Morant leaves untouchable legacy at Murray State


MURRAY, Ky. - Don't be sad that it's over, be happy that it happened.

Two years have come and gone, and yet at times it still feels like it was too soon.

Ja Morant had an opportunity of a lifetime, and to no shock, he took it. And he left a stamp on the Murray State basketball program that is a permanent one.

"After the season, me and my parents took some time to talk over everything," Morant said. "It took a lot of time, but this was the decision we felt like was best for me."

Many greats have come through the small town of Murray, but none have done in two years what the Dalzell native did.

Racers head coach Matt McMahon listed off the accolades when Morant entered his name for the NBA Draft last month, and jokingly said he had to cut the list short because there wasn't enough time in the night.

It all started two years ago when Morant stepped on campus, and now we look back at what is the greatest 2-year career (arguably even the best career) that ever took the floor in the CFSB Center.

Morant was the third option his freshman year behind Jonathan Stark and Terrell Miller Jr. He averaged 12 points, six rebounds and six assists on a 26-6 Murray State team that won an Ohio Valley Conference regular-season and tournament championship.

He recorded just the second triple-double in program history during the first OVC contest of the season, already showing what he was capable of and gave Racer fans just a glimpse of what was to come.

All he needed was the keys to the car, and he got those in his second season.

His thunderous lob at the Chris Paul elite camp during the summer going into his sophomore season was just the start of the storm that was on its way. Many thought there would be one, but I don't think anyone thought that storm would be this humongous.

After dunking over four teammates at Racer Mania, the ride began, and it began with a bang.

Morant recorded 26 points and 11 assists in a season-opening win over Wright State. Two weeks later, the first record fell as he recorded his second triple-double of his career against Missouri State with 29 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists in a win.

Although records started to fall and hype had already started to build around the sophomore's name, his name exploded onto the NBA Draft scene just two nights after that.

On Nov. 26, 2018, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama - Morant's star became large and bright.

A 38-point performance capped off by two thunderous flushes sent Morant into the spotlight, whether he was ready for it or not.

Alabama head coach Avery Johnson spat out the names of Isiah Thomas and Russell Westbrook of whom Morant reminded him.

"I saw flashbacks of a lot of guys I played against," Johnson said after the game. "To watch him play in person, he was better than what I saw on film."

In a game against Tennessee Martin, Morant broke the Murray State single game assist record and jumped over Quinton Dove on his way to the rim, making a statement to the world that he wasn't going away.

ESPN had Morant plastered all over their network and social media exploded with what had transpired. He was the hottest name in the world.

But like all good stories, it hit a snag in the middle.

The Racers were 15-2 on the year and 6-0 in conference play, and with the most people in the CFSB Center to date for a matchup against Belmont, Morant went down with an ankle injury just 90 seconds into the contest.

For everybody in Murray, it was like time stood still while he was down.

He got up, walked off and returned to action minutes later. But it was already too late.

Morant wasn't going to let the injury end his story though. Following a loss to Jacksonville State, the Racers rolled out 11 consecutive wins, won a share of the OVC regular season championship and won his second OVC Tournament championship in the process.

Now the OVC Player of the Year and Murray State single season assist leader got his chance to show what he was capable of in the NCAA Tournament.

Morant dropped just the ninth triple-double in NCAA Tournament history in a 19-point bloodletting of fifth-seeded Marquette like it was nothing, showing the world that no matter the competition, he was going to be the best player on the floor.

His storied sophomore season came to a close against Florida State, which marked the end of his career following his announcement to forgo his final two years to enter the NBA Draft. He finished his Murray State career with a 54-11 record, over 1,000 points and is the only player in NCAA Division I history to average 20 points and 10 assists in a season since the assist became an official statistic.

"I thought he'd have a monster year," McMahon said on Feb. 18. "I thought he had an incredible freshman year. Watching the work he put in this offseason -- the way he worked and practiced this summer and fall -- I'm not surprised at all."

But even though it's over, the Morant name will forever be related to Murray State.

Morant sold out arenas all over the country, all while using his ability to leave every fan in attendance wanting more.

In just two years, he became the Murray State and Ohio Valley Conference all-time assist leader with 532 assists. He is the single season scoring leader at Murray State, the first consensus First-Team All-American in program history, the 2019 Lute Olson award winner the Bob Cousy Awards for the nation's top point guard..

Morant is projected to be drafted in the top three in the NBA Draft, which would make him the highest mid-major player selected in the draft since Anthony Bennett from UNLV was drafted 1st overall in 2013.

Even through all of this, Morant hadn't changed a bit.

"He's done a terrific job of staying focused on becoming the best player he can be," McMahon said. "He's really grown and developed as a leader --- just staying locked in on making this Murray State team the best it can be. I know at 19 I wouldn't have been able to handle it, but he's done an amazing job."

"I just credit my coaches, my family and my teammates," Morant said at the OVC Tournament regarding his focus on the year. "Since I blew up, they haven't looked at me any different. They've helped me with everything just to stay focused, stay grounded and keep working. Credit to them."

From when then Murray State assistant James Kane was recruiting and found Morant in a back gym, to a 2-year career worthy of the Murray State Hall of Fame, to the NBA, Ja Morant's ascension from under-the-radar to over-the-moon will never be forgotten.

Bryan Edwards is a sports writer for the Kentucky New Era in Hopkinsville, Ky. Reach him by email to bedwards@kentuckynewera.com or follow him on Twitter at @BESportSheet.