By Carolo Pascale
THE night of March 9, 2022 will forever be immortalized in the memories of Rider men’s basketball fans because of one man. One man that slayed the dragon. One man nicknamed the “Iona Killer.” One man who propelled a basketball program to its greatest heights in over a decade. And one man who spent three years as a Bronc preparing himself for the next level. Senior guard Dwight Murray Jr. is that man, and he’s ready to make the leap to professional basketball.
A roadmap to Rider
Murray’s path to that night started when he was a 4-year-old in his hometown of Austell, Georgia. He started playing basketball and didn’t even hear about the NBA until he was 7 years old. He didn’t get serious about basketball until his freshman year of high school. However, before then, another sport had his heart: football.
“I really was good at football,” said Murray. “That was my dream, to go into the NFL.”
But future NBA talent surrounded Murray everywhere he looked.
Murray went up against some of the best NBA prospects at the time, playing against Jaylen Brown, Ben Simmons and RJ Barrett. At Pebblebrook, Murray played alongside Jared Harper and Collin Sexton who both found their way to the NBA.
“It just made my grind of where I wanted to be, at the high level, to push myself even more,” Murray said.
Eventually the guard earned an offer from Incarnate Word University in San Antonio, nearly 1000 miles from his home. The call from the Cardinals came due to a connection with Darnell Archey, a former Southern Alabama coach that became an assistant at Incarnate Word.
“I remember putting DJ through a workout. Really good player,” said Archey. “I got to the University of the Incarnate Word the summer of ’18, and we needed a point guard. That’s when I was like, I got the guy for us.”
After his second year with the Cardinals, the COVID-19 pandemic hit and Murray decided to take a chance in the transfer portal.
“When I realized that I wanted to leave it was probably like the second to last game,” said Murray. “I was on the court and I hadn’t touched the ball like five positions. I was like ‘I need to leave, I can’t be here.’”
There were plenty of suitors for Murray’s talents, including others from the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC), but Rider and Head Coach Kevin Baggett appealed to him. Baggett said that Murray really needed someone to breed confidence in him and that’s what he and his staff did by bringing him to the Broncs. “I thought we could help him and he could help us,” said Baggett. “He just needed someone to believe him and give him a chance.”
The ‘Iona Killer’ is born
The Broncs were shot for shot with No. 1 Iona for most of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) Tournament Quarterfinal. Murray comes up the court, gets stuck, but finds a way to nail the game winner with 7.7 seconds left, breaking the quarterfinal curse that had plagued the team for 11 years.
“It was all God basically,” said Murray. “God had it all planned out for me. It was a great moment.”
This past season, the final of the Murray era was one of the best in recent memory. Rider won eight straight games, beat most of the MAAC and earned themselves the No. 2 spot in the tournament.
The biggest highlight of the regular season was when Murray did it again. Yes, Murray hit a second game winner against Iona.
The shot broke a 21-game home-winning streak. After the game, senior forward Mervin James, who was Murray’s high school teammate and best friend that Murray recruited to Rider, dubbed Murray the “Iona Killer.”
“Just seeing him making a name for me like that, that’s just the love we have between us,” said Murray.
‘Just give me the chance’
Murray and his tournament game winner garnered national attention with it ending up on that week’s ESPN’s SportsCenter Top 10. Murray declared for the 2022 NBA Draft in the hopes of hearing what teams had to say about him.
“The process was actually kind of fun because it’s been my dream the whole time,” said Murray. “I wanted to hear feedback from the NBA teams and scouts, which I heard good things, bad things and that’s exactly what I wanted to hear.”
He ultimately returned to Rider for his final season, and now that it’s over, he’s once again pursuing the NBA with a new outlook on what he needs to do to get a chance from a team.
Both Archey and Baggett believe that there are great opportunities for Murray whether it’s overseas or in the NBA. Baggett said that Murray has already gotten a contract offer from a team that they played while in Ireland, adding that Murray can play at any level he wants.
Murray has since returned to Georgia for workouts his agent scheduled and believes that his chances at getting a look from an NBA team are high as he will look to be just the fourth Rider Bronc to be drafted in the NBA.
“I’m just ready for it,” said Murray. “All I have to do is keep working and just wait for at least one team to like me. Just give me that chance, that’s all I need.”