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Basketball veteran Gareth Murray, 37, can’t believe rookie who played in 2006 is still going strong

WHEN Gareth Murray made his Commonwealth Games debut in 2006, he would scarcely have believed that 16 years later he’d be getting ready for yet another Games appearance.

In Melbourne all those years ago, Murray was an almost completely unknown entity in British basketball and, at the age of 21, had never before been to a major tournament.

This year, however, as he prepares to take to the court in Birmingham, he is a seasoned pro.

Over a decade-and-a-half of playing professionally, well over 50 caps for Scotland and GB plus a move into the coaching ranks means Murray feels like an entirely different player from that rookie who made his Games debut in 2006.

“Back then, I was just trying to make a name for myself,” the 37-year-old says.

“In 2006, I was so nervous because it felt like such a big deal whereas now, I’ve got so much more experience of going into an event like this and so it doesn’t feel nearly as daunting.

“If someone had said in 2006 I’d be at the Games in 2022, I’d have laughed. I was trying to hold on for the 2018 Games and thought that would be it. But then I started to think I’ll see if I can make it to Birmingham and here I am.”

There is one other, extremely significant difference at these Games; Murray’s previous two Commonwealth Games appearances, in 2006 and 2018, have been in the traditional 5v5 format.

This year, for the first time, it is 3v3 basketball that’s included in the Games programme.

For Murray, who will captain the Scotland side, along with the other three members of the Scotland squad, Fraser Malcolm, Jonathan Bunyan and Kyle Jimenez, the 3v3 game took some getting used to.

All four players had literally no competitive experience ahead of the Commonwealth Games qualifiers in April but they had little to worry about, waltzing through the tournament ahead of Wales and Northern Ireland to book their place at Birmingham 2022.

That impressive qualifying campaign did, admits Murray, give the squad a valuable confidence boost and as they prepare to begin their group matches today against Sri Lanka before facing Canada and Kenya later in the tournament, the squad are in an upbeat mood.

“Before the qualifiers, none of us were sure how it was going to go – we’d all played with each other before but we’d never played the 3v3 format so we were all quite nervous because we didn’t know what to expect ,” he says.

“But in the end, we got through that pretty comfortably which helped our confidence and so for the Games to be here is very exciting.

Now, we’re a lot more familiar with everything – things like how the game goes and what we want to be doing and that helps settle the nerves.”

Murray, whose day job is as player-coach of Glasgow Rocks, admits adapting to the intense, dynamic, non-stop nature of the 3v3 game was something of a challenge.

But he quickly grew to love the curtailed format, which involves ten-minute matches, rolling subs and continuous action and while it is starkly different from the 5v5 format he has spent almost three decades perfecting, he is optimistic the close relationship between all four men in the squad will result in them producing their best over the coming week.

“3v3 is a completely different game to five-a-side but it’s a very exciting game and it’s extremely easy to watch for the fans,” he says.

“It helps when you’re playing with guys you know like we are – we believe team chemistry will really benefit us.

“We know each other inside out so we’re hoping that’ll give us an edge rather than relying purely on individual talent.

“Also, you have to be really concentrated in 3v3 and that’s where our experience will come in. We’re all used to playing in big games and so will be able to keep our composure for the entire game.”

Murray, along with his compatriots, all know how it feels to be in contention for Commonwealth silverware.

In Gold Coast four years ago, Scotland upset the odds to reach the semi-finals but ultimately lost out in the bronze medal play-of with defeat to New Zealand.

This time around, Murray is just as ambitious and with the 3v3 format more likely to produce upsets, he is in no doubt that his side has the potential to cause a few shocks in the coming days.

“There are definitely more upsets in 3v3, it’s so unpredictable,” he says.

“A game can turn instantly, a couple of shots can make all the difference.

“That’s what makes it so exciting, and why it’s so thrilling to watch because it’s just impossible to predict what’s going to happen.

“In 3v3, there’s so many more countries in with a chance of doing well and so we’re keen to get started and see what we can do.”

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