Bad Read

As I sat next to Aaric Murray following West Virginia's ignominious 71-69 loss to Texas Tech in the first round of the Big 12 tournament, I thought I sensed a change in the troubled big man's demeanor.

Murray, whose problems both before and during his career at West Virginia have been well-chronicled, seemed to have finally learned his lesson as he discussed the game and his planned approach to the 2013 summer and offseason. I had the rare chance to speak one-on-one with him immediately following a game (mostly because was one of only two WVU beat outlets covering the tournament), and during that time, Murray seemed genuinely contrite about his actions during the game, which resulted in a key technical foul against him and helped provide Tech's slim margin of victory.

The contest was, in many ways, a microcosm of the big man's career at West Virginia. There was a great deal of good (11 points, eight rebounds, three blocked shots and two assists), balanced by frustrating negatives (18 minutes on the floor, limited by the technical that he admitted was solely his fault). His absence during key stretches contributed mightily to WVU's defeat.

"One of the main lessons I learned this year is that games are won as much in the spring and summer as they are during the season," Murray said, while also acknowledging that he lost his cool in drawing the technical. Murray vowed that he would improve his work habits over the summer and do everything he could to realize his potential.

During that conversation, Murray was engaging and earnest. He looked up at me, and at other Big 12 based reporters when they joined the conversation at a later point. He answered every question, didn't duck responsibility and didn't make any excuses.

At the time, that gave me a spark of hope. Not just for his basketball potential, but for the fact that he finally understood that he was wasting his talents, and that if he continued to do so he might find himself back on the streets of Philadelphia where he found trouble growing up. He didn't just say all the right things -- his demeanor, body language and determination all seemed to reinforce his commitment to turning things around.

That new resolve appeared to be pushing him down the right path. He earned his undergraduate degree, his social media interactions improved greatly and he often commented on workouts and offseason conditioning in his tweets and Instagram posts. I thought he had finally turned the corner.

Unfortunately, that didn't turn out to be the case. Murray apparently slipped back into his old ways, reportedly missing several workout sessions recently that resulted, after final attempts at correction, with his dismissal from the team.

What made him fall back into his old pattern? How did he fool me (although I don't think that was his intent) back in March? Is he, as a former teammate indicated, just in need of one-on-one guidance on a daily basis? Is that possible, even with the small numbers on a college basketball team? Or has he finally shown that he can't be dependable, and that he doesn't have enough self-accountability to do the right thing?

There will be plenty of labels put on Murray by others, and I'm certainly not going to join that crowd. In asking these questions about Murray, I'm simply trying to point out the difficulty in determining why people do what they do. Even with help, Murray was unable to complete an offseason regimen running from April through August. How does that bode for the rest of his life?

Murray's case reminds of a couple of other former Mountaineers -- Chris Henry and John Browning. While their backstories aren't identical, they point out the different paths that can be taken by those faced with hurdles to overcome. Browning, a football player for Don Nehlen, was an academic non-qualifier who managed to scrape through his non-scholarship year at WVU on next to no money. He avoided trouble, got his academics in order and parlayed his time at WVU into a 12-year NFL career. Henry's story is more well-know, and ended tragically, but he too was making progress to improve when he died.

With Murray's West Virginia time now complete, I wonder -- which path will he ultimately be able to follow? From most fans, he'll earn a quick label and a contemptuous or uncaring dismissal. For me, it runs a bit deeper. Even with that personal time, that chance for insight, I still don't know what Murray's future holds. I hope that this is the wake-up call that finally takes effect, but after witnessing what I thought was the real thing in March, there's simply no way to know.

BlueGoldNews Top Stories