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Thursday, November 6, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Sonics

Ronald 'Flip' Murray is beginning to make a name for himself

Seattle Times staff reporter

Sonics home opener


Portland at Seattle

Time: 7:30 p.m.
When: Friday, KeyArena
TV: ESPN, KONG (CH. 6/16)

So what's with the name?

"People call me Flip," Ronald Murray said. "When I was younger I got the nickname. I did gymnastics. I used to flip all the time, so everybody used to tell me flip here, flip there.

" 'You're always flipping. Your new name is Flip now.' I got that when I was 10 or 11. And now everybody calls me Flip. That's the story."

But that's not the whole story. Few things with Murray are as simple as they appear. For starters, not everyone calls him Flip.

"He's Ronnie to me and to people in this family," Murray's mother, Sandra, said yesterday. "It's true, his stepfather used to tell him to flip all the time and that would scare me to death. But no, not everybody calls him Flip."

Outside of the Murray home in Logan, Pa., a North Philadelphia suburb, Sandra's only son and the second of her three children, is simply known as Flip.

Around these parts, Murray is beginning to introduce himself to a Sonics fan base that until a week ago had little knowledge of the soft-spoken guard who arrived in Seattle late last season.

"Who is Ronald Murray, man that's a good question," Murray said this week after a morning practice. "Ask my people. They'll tell you. They might say something like, he's a special guy who came a long way.

"Hard worker. Focused. Is ready. Ready for whatever. Ready to play. I don't know, but I think they'll say some of that."

The second-year guard, who arrived in the trade with Milwaukee that involved Ray Allen and Gary Payton, is the Sonics' X-factor and an unknown commodity around the NBA.

The Los Angeles Clippers had no idea he was capable of producing 24 and 22 points while subbing for Allen in the Sonics' two victories in Japan last week.

And chances are, Portland, which faces the Sonics in tomorrow's home opener at KeyArena, have yet to discover Murray's talent.

"One or two good games in this league doesn't convince anybody," Sonics coach Nate McMillan said. "One or two years, maybe. ... It takes more than a couple of solid games to develop a reputation."

Still, the folks in Philadelphia always knew. They've known for years at Strawberry Mansion High, where Murray was the pride of the city even though others such as Marvin O'Conner and Jarrett Kearse garnered more attention. They all received Division I scholarships, but poor academics nearly ruined Murray's basketball dreams before they began.

"I kept on him as far as his academics," Sandra said. "I told him, 'You definitely have to get your education.' Many times we talked about it."

Still, Murray was academically ineligible for the first half of his senior season.

He finished the season as one of the top talents in the area, but low SAT scores prevented him from playing at Xavier, St. Joseph's or Kentucky, all schools that recruited him.

"I remember seeing him as a ninth-grader and he could put the ball in the basket then," said Sonics assistant coach Dean Demopoulos, who had been an assistant at Temple University in Philadelphia. "I don't care what level you're on, great scorers have a history of scoring. It's very rare that you see a guy make it to this level and then become a great scorer."

Murray played two seasons at Meridian (Miss.) College, a junior college. He averaged 17.8 points as a freshman and 20 as a sophomore.

With his eligibility completed at Meridian, Murray needed another year to bolster his academic résumé and spent a year at Philadelphia Community College.

"That year was tough, because we'd go to Central High School, a place where everybody came on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings to play pickup games," said Kareem Williams, Murray's friend since grade school who watched him dominate those contests. "But everybody would ask Flip why wasn't he in school somewhere. And Flip didn't really have an answer for them."

That's when Joel Hopkins entered Murray's life.

Hopkins was the new coach at Shaw University, a predominately black Division II school in Raleigh, N.C. He convinced the guard he would make him the centerpiece of his team.

In his first year, Murray led the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association in scoring with a 22.2 average.

The next year, he was named NCAA Division II player of the year and CIAA player of the year after leading Shaw to a 28-5 record and the NCAA Division II Final Four.

For the fourth consecutive season, Murray improved his scoring, finishing his final college season with a 23.5 average.

"He's learned from all of the ups and down," Sandra said. "He never had a straight road. He's always had some types of curves and, in hindsight, he's stronger because of it."

A few months ago, Murray faced an obstacle that nearly derailed his blossoming career. A peaceful summer night turned ugly after an unknown assailant shot his brother, Gary Thompson, in the head on a Philadelphia street.

The events of that night are sketchy. Murray doesn't talk much about the shooting other than to say: "I snapped. ... I almost did something I wasn't supposed to do.

"We all were on the block together and I left and went to my brother's house and I don't think Flip was there," Williams said. "He got a call and I got the call at about the same time saying to just meet at the hospital where Gary was.

"It got crazy to the point where we all could have made some bad decisions. When something bad happens, you're not thinking about nothing. You're not thinking about long term. But Flip's got to think about that stuff now because he's got a big future."

Murray said he speaks to his brother, who is recovering at a hospital, nearly every day now. In fact, he has received many messages from the folks back home who have been supporting him for years.

His mother remembers what seemed like everybody from the neighborhood stuffed into her two-story home on NBA draft day two years ago. Nobody seemed upset when Murray, who had been projected as a first-round pick, slid into the second round to Milwaukee.

When some might have viewed it as another setback, Murray considered it an opportunity.

"Growing up in North Philly, where he grew up, will present you with every type of scenario that you can possibly dream of as far as challenging you," said Demopoulos, a Philadelphia native. "When you find guys that have gotten out of there, and have flourished, normally you find guys that are unflappable.

"They don't get discouraged easily. ... And Ronald is like that. To me, that's the essence of that young man."

Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or pallen@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company

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