By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — The University of Virginia men’s basketball team’s trip to Italy will start with an eight-and-a-half hour flight from Dulles International Airport to Rome next week. Such marathon plane rides are nothing new to sophomore swingman Taine Murray.
When Murray travels to Charlottesville from his hometown of Auckland, New Zealand, the first stage is a 12-hour flight to Los Angeles. Fortunately for him, he’s not awake all of that time.
“I used to not be able to sleep at all [on planes],” Murray said recently at John Paul Jones Arena, “but I have gotten better.”
For ambitious basketball players from New Zealand who want to test themselves against tougher competition, extensive travel is part of the package. “You’ve got no choice,” Murray said.
This will be his first visit to Italy, but hoops has taken Murray to such places as Greece, Dubai, Singapore, Indonesia, China, Australia, Hong Kong, the United States, and the Pacific Islands, including Samoa.
The 6-foot-5, the 206-pound Murray played this summer for New Zealand’s national team, the Tall Blacks, at FIBA’s Asia Cup in Indonesia. When the tournament ended, Murray flew to Tokyo (eight hours) and then from Tokyo to Washington, DC (13½ hours). He arrived back in Charlottesville on July 25, when most of his UVA teammates were away on break, and resumed preparations for his second college season.
New Zealand closed its stay in Jakarta, Indonesia, with an 83-75 victory over Jordan. That clinched the bronze medal for the Kiwis, their best-ever finish in the Asia Cup.
— Virginia Men’s Basketball (@UVAMensHoops) August 1, 2022
In New Zealand’s seven games, Murray averaged 8.6 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.9 assists. He struggled from 3-point range, making only 11 of 46 attempts, but inside the arc he was 10 for 17, and he made 7 of 8 free throws. He twice scored 16 points: first against the Philippines and then against Syria.
Murray, 20, was the youngest player on the New Zealand roster.
“It was awesome,” he said of the experience. “Obviously, representing New Zealand is a huge honor, so that was a massive privilege. And then just being able to reconnect with so many guys who I played with growing up. One boy was actually on my high school team. He was a few years older than me, so that was super cool. And then playing with guys who I’ve looked up to growing up was awesome.”
Murray spent four weeks in Charlottesville early in the summer before leaving for the All Blacks’ training camp in Auckland. He departed with the blessing of UVA head coach Tony Bennett.
“He’s been super supportive,” Murray said of Bennett, who played and coached in New Zealand in the late 1990s. “I think that obviously the timing aligned a little bit with [the Cavaliers’ break last month], which worked out well. But there was never any negativity with being released to play, which was awesome.”