An individual’s all-around game can flourish when attention to details and a commitment to defense are ever-present.
Similarly, the pursuit of defensive excellence can transform a good team into a championship-contending team.
Nile Murry and the Niigata Albirex BB share the same goal: to win a bj-league title. His defensive aptitude is one of many reasons the Albirex are among the league’s elite teams this season.
Niigata is 24-8 entering this weekend’s road series against the Iwate Big Bulls. The second-place Yokohama B-Corsairs (22-8), who were idle last weekend, are in hot pursuit of the Eastern Conference crown, too.
Murry doesn’t boast of gaudy statistics; instead, he’s a grinder, bringing an old-school work ethic to the gym every day.
But after picking up nine steals in a two-game sweep over the host Tokyo Cinq Reves last weekend, the Texas Christian University product shed some light on the pride he takes in being a disruptive defensive force, as well as an overall catalyst for his team.
“We feel really good, man,” Murry said at Komazawa Olympic Park Gymnasium, speaking on behalf of his teammates after a 65-63 Sunday triumph. “We knew from Saturday’s game that they were going to come out more aggressive, defensively especially, so we accepted the challenge, and we took it on and we were glad to take the win.
“Even though it was an ugly win for us, we still won. We’ve had a lot of close games throughout the season. So we knew how to handle that type of situation. It wasn’t new for us, but we definitely didn’t want to be in that situation, especially on the road.”
Asked to recall his top career games for steals — Murry had seven in Saturday’s blowout win — he decided it “might be in the top three.”
“I think I got seven steals in college once and seven or eight with the Evessa,” he added with a smile.
Murry is in his second season with the Albirex after previous bj-league stints with the aforementioned Evessa (2008-10), Rizing Fukuoka (2010-11) and Toyama Grouses (2006-07).
So was he in a zone on defense, with higher-level focus than normal?
“Yeah, I think so,” Murry admitted. “It was a combination of things. I was doing a good job of anticipating and using my quickness and getting my hands on a lot of balls. I think I had more deflections than I had steals but just the fact that I was really active (paid off).”
Niigata coach Matt Garrison appreciates the fact that Murry’s impact goes beyond conventional statistics.
“I think a couple of things make him real valuable on defense,” Garrison told reporters. “He can guard multiple guys, multiple positions because he’s strong. You look at his body (193 cm, 93 kg) and he’s got a big, strong body. He can guard somebody big who wants to post up on him, he can push them out of the block and be real physical. He’s also really quick. He’s got long arms. He anticipates the passing lane well. He’s always in a stance, even off the ball. … He thinks a couple passes ahead. That helps him get in the passing lane.”
“And going back to one-on-one (defense), he can guard smaller guys too because he can move his feet, and he’s quick, and he can anticipate the screens coming,” the coach added.
“But he’s got a will. Defense is all about an attitude, about your heart, about a will, and pride like, ‘This guy’s not going to score on me. I’m not going to let him penetrate on me. I’m not just going to let him catch it easy where he wants.’
“He studies who he’s going to guard, and learns those tendencies and tries to take those things away. So there’s a lot that goes into defense, a lot of investment, but you can never judge the value of a guy’s heart and desire.”
In discussing his defensive presence with The Japan Times, the conversation with Murry turned to the bj-league’s lack of an annual honor to recognize a top defender.
As expected, Murry said he thinks the bj-league should issue a yearly award for defense and agreed with the notion that the league’s head coaches would be the best choice to make that selection.
Steals are often talked about when one looks at a player’s defensive ability, and Murry has picked up more steals than a lot of players in the bj-league. Through Sunday, he had 416 steals in 276 regular-season games in Japan. He’s also averaged at least 14.5 points every season here, including 15.0 to date in the 2012-13 campaign.
Murry believes his overall body of work puts him in the conversation for top defenders “just because of the different people that I’m having to guard.”
“I’m guarding 4 men, I’m guarding 3 men, I’m guarding the team’s best player,” he pointed out. “It doesn’t really matter. I’m just going out there competing against the guy that I’m playing against, just going out there trying to play hard, and if my team wins, I feel like I did my job. … And we do a good job of playing team defense.”