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NCSA, The 2002-03 Raptors Season, and Vince Carter: RaptorsHQ Talks to Lamond Murray

Last summer, I had a chance to chat with former Toronto Raptor, Lamond Murray, however I never got a chance to post the results of said talk. Continuing with our Raptors' Retro Week, it finally sees the light of day...

Photo by Ron Turenne/NBAE via Getty Images

RaptorsHQ:  So to start, tell us what you've been post-NBA?

Lamond Murray: I've been working with NCSA, doing some speaking engagements around the country, talking to kids about the recruiting process.  I have two kids, and they're going through the process right now.  So I was looking for an area, or a group, where I could get more exposure.  I had a chance to connect with NCSA, and had a chance to learn about the program, and get my kids involved in the program so that they could get more exposure for them in the recruiting process, along with learning about all the rule changes that are coming down the pipeline.  It's also a one-stop shop where coaches can come online and watch video of them playing their sport, seeing PDF's of their grades, SAT's, etc.  It's a great program that NCSA has so I figured why not be a part of it, and become a speaker, so, that's part of what I've been doing after playing.

RHQ:  You mentioned a "sports" when discussing NCSA and your kids' recruitment, so I'm guessing it's not just basketball they're interested in pursuing?

LM: My son wants to play basketball, (his son is playing for Pepperdine), my daughter, she's a volleyball player, but NCSA provides a platform for all sports, baseball, soccer, golf, so it allows the kids to come online and create a free-profile; it's like a Facebook for athletics.  It's just a great knowledge base as well as a way to create exposure for the kids in whatever sport they play.

RHQ:  Talk to me about the difference between the recruitment process you went through, and now what you're seeing first-hand.

LM: Nowadays everything is online.  Back when I was getting recruited, you relied more on letters (from college coaches) saying they want to learn more about you, or that you were on their radar, and nowadays, you do get letters, but a lot of those letters are just generated with your name on it as form letters, so you're really not a high recruit nowadays unless you get contacted by the head coaches by text, email or phone, and the letters are almost obsolete.  I think that's the major difference that I see.

RHQ:  Would you say now, as an amateur athlete, you almost have to do more branding of yourself to make sure you're recognized?

LM: That's right.  It's a lot about branding, putting yourself out there, creating a vehicle for everybody to view you.  With the internet being so powerful, and social media, you can get connected to 42,000 coaches instantly, which NCSA does.  That's big, and you're doing yourself a favour by allowing your brand to be seen with the click of a finger without coaches and recruiters having to go to an AAU tournament, or travel halfway across the country to see you play.

RHQ:  What about your own college experience, going from Cal to the NBA what was the biggest adjustment for you?

LM: The biggest adjustment was the speed of the game.  Like any adjustment you make from high school to college, the speed of the game changes.  If you're pretty quick witted you can catch up pretty fast, but then also, the contact.  The NBA was more physical and there was a lot more contact allowed where things that were called fouls in college or high school, definitely weren't in the NBA so you had to get stronger physically and mentally to be able to compete at that level.  It took me a minute to adjust to that so my numbers were down in my first year just because of those factors, but I got a chance to bump those numbers up the following year once I adjusted to the game.

RHQ:  Let's talk about your top scoring years with the Cleveland Cavaliers where you were the go-to option on most nights.  What was that like as a player who had enjoyed great success obviously in high school and college?

LM: It was nice to go out and after being with the Clippers four or five years - learning how to play off the bench, learning how to be a starter, learning how to really score the ball - being able to come in with the Cavaliers where I was needed and I was a go-to-guy those three years, it felt good because you can take advantage of situations.  At the time, we were rebuilding, Shawn Kemp was trying to maintain what level of play he had left, Zydrunas Ilgauskas was hurt but we had some pretty good pieces and we started the season off really strong.  But we fell apart in the second month due to injuries.  That was just one of those situations where you think you're coming into something great, and things just fell apart.  I learned a lot though from that time, the years in Cleveland were good as well as the years with the Clippers.  When you look back on it, I can say I had a good career, I was able to do a bit of everything.

RHQ:  I was going to ask you about that because you did have some injury issues throughout your NBA time.  Would you say that you were satisfied with the way your career went?

LM: Oh yeah, definitely.  Any time you can extend your career past four years, which is the average for most players, I think you're doing a great job, where people want your services, where people believe in you and the fact that you can get the job done.  Like I said, there's a reason you go through all those challenges, the ups and downs, because now I can talk to any player and tell them "hey, I know what it's like to be a starter," or, "I've come off the bench," or "I know what it's like not to play a season," or "be injured," or "I've been trade," and so I've been through everything you can think of, the same as the top picks.  (Murray was the seventh overall pick in the 1994 draft.)  Go down the list, I've got a story to tell.

RHQ:  Let's talk injuries for a second as I remember being really excited about the Raptors' acquiring you prior to the 2002-03 NBA season.  Unfortunately, soon after, you suffered that foot injury early in the season and were done for the year.  How tough was that considering the expectations many had of your arrival in Toronto?

LM: It was really hard because that was the first major injury I'd ever had in my whole career, high school, college, I never really missed a ton of games.  So to go from never really dealing with major injuries, to going down with a foot injury that was similar to tearing your ACL like Derrick Rose is going through, where you're going to miss an extended period of time, you don't know how to deal with that. You don't know how it's going to affect you mentally, and it was right at the beginning of the season like you said, right after I got to Toronto, and so I wasn't able to sustain the momentum I had gained playing in Cleveland.  All that momentum gets taken away and you're basically buying time to start over and get back to some semblance to what you used to be.  And then you look up and you've got coaching changes going on (Raptors' coach Lenny Wilkens was fired after the 2002-03 season) you've got all these different aspects that are added to the game so when I got traded to Toronto, it was more of a situation like "a certain coach wants you there," but then a new coach comes in and he may not like what you bring to the table, so then you have to deal with that, you know, three coaches in three years in Toronto.  It was just, a situation where there were a lot of things you couldn't control, and you had to ride the wave out.

RHQ:  That's one of the things I was so interested in talking to you about Lamond, is that you really were there during that strange transition from when Toronto started to look like a contender to post-that when things fell apart.  I remember that a lot of the talk about your addition was that you could be that missing extra scorer to help ease the load on Vince (Carter), but then you got hurt, and then the team eventually came unglued.  I'd love to hear from you more about what the dynamics of the team were during this period.

LM: Well you know what, when I first got there, you could feel this energy.  Everyone was excited, we were doing pre-season games for the fans, fans were really into the games, it was just a good time for Toronto basketball.  I could feel the energy and the difference being in camp with the Raptors that year, and you know, you could see the talent we had on the floor, and that we were going to be able to do some good things.  And then once I went down with my injury, and then Alvin Williams I think went down, a lot of guys got hurt.  The hopes that we had started falling apart and we had to basically fill gaps.  It was almost like somebody shooting holes in a bucket and you were just trying to fill those leaks the best way you can, and that's what happened that first year.  Lenny Wilkens is a great coach, and we were looking forward to big things that year but then all those things happened and the next thing you know Lenny was gone.  But that was a year that we could have done some big things, definitely made it to the playoffs and likely performed well there too for Toronto.

RHQ:  How did you like Toronto, aside from the basketball piece, as a city?

LM: Loved the city.  My family loved the city, a real diverse city which is what I was used to growing up in the Bay Area.  You got little Italy on one side, Chinatown on another, all these little pockets throughout the city of Toronto and we fit right in with that.  The food was great, the city was alive, I was just talking to some people about how much I love Toronto the city, and even after I retired, how I'd love to go back and visit, and say what's up to a couple of friends I went to college with who actually work in Toronto and live there now.  It's one of those cities I'll always have love for, I lived there for three years, my kids went to school there, and it was a great experience for us.

RHQ:  That brings me to another question then.  There's often this talk of NBA players not wanting to play in Toronto, do you think that's true or do you think that's overblown, what's your take on that?

LM: I think it's overblown.  I just think that because of the instability over the last, what, five, ten years, just the coaches, and the revolving door of players, guys don't look at it as a situation where they can go there and have some stability.  It's almost a situation like where you think players are just passing through on their way to the next destination.  I think things like that will change, it's just going to take some time.

RHQ:  Going back to your time in Toronto, the other topic that usually comes up is likely Vince Carter.  Can you tell us a bit about him as a teammate?  He often gets knocked a lot for being "soft" or not being passionate enough but can you give us your experience with him?

LM: I had a great experience with Vince.  He was a good guy.  I could see why people would say that though because whenever he did get hurt, he was really dramatic.  He'd come down with an ankle injury and it would be really dramatic experience for him, and you'd think "oh this is a season-ending injury for him," and then he'd be right back in in the next quarter so I can understand why people would be like "ok, what is this guy doing, why is he acting like a little baby out here."  I can understand that.  But he was a real trooper, he'd play hard, he'd practice hard, like I said he was a good teammate.  Maybe you'd like him to be a bit more vocal, but that just wasn't Vince at that time.

RHQ:  Who was the vocal leader at that time?

LM: Alvin Williams.  Alvin was the vocal leader for our team.  I'd say Alvin was the main guy.

RHQ:  When you talked about the dramatics of Vince's antics, did that ever fracture the team?  Did you feel that other players withdrew from him potentially as a leader because of those sort of actions?

LM: No, I don't think so.  I think guys just came to learn that that's who Vince was, but I do believe when he did play well, it lit a fire under everyone.  Like when he had a nice dunk, or got on a roll offensively, guys would feed off of that and try and do as much as possible to keep the roll going.  So as a leader on the court he did do his part.  I think he was just a little frustrated with some of the things that happened while he was there in terms of the personnel around him.

RHQ:  Really interesting stuff Lamond, one final question, could you still suit up?  Could you still get out there.

LM: (Laughs.)  No, I wouldn't try and fool myself into thinking I could do that.

RHQ:  Good to know.  Well this has been great Lamond, thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us.

LM: No problem, thanks for having me.