth grade at Jack Robey Junior High, said he has received some interest, though.
“The year he missed might have hurt him a little bit,” Smith said. “If he played his junior year, he might have gained a little more attention.”
Smith believes Murray would be a nice addition to any program.
“He is a sleeper (pick),” Murray said. “He would make somebody a good ballplayer.
“Offensively wise, he knows what to do. If they can teach him what they want him to do on defense, he would be a top-notch player.”