It was only a matter of time before Ja Morant’s “No. 12” would hang in the rafters of the CFSB Center, as one of the greatest Murray State men’s basketball players in the program’s nine-decade history.
But that time is now, as the Dalzell, South Carolina, native will see it unfurl alongside the jerseys of Isaiah Canaan, Popeye Jones, Bennie Purcell, Howie Crittenden and others this Saturday — during a halftime ceremony in the MSU-SIU Edwardsville men’s contest set to tip at 7 p.m. in Murray.
“A ‘wow’ moment, definitely,” Morant told Memphis media on Tuesday morning. “Definitely special. Thankful for it. Not most players get that; especially in that short amount of time. I just left Murray last year. It’s just a blessing. All credit goes to God.”
Well-positioned to be the 2019-20 NBA Rookie of the Year after being selected No. 2 overall in the 2019 NBA Draft, Morant’s two seasons at MSU were well documented and unforgettable. During his sophomore season, he became the first college basketball player to average more than 20 points and 10 assists per game, and helped lead the Racers to a second-round game in the 2019 NCAA Tournament.
Morant is the first player in MSU men’s basketball history to have his number retired having not played all four years, perhaps opening the door to other former two-year stars to enter the conversation.
“From 2017-2019, we had the great privilege of coaching one of the best players in college basketball history,” said Murray State Coach Matt McMahon in a written statement. “As I’ve said many times before, Ja Morant is a once in a lifetime player who has been an incredible ambassador for Murray State University. His unique combination of explosive athleticism, intelligence, unselfishness and relentless competitive drive enabled him to lead the Racers to back-to-back championship seasons and countless magical moments on the court.
“He is the ultimate winner, an elite teammate and an absolute joy to coach. We look forward to seeing Ja Morant’s ‘No. 12’ Murray State jersey drop from the rafters on Saturday night. He is so deserving of this special honor.”
According to MSU Director of Athletics Kevin Saal, Morant and his family will be back on campus for this special ceremony, as he’s only the 11th player in Racer basketball to have his number enshrined for eternity.
“Ja’s impact on Murray State University, the Athletics Department and basketball program cannot be overstated,” Saal wrote. “Racer Nation has an opportunity to experience a truly historic event at halftime of Saturday night’s game, as we welcome the Morant family back home to Murray and pay tribute to his legacy in the rafters of the CFSB Center.”
Morant third in LHL nod
Also of note for Morant, The Lexington Herald-Leader’s Mark Story revealed the results of the organization’s annual “Sports Figure of the Year” award for the 2019 season on Tuesday morning — with Morant in serious contention.
However, he finished in third place, just behind former Louisville quarterback and likely NFL MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson, and this year’s winner in wideout-turned-quarterback Lynn Bowden of the Kentucky Wildcats.
It’s the highest ever for an MSU profile in the award’s 39-year history, and the first time an OVC-er was in the conversation for the top nod since Morehead State’s Kenneth Faried claimed it in 2011.
Information from Murray State Athletics contributed to this report.
Morant’s Moments at MSU, Memphis
· The Racers went 54-11 overall and 32-4 in the OVC in his two seasons.
· Against Marquette ins 2019, Morant had just the ninth triple-double in NCAA Tournament history. It was MSU’s fourth NCAA tourney win.
· Winner of the 2019 Bob Cousy Award for the nation’s best point guard.
· Was a 2019 finalist for the John Wooden Award for National Player of the Year.
· Was named the 2019 winner of the Lute Olson as the nation’s Player of the Year.
· Morant was a 13-time All-America selection and was the OVC’s first consensus All-America since 1971.
· He finished the 2018-19 season with 331 assists, the sixth-most in NCAA single-season history.
· He set the MSU and OVC assist records in only two seasons.
· Morant set the MSU single-season scoring mark with 808 points in 2018-19.
· He was the 2019 OVC Player of the Year, 2019 OVC Tournament MVP and 2019 OVC Male Athlete of the Year.
· Named NBA Western Conference Rookie of the Month for October/November and December, becoming the first player in Memphis franchise history to win the award in consecutive months.
· Leads all NBA rookies in scoring average, assists and free throw percentage and ranks second in field goal percentage and third in steals.
· Morant ranks fourth in the NBA in fourth-quarter points per game (7.6).
· Became the third player in NBA history to record 30 points and nine assists in one of his first three career games, joining Isiah Thomas (1981) and Trae Young (2018).
MSU’s Retired Numbers
21 Bennie Purcell, 1952
16 Garrett Beshear, 1953
19 Howie Crittenden, 1956
15 Jeff Martin, 1989
30 Paul King, 1991
54 Popeye Jones, 1992
26 Joe Fulks, 2001
20 Johnny Reagan, 2003
5 Marcus Brown, 2010
3 Isaiah Canaan, 2018
12 Ja Morant, 2020