Whenever Tony Murray was out and about in public earlier this year, it was almost like clockwork that he’d run into acquaintances who would each make the same suggestion to a man who is as entwined in the local basketball scene as anyone in Frederick County.
“You know you need to go out for this job,” they’d say.
It happened three times in the Walmart on Md. 85 alone.
The idea was already in the back of this self-described basketball junkie’s mind, but eventually Murray took all of the hints he was getting and emailed Frederick High athletic director Keivette Hammond about one of the most alluring positions in the state.
He didn’t even know if it was open, but he had to inquire, given his knowledge and familiarity of the school’s players, not to mention his love of a challenge.
On Monday, Murray was named the Cadets’ new varsity girls basketball coach, taking the reins of a program that won three straight state championships and advanced to the 2019-20 state semifinals before COVID-19 forced its cancellation.
“That doesn’t happen with luck,” Murray said of Frederick’s perennial success. “They’ve built something amazing. I’ve got to watch it as a neighbor to it, living in the community, but now to get to coach it, it is a dream. If I had to pick anywhere in the county to coach a high school program, it would’ve definitely been Frederick.”
In Murray, the Cadets are getting a 22-year coaching veteran who has won high school state titles as an assistant in Maryland, Washington D.C. and Virginia. They’re getting a leader who is well-versed in building and guiding programs — whether boys or girls, whether at the recreation league, high school or AAU levels.
Hammond was as judicious as ever in selecting the Cadets’ new coach, citing “the prestige of the program.” A former state-championship coach with the Frederick girls before taking over as the school’s AD, Hammond knew Murray. And when she interviewed him, he checked the boxes as “the total package.”
“For me, he had a plan on how we would move forward,” she said. “He definitely has the experience and the temperament that you need to continue the success of the program.”
Murray, 40, takes over for Whitney Miguel, Frederick’s JV coach who assumed the varsity role late last season after coach Ashley Bush left the team in February for unspecified reasons. Bush’s exit came shortly after Frederick County Public Schools investigated the departure of five Frederick High varsity players from the team that month.
The player movement last season caused Frederick to fold its JV program for the rest of the winter. Still, led by star Rose Bubakar, the Cadets won another regional title before the coronavirus shutdown.
All of those factors led Hammond to seek an individual who could relate to everything Frederick’s players might confront, in addition to mastery of the game’s tenets. A Frederick resident for the past 13 years, Murray has coached girls from ages 9 and up, and he said one of his fortes is creating an enriching environment on the court.
“I don’t know what happened last year. It was prior to me, so I really can’t speak to it,” said Murray, who works as an accountant at Frederick’s YMCA. “I can say, for myself and the staff coming in, we want a culture of girls in a program who want to play together and play for each other, understanding there are going to be days that are harder than others. But we stick together, we play hard, we carry ourselves in a respectful manner ... and that’s pretty much what our culture is going to be.”
On the court under Bush, the Cadets were known for intense man-to-man defense that harried opponents and often turned into offense.
Murray expects to build on that with his brand of hoops, which sounds quite similar. A Montgomery Blair High and Howard University grad, he prides himself on a style of play borne of his DMV roots.
“We’re gonna be uptempo, we’re gonna be in your face,” he said. “I like to say, ‘In your pocket.’”
He can’t wait to coach Bubakar, and he expects the rising senior will be an example for the influx of freshmen he expects from West Frederick Middle School. Many of the those girls played together in the Mid-Maryland league, going 22-0 last season.
Murray is so involved in the various levels of local hoops, he said, “Every night we play in-county, I’m actually going to be coaching against a girl I’ve either trained or coached.”
He’s also served as a basketball official for the past six years, developing relationships with most of the area’s coaches, many of whom reached out to congratulate him on his new job.
“I believe the game of basketball teaches you so much about discipline and life, and I’ve gotten so much from it, from the years of playing, coaching officiating it, and now as the parent of a player,” said Murray, who has a daughter and bonus daughter who will be freshmen at Frederick this year.
“I’ve seen it from all four angles. The game is special to me. I’m a basketball junkie. I want to share that with the kids, and right now I want to share that passion with the kids of Frederick High.”