Revenge never on David Murrell's mind but extra motivation helped in proving point against NLEX Road Warriors

Having been traded by the NLEX Road Warriors, David Murrell would go on to score a career-high 21 points against his former team to help current side Converge FiberXers to one of two victories in Week 5 of the PBA Philippine Cup. PBA Media Bureau

When David Murrell heard his name called by NLEX Road Warriors in last year's online Season 46 PBA Rookie Draft, he was ecstatic. It didn't matter that he was a second-round pick, 20th overall in a deep draft.

Just getting selected was already a major win for him.

"I'm shaking right now!" he exclaimed when asked how he was feeling, and you couldn't blame him. He had low expectations heading into the draft; the pandemic had wiped out what should have been his final UAAP season, and with it went his last chance of improving on his paltry Season 82 numbers of 1.8 points and 1.9 rebounds for the UP Fighting Maroons and boosting his stock.

Around 16 months after NLEX selected him, Murrell found himself facing off against his former team with whom he ended up playing just four games. Following a preseason trade, Murrell was now donning the purple jersey of newcomers Converge FiberXers. He made a statement as soon as he came off the bench, dropping 13 points in just eight minutes.

When the final horn sounded, the scoreboard read 112-108 for Converge. The stat sheet showed Murrell leading his team with a career-high 21 points in 28 minutes, and afterwards he admitted he had the date of this game circled on his calendar.

"I wouldn't say it was revenge," he said. "But for sure, extra motivation. I felt like I was locked in from the start. Even during warm-ups, I was locked in."

Murrell's ascension from benchwarmer in Season 46 to a (so far) two-time Player of the Game in Season 47 has been one of the more remarkable stories of the ongoing Philippine Cup. He scored a grand total of 13 points last season; this season he's scored more than that in a single game twice.

Credit the FiberXers for seeing his potential and eventually unlocking it.

"David was a guy that we were really looking at from afar," Converge coach Jeff Cariaso said after Murrell scored 15 points in a June 22 win over the Terrafirma Dyip. "We felt that he just needed an opportunity. We know about his energy, we know about his athleticism. His work ethic is through the roof."

Murrell made a believer in Cariaso in his first practice with his new team, which happened to be a preseason tune-up game against the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters.

"Coach Jeff, he really didn't know how I played. He just asked me if I was in shape, and I said was always in shape. I scored 19 points. Then after that he saw the potential in me. He saw that I was an energetic player. During that game he saw my offensive capabilities as well."

In his rookie year, it appeared as if the Los Angeles native would never get the chance to show off any of his capabilities. Even though NLEX coach Yeng Guiao was quoted as saying Murrell "might be the steal of the draft," his name wasn't on the Road Warriors' roster for the 2021 Philippine Cup. Instead, he was assigned to NLEX's 3x3 team Cavitex.

"I wasn't sure I was gonna have a spot since I was a second-round pick," he said. "When I heard I was gonna be dropped down to the 3x3 team, to be honest I really didn't feel too bad about because I still had a contract."

But a family tragedy would keep him off the court for several more weeks. His father passed away due to coronavirus last November and he had to return to the United States. When he got back to Manila, he found out his name was not included in Cavitex's lineup because team management was not sure when he would return.

Murrell would not be in limbo for very long, though. After Calvin Oftana and Anthony Semerad both went down with injuries, he was finally activated for 5x5 action in the middle of the Governors' Cup. Still, he played sparingly, averaging just 3.3 points in 8.6 minutes in four games.

Since he was signed to a two-year deal, Murrell continued practicing with the Road Warriors in the offseason. Then on May 17, two days after the Season 47 Rookie Draft, he found out he was headed elsewhere.

"I first found out from my assistant coach Jolas (Jojo Lastimosa)," he recalled. "He walked up to me and said, 'Have you heard the news?' and I really didn't know what he was talking about."

The Road Warriors had sent Murrell and rookie Tyrus Hill, the 7th overall pick in the draft, to Converge for the FiberXers' Season 48 first-round pick.

"Obviously, I had some mixed feelings about it. In your first year, you don't want to get traded. I actually wanted to stay in a good organization like NLEX."

The change of scenery has obviously worked out well for Murrell, but it's not just a case of finding the right situation. For the past year or so, the 26-year-old has been putting in the work with two different trainers.

"I think he works out too much, so we have to tell him to stop working out and rest," Cariaso said. "So that's the kind of guy he is. This is proof of the hard work he put in. And we really appreciate his attitude as much as how hard he works on the court."

Cariaso is not exaggerating. Murrell often works out three times in a single day. He works on his body with his strength and conditioning coach. Then he gets some drills in with his skills coach. Finally, he practices with Converge.

The hard work is obviously paying off. His college coach Bo Perasol has never doubted Murrell's skills and work ethic, but he sees another area where his former player has improved.

"Even in the beginning, when I was pursuing him to be part of the UPMBT, I really believed that he has what it takes to compete in a higher level," Perasol told ESPN. "He has the athleticism and the skills to carry him through. I will have to say that his focus is much sharper now that he is in the pros than when he came in here a few years back.

"If he can sustain that, he will be able establish himself as one of the more reliable mainstays of his team."

Murrell is confident he can do that.

"I feel like I had the same role at NLEX. I was always the energy guy once I got in. But now, Coach Jeff has given me the opportunity to showcase that, so I really want to thank him for that."

"He's bringing a different dimension to our team that we didn't have before," Cariaso noted. "And he's always positive. That's one thing we like. You cannot not like this guy."