By Alan Caldwell
In a professional basketball career that has spanned over two decades, Rocks star and now head coach Gareth Murray has experienced a lot in the basketball world. Discussing his time in the states, playing high school and junior college basketball and representing Scotland twice at the commonwealth games in 2006 & 2018 are just the tip of the iceberg for soon to be Rocks legend.
Born in Plymouth and growing up in a predominantly footballing environment in Arbroath, Gareth wasn’t particularly interested in the sport of basketball at first, until in high school when a friend of his had made him aware of the sport asking him to go to trials which kickstarted his love for the game. He explained: “I was always into football, all through primary school, I didn’t even know anything about basketball.” He added: “I got to high school and one of the people I met was into his American sports and he asked ‘do you want to come along and do the basketball trial?’ and I said yeah sure, in first year of high school, try new things and that’s pretty much how it started.”
Continuing to play both Basketball and Football in high school it wasn’t until turning 15 when Gareth realised he would have more success in the game of basketball, growing over 4 inches in the one summer and standing 6ft 5” at the age of 16, as well as being able to retain his ball handling skills from being smaller and playing point guard now gave him too much talent to go to waste.
Focusing now solely on playing basketball, Murray explained how his path from high school ball in Arbroath to junior collegiate level in the states came about, he said: “I knew by this point I definitely wanted to play basketball. I went back for my 6th year in high school and my PE teacher and coach John Grant got involved with an American exchange programme called flag and there was an opportunity for me to go to America and play basketball over there.”
Coming from Arbroath playing in front of 50 people to now going over to the states and playing in high school crowds with over 200 people was a massive jump in Gareth’s young career. From high school Murray then went on to play two years of junior college ball in the states with Kalamazoo Valley, however being a European exchange student made it difficult to get a scholarship to one of the bigger division 1 schools.
Knowing this, Gareth decided to come home to Arbroath but it wasn’t an easy decision now finding himself at a cross roads, he said: “I came back from America and I really wasn’t sure what I was going to do, I wanted to keep playing basketball but I didn’t know what the next step was, I really wasn’t sure and then the Scottish Rocks, which they were called back then, had an open trial on a Wednesday night so I decided to go along to that and I met assistant coach Ross Hutton, who I already knew at the time from different camps and he spoke to the owners and the coach at the time and that’s how it got started.”
From landing a first professional contract with the Rocks, the rest is history, Murray now leads the Rocks franchise in points scored, assists, rebounds and games played, making him a certainty to join the likes of Kieron Achara and Sterling Davis, in getting their jersey retired after their careers. Having played a total of now 13 years with the Rocks over his playing career, Murray seemed to find a home with Glasgow as he explained how much the organisation has meant to him over the years: “It means pretty much everything to me, I’ve played here for almost my whole career, I’ve got a lot of good memories.” He added: “It wasn’t always my plan to be a player coach but it was always the goal once my playing career was over to be a coach, I’ve been doing it in the lower levels the past few years, but I have no reason to leave Glasgow, I want to be part of this club for as long as I can in any way possible, it’s pretty much been my whole career being in Glasgow and playing for this team.”
Gareth’s long basketball career doesn’t just end there though, he has also been successful with the Scottish national team, representing his country twice at the commonwealth games, a pinnacle of his career, especially the 2018 Australian games where Gareth was a key member of the team as Scotland beat arch rivals England on their way to reaching the final four. Speaking about the experience he said: “The 2018 one was a completely different feeling for me, I was now 33, an established player in Britain and one of the main guys on the Scotland team, I felt like I could make a big impact this time.” He added: “Everything just fell in place for that team and then even more so when we played England the very first game. Going out beating them it was great, that’s probably the proudest moment I have playing for Scotland or maybe even my basketball career.”
Another proud moment in Murray’s career, unexpectedly came about this year as he was named the teams head coach after changes to the team’s roster took place over the summer and restrictions from the COVID-19 pandemic affected sporting organisations around the world. Despite this, Murray has taken positives away from his first seven months in the job, grabbing the opportunity with both hands, he explained how he’s adapted to his new role: “Obviously it’s a complete overhaul from last year, we had multiple guys who’d been here for a couple of years, a coach who built the team, to then covid hitting and not being sure if we were going to start the basketball season, unsure if we were going to get any American players in, only recruiting European and British players to start with and then trying to adapt the team later on in the season was always going to be difficult.” He added: “Then adding myself as the player/coach as well was going to be difficult especially with how much I’m playing the now, it’s definitely not an easy job because you’re trying to do two things at once.”
Despite the unprecedented events that have happened in the 2020/21 season, Murray is fully focused on moving forward with the Rocks and trying to build a ‘a new culture’ with a strong involvement of team basketball, in hopes of trying to get Glasgow back into the top half of the BBL table, he said: “For me, moving forward it’s about trying to build the culture of what we try to represent here in Glasgow and trying to play team basketball rather than individual talent and building a successful culture here. The hope would be that after I finish playing I can continue coaching and building on that.”