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Basketball star gives back to community

Colin Mitchell
Photo courtesy of University of North Texas



Rowlett native JJ Murray has gone from Eastfield to the University of North Texas and is now living his dream of playing NCAA Division I college basketball.

Eastfield athletic director Anthony Fletcher said Murray led by his actions in the classroom and on the court. He earned All-American honors while leading the Harvesters to a conference championship, but he was also a two-time Academic All-American.

“He was great to work with,” Fletcher said. “He was a ‘yes sir’ type of guy who did everything he was asked to do. He was awesome in the classroom. … He just went out and busted his tail on the books and the court as well.”

Fletcher said he and his family have enjoyed following Murray’s career

“It’s been a fun experience to watch,” Fletcher said. “My 12-year-old is always cheering for him, so it is always exciting to see what he does after Eastfield.”

Murray grew up playing everything from basketball to football. Once he got to high school, he decided to focus fully on basketball to give himself the best opportunity to play at the collegiate level.

During his junior season at Rowlett High School, he broke his ankle and was forced into rehab until his senior year. Murray said the injury was one of the most important moments of his life.

“It was kind of a setback and what I had to go through to get to where I am,” Murray said. “It challenged me and tested my dream and if I wanted to continue playing. Those situations shaped me to who I am and I wouldn’t be in this position without those opportunities that I had.”

During his senior year, Murray averaged 10 points per game  and helped his team advance to the 3rd round of the 2015-2016 UIL Boys State Basketball Championships. But even after having a comeback season, Murray felt unsatisfied with his recruitment opportunities.

Still, that brought him to the JucoRoute recruitment program that offered him the option to play for some colleges and subdivision teams. After talking to some former players and Fletcher, Murray ultimately landed on the decision to play at Eastfield his first two years of college.

Murray said his two years at Eastfield were a crucial point in his career and led him to his current position at UNT.

“I was able to accomplish some great things at Eastfield,” Murray said. “My sophomore year we won a conference championship as first team All-Conference and All-American. Individually I was an academic All-American, so I applaud those years.”  

After his career at Eastfield, Murray transferred to UNT. He began as a redshirt his first year for UNT’s basketball team, slowly earning his time and worth on and off the court.

“This year I was put on scholarship,” Murray said. “I was able to play a good amount of 19 minutes a game this year on a team who made history and went to March Madness.” 

His contribution also earned him the UNT Spirit of Service Award.

One of his role models was the late Kobe Bryant, who influenced Murray to give back to his community. Murray said he tries to pattern his work ethic after Bryant.

Murray is a member of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, National Society of Black Engineers and president of the UNT chapter of the American Society of Engineering Management. He has set on a journey of giving back the community he grew up in and made him the person he is today.

“I’ve always wanted to be in a position to just help other people,” he said. “I realized that I received help and wouldn’t be in this position without the help of others. I feel like it’s only right that I give back and reciprocate that into the community.”

Through his contributions, Murray can assist younger students in the engineering department by passing down his knowledge and experience. One of Murray’s latest contributions in the past year has been through organizing service events to raise funds for the Salvation Army.  

“Usually, a lot of those are nonprofits that don’t make a lot of money, so they need hands and bodies to help,” he said.

Apart from earning his C-USA Spirit of Service Award, Murray and the UNT basketball team

were able to get into the NCAA tournament and make history as their first appearance in the tournament.

“It was a dream come true,” Murray said. “I’ve always dreamed of playing in the tournament. That was one of my reasons to come here is to get to that point, and for that to come true was a surreal feeling. I just really thank God we got to that point, and we were able to win a game.”
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