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By Chuck Stark, email@example.com — Jul 20th, 2005
Total Package basketball coach Craig Murray, below, gives L.P. Neloms from South Kitsap a tip on shooting form. The team leaves for the Las Vegas Big Time Tournament on Thursday. photos by Larry Seagall - Kitsap Sun
Craig Murray stood on the edge of the court at the Mountain View Middle School gym in East Bremerton while players on his Total Package basketball team warmed up with a series of drills.
Murray was in Los Angeles last week, attending a Reebok Double Pump camp with South Kitsap players Tippy Burk and Conner Gehring. Prior to that, he accompanied rising star Steven Gray, the two-time Class 2A all-state player from Chimacum who has transferred to Bainbridge, to Atlanta for the five-day adidas Super Star Camp.
During his trip to L.A., it was what Murray saw off the court that reinforced his philosophy in driving his players hard and making them understand there's no short cuts when it comes to developing skills and playing the game the right way.
Murray stayed with an old friend in South Central, an area of L.A. that remains synonymous with urban decay and street crime.
"I don't know how many crack-heads I saw," he said. "You go in a house and there's six or seven people living in it, and it's a two-bedroom house and it's not that big. There's drug deals going on, all kinds of stuff."
Murray pointed to his young suburban players from this side of Puget Sound — some drove SUVs to practice; another player missed the workout because he was getting his driver's license — and talked about motivation.
"These guys have to understand what kind of motivation those guys (coming out of an area like South Central) have," Murray said. "When those kids are playing, and they're working, they're in a survivor mode. Their motivation and all that is totally different. They're going to be good basketball players and that's a part of it. They want to get out of that situation."
Murray said he planned to reiterate that message to his Total Package players who will be competing against some of the very best high-school talent in the country in the next two weeks at the 344-team Las Vegas Big Time Tournament and the Best of the Summer Tournament in Los Angeles, which features 192 teams in its high-school division.
"It's so comfortable to do what they do here, and yeah, some of these guys are the best players in this area, but you know what? On the basketball map, this area is very small," Murray said. "It might not even be on the radar screen."
But the humble Murray and his aptly-named Total Package program are trying to do something about that.
The fifth-year program is beginning to make a name for itself.
Derrick Webb (Highline CC) and Jamil Moore (Highline CC), who helped South Kitsap to a No. 1 state ranking and 24 straight wins before finishing sixth at state this past season, were both Total Package players, along with all but one of their teammates. Adam Shildmyer (Olympic CC) and Jesse Reeves (Seattle CC) helped put King's West on the state B map. Lukas Henne (Central Kitsap/Western Washington), Nate Seitz (South Kitsap/Olympic CC/Central Washington) and Kevin Van Hook (Central Kitsap/Olympic CC/Southern Colorado) all worked with Total Package, as did Narrows League Bridge MVP Ryan Young of North Kitsap.
Gray, a sweet-shooting 6-foot-3 guard, has worked since the end of his freshman season with Total Package. He verbally committed to Gonzaga earlier this month, and he's still got two years of high-school basketball left.
Burk, who will be a junior at South Kitsap, has blossomed into one of the top point guards in the state and is drawing interest from several colleges, said Murray.
During a recent morning practice, the thing that struck an observer was how intense the session was.
During a 3-on-3 full-court scrimmage, the action was fast and physical. Murray stopped play to provide his input, and made sure the energy-level never dropped. Losers ran sprints.
"We want a competitive atmosphere in whatever they do in the workouts," Murray said. "It's understanding that it is a lot of hard work. Through that hard work and process you'll reap the benefits and understand the success of that. It's not a miracle worker. It's not something that happens within a couple days span. It's something you have to be committed to over the long haul."
"We're trying to bring some intensity to this side of the water," Burk said. "In Seattle they have a lot of that. We're trying to create that same atmosphere over here. (Murray) never lets us take a day off. He encourages us to do the little things besides getting in here (the gym), like getting in the weight room every day."
Burk had heard Murray's stories about South Central.
"He saw some pretty crazy stuff down there," he said. "He's trying to make us understand what it takes to get to the next level. It's like everything's given to us. In places like L.A., it's the only way out sometimes."
Murray's roots are in Seattle, where he grew up in the Yesler Terrace housing project and was an all-state player and honorable mention All-American at Garfield, which won a state championship his senior year. Murray spent a year at Hawaii, which recruited him, before finishing his playing career at Idaho State.
When Barry Janusch, an assistant at Idaho State, landed the basketball job at Olympic College, Murray followed as his assistant, a position he held for nine years.
His new wife, OC women's coach Megan Murray (formerly Buchmann) coaches Total Package's women's team.
Murray left OC with Janusch in 2000 and has concentrated on providing individual instruction to basketball players in the region.
"I saw the need for development of players to understand the process of playing at a higher level," he said. "There's so much stuff going on in the city (Seattle). The kids are always around it, always around the competition, always around the better players. They understand how hard they've got to work.
"I didn't think that was the case here. Basketball was just a sport people did during the season. The commitment to get better wasn't there after the season ended."
With Murray, it's a year-around sport, although he backs off during the high school season.
"During high school they come in once a week," he said. "They put up some shots, we work on foot work, no physical contact. It's all technique. I know and understand that's team time and coaches time. I don't try and infringe on what they're doing," he said.
During the month of June, when a lot of high school teams are competing in leagues and tournaments, Murray also backs off.
July, however, is when the select programs like Total Package gear for big-time events like the Big Time.
Among Murray's early believers was the Atwater family of Port Orchard — Evan, a senior-to-be at South Kitsap, and his parents, Kim and Marilyn, who both helped Murray get Total Package off the ground.
Evan Atwater was playing basketball at King's West when he noticed the improved play of Shildmyer, Reeves and Erik Bright after they started working out with Murray.
Kim Atwater, a CPA, tagged along to the gym after his son joined Total Package.
"I saw Craig doing drills and things I'd never been exposed to," said Atwater, who played basketball at West High in Bremerton in the mid-1970s. "I was so impressed with the level of understanding and skills he was trying to develop."
Atwater eventually put together a group of South Kitsap kids and started playing in an AAU league in Tacoma. "Craig started coaching the team and it evolved from there," said Kim Atwater, who formed the West Sound Youth Basketball Association, making it the non-profit arm of the Total Package program.
Atwater administers that part of the program — the trip to Vegas and L.A. will cost about $25,000 for airfare, lodging and entry fees — and Murray's able to concentrate on what he does best.
"He's really focused on fundamentals, discipline, and player development rather than let's get an all-star team and throw 'em together, which is what most of the (select) teams are doing," said Atwater. "It's about learning how to play, how to compete. That's a lot of it. You've got to learn how to compete and you do it by putting yourself in a position all the time. I think it's really helped the South kids in particular. They've been in that position so many times. They're playing 60, 70, 80 games a year and it's paying off."
The Wolves have been to five straight state 4A tournaments, placing second in 2004 and sixth a year ago after losing star big men Jake Beitinger and Adam Bennett.
"I think everybody wrote us off after losing Jake and Adam," said Evan Atwater. "But nobody knew about Derrick (Webb) and Jamil (Moore). They were in the gym, working hard all year. And Tippy (too). Nobody thought we'd be 24-0 at one point and headed back to state."
Clarence Trent, an emerging star who will be a sophomore at River Ridge in Lacey, joined Total Package this year.
"He's an athletic freak," said Evan Atwater of Trent. "He's like 6-7, 6-8 and can jump out of the gym. He's cut, he's strong."
Trent's already drawing the attention of college coaches.
"He's a kid we played against in AAU games for years," said Kim Atwater. "He lives with his uncle and he sought Craig out. He saw how our team conducted ourselves and that's what he wanted for Clarence. That's a real compliment to Craig and our kids."
Total Package has about 75 players in its program. It also has a 7th-8th grade boys team and a boys junior varsity team in addition to the two boys varsity teams and girls varsity squad.
If a player is working out full-time, year-round, the cost will be about $150 to $200 a month, said Atwater.