It is a rarity for Great Britain to have a debut on the sidelines, but British basketball legend Gareth Murray’s confirmation as Assistant Coach for the upcoming FIBA World Cup Qualifying window earlier this week has fans excited.
The 38-year-old announced his retirement from playing in September, but began his professional coaching journey just over two years ago as Player-Coach of the then-Glasgow Rocks (now Caledonia Gladiators) – and he has quickly built himself a reputation for being as shrewd on the side-lines as he was on the hardwood.
Murray will be part of the coaching team for the Men’s National Team’s qualifiers against Serbia (11 November, 7pm) in Newcastle and away to Latvia (14 November) in Riga and said: “I’m very excited to have this opportunity.”
“When I retired from playing my next goal became taking my coaching career to as high a level as possible, and for me to coach Great Britain was a big part of that, so I’m delighted to be here and have the opportunity to help Marc (Steutel) and the staff.
“It is obviously going to be different to coaching at club level, but I have a lot of experience of how these windows work and an understanding of how few and far between they are, how short the amount of time to prepare is and how big every game becomes as a result.
“It’s not like we get an opportunity to go again the week after, you might not have another game for months, so making the most out of these few days we’ll have together before the first game is going to be very important and making sure we prepare the players as best as we possibly can.”
“I’ve definitely enjoyed the journey and the challenges”
It was in July 2020 that the beginning of Murray’s coaching journey was confirmed, as he was announced as the Rocks’ Player-Coach ahead of a season in which he carried himself with distinction dealing with pressure and uncertainty brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Now in his third full season of coaching, and solely focused on that aspect of the game for the first time after confirming his retirement from playing in September, Murray reflects on how quickly this phase of his career has flown by and looks ahead to what he hopes is to come.
“It doesn’t feel like very long ago that I started as a Player-Head Coach in Glasgow, so this has come about very quickly for me,” he added.
“I never planned to combine the two roles, but the opportunity came up and I took it with both hands, and I’ve definitely enjoyed the journey and the challenges.
“Now I’m able to concentrate on coaching full-time, of course, as I’ve retired from playing and am grateful to have the opportunity to work full-time for the Caledonia Gladiators, but also I’m just excited for what lays ahead.
“Everything has come pretty quickly, but I hope as I keep earning these opportunities that I can prove my worth and show what I am capable of. I believe in myself and what I can do, but I also know my limitations and what I need to work on.”
“I’m exactly where I want to be and enjoying the experience”
Murray’s last hurrah on the basketball court came in a fitting manner, as he coached and played for the Scottish 3×3 team that captured the imagination of so many basketball fans with their toughness and grit at the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games last summer.
While admitting he feels like he could still play at a very good level if he wanted to – evidenced by his performances in the BBL last year – Murray discusses how the summer was a fitting end to a glittering playing career.
“I just felt like this summer was the right time to retire from playing, to be honest. I knew there were a number of new players coming in at the Gladiators who could fill my spot and I felt like I was ready to make that decision.
“Do I feel like I could have carried on playing? Of course, my body feels great and I probably could have carried on in the BBL for another couple of years, but I thought it was the right moment to step full-time into coaching.
“Ending my playing journey at the Commonwealth Games playing for Scotland just felt right and the opportunity was there for me to step into full-time coaching, and I’ve known for a number of years that this was what I wanted to do next, so I’m exactly where I want to be and enjoying the experience.”
You can get your tickets for Great Britain’s showdown with Serbia at the Vertu Motors Arena on 11 November via the Newcastle Eagles Box Office now. Come and show your support for the team as they look to secure victory in FIBA World Cup 2023 Qualifying action.