Luke Murray, the son of actor Bill Murray, is an up and coming… (Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun )
Earlier this month, assistant coach Luke Murray was traveling with Towson University's basketball team, psyching himself up for a win, when he got a text message from his dad.
"I think you guys should all go bowling," the text read. "I think all you guys as a team should just go bowling."
While not practical advice, it was true to the spirit of Luke's father, Bill. Yes, that Bill Murray, the almost surrealistically wry, one-of-a-kind comedian and actor. And it was not necessarily a bad or whimsical idea. Falling to Drexel that night, the Tigers tied the NCAA Division I record for consecutive losses with 34. (They now hold the record after losing seven more straight games, and are scheduled to play University of North Carolina-Wilmington on Saturday.)
The elder Murray was advising the team to adopt his kind of extreme measures.
"That's the last thing I would recommend to my head coach right now — go bowling," Luke Murray said. "But that's just his take on things: Sometimes it helps to keep it a little lighthearted and try not to put such pressure on yourself."
Early on, his father didn't see a future for his son in basketball. But Murray would not be denied. He knew that on his own, he could work his way up. In the past five years he's been a graduate assistant for the University of Arizona team, a director of basketball operations at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, and an assistant coach at Post and then Wagner.
When first-year Towson head coach Pat Skerry hired him last spring, he called Murray "one of the rising young star assistant coaches in the East." In the middle of this season, Skerry said Murray is more than "a really intelligent young guy with a great work ethic. … He gets it and lives it — and when you're trying to build something from ground zero, which is what we're trying to do, that's really important."
Recently, CBS Sports.com polled 100 Division I coaches about up-and-comers in the business, and asked, "which mid-major assistant will make it big-time due to his recruiting ability?" Murray came in at No. 3 in the country.
Few in Maryland knew about Murray's family until his father and the Obamas showed up (separately) in Towson to see the Tigers take on Oregon State on Nov. 26. The Obamas attended to cheer on the Beavers, coached by Michelle Obama'sbrother, Craig Robinson. But the images that circulated on the Internet were of Bill Murray shaking hands with the first family. (Some noted that the actor, who playsFranklin D. Roosevelt in the film "Hyde Park on Hudson," due to be released this year, was chatting with a president who hopes to emulate FDR.)
On Jan. 21, Bill Murray showed up again, this time at Fairfax, Va., for a Towson game with George Mason. As usual, he arrived without fanfare but set off a friendly frenzy on social media, with people declaring (for example) "BM! BM is in the building!" A YouTube video of him grooving to the music of George Mason's Green Machine proved he can be himself after being spotted.
Casualness also suits the younger Murray. He's comfortable talking as a coach, whether lauding the recruiting coups of a colleague (his office mate at Towson Center, assistant coach Kenny Johnson) or the off-court heroics of a player (Towson guard Will Adams, who has overcome childhood abandonment and Stage 4BHodgkin's lymphoma).
Most 8- or 9-year-old athletes have fantasies like sinking a 3-pointer at the buzzer. But even as a child, Murray thought it would be cool to be one of the alert, bantering fellows he saw checking their clipboards in the bleachers during basketball camps.
"I would look at these guys with their polo shirts and their logos on them, and I just wanted to be that one day," he said.
When still in his teens, Murray started coaching players just a whisker younger than himself in the Amateur Athletic Union. At age 26, he is considered an integral part of the rebuilding plan for the Tigers.
Growing up in New York City, Luke lived close to Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck, N.J., host of the ABCD high school basketball camp, a prime draw for basketball mavens and recruiters from 1993 to 2006.
"My dad would drop me off in the morning — it was a weeklong camp — and I would stay the whole session," he said. "And this was as an 8- or 9-year-old, 10 years old. I'd watch all these high school players from around the country and kind of familiarize myself with their game and their story, and who was recruiting them. And for whatever reason, I was really taken with it."
He'd take trains or subways or hit up relatives for rides to watch New York City's perennial powerhouses, while his parents wondered why he was excited about high school teams. When other kids were devouring Rolling Stone, he was tearing through recruiting handbooks.