GERALD MURRAY: : SDSU’s Novice Veteran : He Is the Center of the Aztecs, but Lacks the Experience to Prove He’s Ready

Times Staff Writer

Gerald Murray is a study in contradiction.

San Diego State’s basketball team needs a big man to play center, but Coach Smokey Gaines thinks Gerald Murray is too big . . . like 15 pounds too big.

Gerald Murray would like to be a team leader, but he was suspended from practice for two weeks for missing a study hall and two physical therapy sessions.

On a team in need of a veteran with experience, Murray is the only player who has been with the Aztecs more than one year--yet he has played only 409 minutes in his career and missed all of last year with an fractured kneecap.


Considering the circumstances, Coach Smokey Gaines said he would just as soon not have Murray get too much exposure.

“We don’t want him to get a big buildup,” Gaines said. “I want him to be a little humble. Gerald thinks we need him real bad. We need him, but I don’t want him to get to a point where he has a big head.”

Gaines talked last year of the importance of senior Steffond Johnson, and then lost him for 11 of the first 12 games because of a back injury. Johnson is now with the Los Angeles Clippers.

In fact, Johnson and Murray were to be SDSU’s key big men last year, but Murray was lost for the season because of the fractured kneecap. This short-circuited the Aztecs and they finished 10-19.


This season, Gaines’ approach is different. He keeps saying the Aztecs are without a star, that the team must count on teamwork. The statement appears directed at Murray.

“As far as Smokey saying I’m not required for a winning season, I won’t let it get to me,” Murray said. “As far as him thinking I feel I’m the key player, I haven’t given that one thought. I have no thoughts about being the dominant player. Smokey is looking out for the team. He doesn’t want too much to revolve on me coming through.”

Summer school was actually Murray’s first obstacle this year. He had to complete 12 units with a grade point average higher than a 3.0 to be eligible.

He was successful in the classroom, but ran afoul shortly after practice began. In the aftermath of the suspension, Gaines said Murray must follow three rules to remain with the team--attend every class and be on time, attend every study hall and not be late for another knee therapy appointment.


“When I missed a couple days of therapy, Smokey was upset,” Murray said. “I didn’t feel it was a big thing. He felt something needed to be done. I don’t feel there is too much to learn from (the suspension). I missed a Monday night study hall because something came up and I wasn’t able to make it. That’s the only night I have missed. I don’t plan on doing it again.”

Murray’s main concern these days is his kneecap, which has been fractured three times.

He first fractured the knee in May 1984, tripping over a first baseman’s foot in a softball game. He re-injured the knee in September 1985 while playing pickup basketball. His knee popped again in practice the day after an exhibition game against Athletes in Action two months later.

Two months ago, test results showed that Murray’s right knee was 45% as strong as the left. When practice began, his right knee was 83% as strong as the left. He said the right knee is now close to 90%.


“He continues to improve,” trainer Don Kaverman said. “But let’s face it. His knee will never be completely normal. He has fractured the patella three times. He’ll have periodic problems. The question is if he can function as a basketball player without too many reservations. I have no question that he can. If he continues to rehabilitate properly, I think he’ll help us this year.”

According to Kaverman, a major concern is whether the knee swells after Murray plays. Though Murray said the knee doesn’t cause much pain, it did swell after a team scrimmage last Saturday.

“I haven’t held back on sprints or anything like that,” Murray said. “I only think about (the knee) when people bring it up. That’s when I realize it could happen again. I don’t think about it when I’m playing.”

Murray’s knee is not his only physical problem. His waistline is also a concern. He reported to practice weighing 260 pounds. Gaines wants him to lose some weight.


Gaines said John Martens, a senior last year, returned and played well after an injury similar to Murray’s, but added that Martens did not weigh too much.

“John Martens played all of last year, and his knee was as bad as Gerald’s,” Gaines said. “We don’t know about Gerald. He needs to lose some weight.”

Murray still weighs 260.

“Smokey is really pushing me hard,” Murray said. “He wants me to lose between 12 and 15 pounds. He has put a lot of time into me. He wants some results.”


Thus far, results have been spotty.

As a freshman in 1983-84, Murray averaged 1.6 points and 1.4 rebounds. As a sophomore in 1984-85, he averaged 3 points and 2.3 rebounds. Last year was a lost season.

Murray’s idea of contributing goes beyond points and rebounds. Realizing he is the only Aztec with more than one year of varsity experience, Murray would like to assume a leadership role.

“I don’t want to say there is pressure on me,” Murray said. “Basically, it’s self-pressure. I see myself as a leader on the team. By having played in this conference for two years, I can tell my teammates about stuff like crowd control on the road and what to do at certain times. No one has told me I have to do this. I am putting it upon myself.”


There is pressure. He must attend classes, study halls and physical therapy and he must lose weight. Those pressures have both nothing and everything to do with basketball.

Aztec Notes

Coach Smokey Gaines said one of the best players in practice has been Juan Espinoza, a 6-8 forward from Helix High School and Grossmont College. Espinoza averaged 15.1 points and 8.5 rebounds last season at Grossmont. “I think Espinoza can be one of our starters,” Gaines said. “He’s smart, he has good fakes around the basket and he runs the floor well. Some people said he was too slow to fit into a running game like ours. He has really surprised me on that.” . . . The Aztecs will play Athletes in Action in an exhibition game Nov. 25 in Peterson Gym. SDSU’s first game is Dec. 1 at UC Santa Barbara.