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Murray Journal

Veteran Murray High School boys’ basketball coaches hope team will surprise rivals this season

Oct 31, 2017 03:03PM ● By Carl Fauver

Junior Ethan Thai returns as the starting Murray High School basketball point guard this winter. (Mike Adams)

In the midst of several first- and second-year head coaches for various Murray High School teams are a pair of institutions.  

“This is my 27th year coaching Murray High School boys’ basketball and my 14th season as the head coach,” said Jason Workman.  “And Tom Stokes has been here two years longer than me.”

Stokes is Workman’s assistant coach and head coach of the Spartans JV team.

But while Murray’s two primary boys’ basketball coaches have all that experience, this year’s team does not.

“I think we’ll be considered an underdog in the region,” Workman added. “We lost a lot of good seniors off last year’s team and don’t have a lot of experience coming back. But I think we’ll be able to surprise some teams.”

Tryouts for the Murray team will be held next week (November 6 to 9). But already Workman knows, the only players he’ll have back —who saw significant playing time a year ago—are a pair of juniors and a pair of seniors.

Juniors Ajak Arok and Ethan Thai play small forward and point guard for the Spartans, respectively. Arok was one of the first off the varsity bench last season, as a sophomore, while Thai started most games, in the second half of the season.

“I want to finish at least second in region,” Arok said. “I know we’ll face some stiff competition. But I’m confident we can do it if we work hard.”

Murray’s key returning seniors are center Jayden Sinju and forward Jake Hardman.

“It will be fun coming back for my senior season, and I think we’ll do well,” Hardman said. “We have good team chemistry.” 

“From the outside it may look like a rebuilding year,” Workman said, “but with these four leading the way—and a little help from others who I believe will come on—I’m confident we can have another successful season.”

Success is part of what’s helped coaches Workman and Stokes stick around the Murray basketball program for more than a quarter century each.

“We’ve qualified for the state tournament in 10 of the 13 seasons I’ve been head coach,” Workman said. “Last year we had to win a ‘play-in’ game to advance. Unfortunately, we lost in the first round of the tournament…but the boys got there again.”   

In fact, the Murray boys haven’t won a state basketball tournament game since 2011, when the Spartans advanced to the semifinals.  That was when David Collette was leading the team. He’s now a senior on the University of Utah team this winter, who briefly flirted with the idea of declaring for the NBA draft last spring.

“That’s a long drought (since winning their last state tournament game) that we definitely want to end this spring,” Workman added.  “Another one of our goals is to challenge for the Region 6 title. But that won’t be easy because, even though there are several new schools in our region, Olympus is still around as well.”

The coach says Olympus has won “most” of the region titles, since he has been Murray’s head coach. Of the new schools entering the region, Workman believes East will be a top contender. The other newcomers are Salt Lake School District’s other two high schools, Highland and West.

One challenge for the Murray boys’ basketball program in recent years has been a lack of athletes trying out for the team.

“I remember one of my first years here, we had 83 boys try out,” Workman said. “But for the past two years we have had only 28 try out for 17 varsity and JV positions. Kids just don’t seem to put themselves out there to represent their schools as much as they used to.”

A 1987 Murray High School graduate, Workman does not work at the school. Instead he is in property management.

Following next week’s tryouts the Spartan boys open their basketball season hosting Kearns, November 29. They’ll play non-region games until the holiday break and then open Region 6 hosting Skyline, January 12.

Among the eight seniors lost from last year’s team are shooting guard Taylor Peppinger, who’s playing at Centralia Junior College (southwest of Seattle) and center Braxton Jones, who’s now playing offensive line for the Southern Utah University football team.

“We lost a lot of key people out of last year’s rotation,” Workman said, “but those we have back are anxious to prove themselves.”