No. 15 Murray State stays undefeated, focused
Murray State is running with the likes of Kentucky, Louisville and the rest of college basketball's elite.
The 15th-ranked Racers (16-0) are currently just one of three undefeated men's Division I squads along with top-ranked Syracuse (17-0) and No. 4 Baylor (16-0).
''We're mentioned in the same breath as Louisville and Kentucky, but really, what I want to hear even more is the Butlers and the VCUs and people like that,'' athletics director Allen Ward said. ''I think that's as important to me because to be seen in that light is something that we want to try to capture and build off of.''
This season's best mid-major team plays in the Ohio Valley Conference and is from a city whose population (14,950) is smaller than the fans Murray State can fit in its football stadium (16,800). That hasn't stopped Ward and coach Steve Prohm from thinking bigger.
Murray State has enjoyed 25 straight winning seasons and as result of that success a new practice facility is on the way to go along with its modern, multipurpose arena seating 8,600.
Prohm is also quick to mention Butler's path of promoting from within, recruiting specific to a style of play and having a strong sense of the program's place.
''A lot of people say, `Well, you play in the OVC,''' Prohm said. ''But those high level teams, while we're playing half home and half road, they're playing two-thirds of their games at home. They're buying games, seven of their 10 games nonconference. We're playing in some buy games.
''We're going to Memphis, we're playing Dayton, we're playing Southern Miss - very good programs. I think it's two-fold. To have 25 consecutive winning seasons is remarkable.''
The Racers broke into the poll for the first time in 14 years after their win over Memphis last month, and they just keep climbing to put the Bluegrass State and the rest of the country on notice that there's a third team to watch from the Commonwealth.
''We all feel like we deserve it, and we're just going to keep trying to do the things that got us here and keep opening people's eyes,'' said Racers guard Isaiah Canaan, who scored 27 points in the first half of a recent win over Austin Peay. ''Murray State isn't no pushover school. We can compete with the best of them.''
Maybe even Kentucky and Louisville.
''If we're getting mentioned when Kentucky and Louisville are getting mentioned, then we're doing good things and I'll take that all the time - even if we're number three,'' Prohm said.
Murray State has already shown it can compete on college basketball's biggest stage.
The Racers knocked out Vanderbilt in the 2010 NCAA tournament and won the OVC regular season title last season before losing in the conference tournament's semifinals to end up in the NIT. Billy Kennedy left for Texas A&M, paving the way for Prohm's promotion.
Now that he's at the top, Prom finds himself fretting the smallest details, including just how to get recruits to Murray, Ky.
''If you take a triangle Memphis, Nashville and St. Louis, we're right there in the middle of it,'' Prohm said. ''If you can get kids on this campus, especially with their parents here, you've got a really good chance to get them.''
Getting there is the challenge.
Murray isn't accessible from any interstate and the closest major airport is a little over two hours away in Nashville, Tenn. On the road to campus, a 10-mile stretch can be especially harrowing for first timers due to a two-lane road crossing two major lakes.
''You want to come in during the daylight because if you come in during the daylight, those bridges don't scare you much and there's the nice water and it's a beautiful view coming into town,'' Prohm said. ''You come in at night, it can scare you the first time.''
Canaan took the trip in the darkness.
''I was just thinking, `Where am I going?' And, where I'm from I'm around a lot of water anyway, but we were crossing what seemed like all this water and I was just wondering where we were at.''
Now it's about where Murray can go.
Ward struck a deal to sell the naming rights to their arena for $3.3 million and began a fundraising campaign of his own for the practice facility expected to open next year.
''We're fortunate because we already had some things in place that now the timing of them is going to fit real well because as people start looking at our program, breaking ground and having construction on a new facility and whether they know that it's been in the works for 2 years or not, it's going to start happening,'' Ward said.
The new digs mean Prohm can move his office out from underneath the cavernous football stadium, another bonus when he brings recruits to Murray and sign that the Racers plan to stay relevant for years to come off of the recent success.
''It's what you work toward and a lot of time it's what you dream of,'' Ward said. ''Then when it happens, then you just try to say, `OK, what do we do now to just try to keep the momentum going?' We have to do everything we can to make sure our commitment equals our expectations for the program.''