As she draws each game’s toughest defensive assignments and attempts to rain down shots on her opponent, Stevenson University guard Sam Murray must be laughing inside.
To think, just a few years ago, the junior thought she didn’t want to play basketball anymore.
“I just wish I could [always] go to college and play basketball,” Murray said. “I don’t know what I was thinking.”
The Reisterstown resident, she with the shooter’s touch and what her coach calls a Division I basketball body, finished her junior year playing basketball at St. Paul’s School for Girls feeling overwhelmed.
Just 17 at the time, Murray doesn’t like to say she was burned out. But she stopped looking for colleges that saw her as a student-athlete and focused on those that would just take her as a student.
She wound up at Ithaca College in upstate New York. The marriage lasted all of one semester, when Murray had a sudden realization while playing on the college’s club basketball team. She needed to compete. Really compete.
“I couldn’t imagine just completely stopping,” Murray said.
By February of her freshman year, Murray had moved back to Baltimore County and was seeing minutes as a guard for the Division III Mustangs.
Now a junior, Murray has become a team leader for coach Jackie Boswell, who knew exactly what she was getting when she took over the Stevenson program this year. Boswell, formerly a coach at Seton Keough, had seen Murray as an opponent in high school.
“She’s got certain skills you can’t teach,” Boswell said. “You’re either a shooter, or you’re not. Even back then, she could shoot the ball, and she was always assigned the toughest defender.”
When Boswell arrived, Murray was pleased. Her team at St. Paul’s was operated under a philosophy similar to Boswell's: Defense comes first.
After facing some tough Seton Keough teams at St. Paul’s, Murray was also happy to deliver a message to her new coach.
“I told her I didn’t have to lose to her anymore,” Murray said.
Boswell has just been another familiar addition to what already has been hometown experience for Murray. Her mother attended Villa Julie College – Stevenson University’s predecessor – and much of her family still lives in Reisterstown.
“I am close to my family. They’re able to come to my games, which is a big thing,” said Murray, who lives on the Stevenson campus. “I’m getting the college experience” while still being close to home, she said.
“Ithaca was a little too far. Coming to Stevenson, I had this opportunity to play basketball.”
It’s an opportunity Murray is trying to take advantage of. She’s averaging better than eight points and six rebounds per game while trying to take leadership of a team with a brand new coaching staff and nine freshmen, many who are seeing meaningful minutes for the 6-10 Mustangs.
“The younger kids are starting to follow her,” Boswell said. “The younger kids are looking for stability. She’s still learning that part of it. We’re really pushing her to do that, and she’s responded.”
Said Murray: “I don’t think I’m the most vocal. It’s not my personality. I try to settle things down…I could step up more as a leader.”
She also says she should improve on other parts of her game, like going to the basket rather than pulling up for jump shots.
“Most teams play me as a shooter,” she said. “To add the dimension of getting to the lane would me and the team.”
After almost deciding to forego college basketball, Murray speaks about her game, and her team, with the wisdom of an athlete who ever-so-briefly saw what the end might look like. So, if the team wins, her final stat line doesn’t matter.
If they lose, that’s a different story.
“I’ve got one more year. It’s sad to think,” Murray said. “I need to play hard all the time.”