WALDOBORO — Bouncing basketballs echoed through the Medomak Valley gymnasium. John Murray’s teammates were practicing and he would soon join them.
“I’ve been with most of these kids since third grade,” said Murray, a senior. “I’ve always been the tall guy.”
And it will be the 6-foot-8 Murray leading the Panthers onto the Cumberland County Civic Center court Friday night, facing Falmouth for the Class B state championship.
“We’ve always wanted to win the Gold Ball,” Murray said. “It hasn’t been done around here for a while.”
It was 1980 when the Panthers last won a state title, beating Schenck, 80-59.
Murray gives Medomak Valley hope for a championship in 2013. The Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class B Player of the Year and one of 10 semifinalists for the state’s Mr. Basketball award, Murray averaged 18.1 points and 11 rebounds during the season.
He has always been the leader — except during his freshman year.
“I had swine flu,” Murray said. “I didn’t even make it to tryouts. I was out most of the year.”
Murray came back at season’s end to play on the junior varsity, and eventually some varsity games.
And he has started ever since. Murray blends height with ability. While Medomak Valley coaches want Murray inside, they also know he can score from anywhere.
“He has a beautiful shot, a nice stroke,” Panthers Coach Nick DePatsy said. “We like to keep him in close to the rim, but sometimes he floats out there, like he did against MDI, and hits a big 3 for us.”
Murray’s 3-pointer in the fourth quarter Saturday was one of the sparks in Medomak Valley’s rally past Mt. Desert Island in the Eastern Maine final.
In that MDI game, the Trojans crowded around Murray inside. He was only the third leading scorer for his team that night (11 points), but his presence was felt. The attention he attracted opened up other teammates, and Murray was a force on the defensive end.
“He’s key because he’s a pretty smart player,” DePatsy said. “He passes very well. He sees the floor very well. He’s willing to give it up for the betterment of the team.
“He has good basketball savvy. Just knows how to play and knows what he needs to do. And he won’t force it.”
Murray doesn’t have to force it. He has a plethora of hot-shooting guards to look for, including Jonathan Hendrickson-Belloguet, Brandon Soper, Micah Williamson, Kazu Tibbetts, Boone Olsen and Nicholas DePatsy (yes, he’s the coach’s son).
But Murray’s favorite target is a fellow post player, 6-5 Ryan Ripley.
Unlike a lot of Murray’s teammates, Ripley has not been playing basketball a long time. He began in eighth grade.
“I was the guy they put in the game with 20 seconds to go when we’re up by 20,” Ripley said.
But Ripley worked on his game. By the time he was a sophomore two years ago — and Murray was healthy — the two formed quite a tandem.
“He gets double-teamed a lot,” Ripley said. “It opens me up sometime.”
But Ripley has also noticed extra defenders on him lately. No wonder. In the regional semifinals, he led Medomak Valley with 21 points. Against MDI, Ripley scored 13.
Ripley is headed to the University of Maine-Farmington next year to play for the Beavers.
Murray is still mulling his options.
“I don’t know where I’m headed but I do know I’m playing college basketball somewhere,” he said.
Before he thinks about college, Murray has one more high school basketball game to play, a game that Medomak Valley fans have waited a long time for.
Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or: