Malone Tiger Ocasio Murff died in a traffic crash Sunday morning.
He was 17, just out of his junior year at Malone School, and poised to make his mark on the world in his senior year and beyond.
His coach and his principal saw in him a young person who had what it took to make the very most of the bright future that seemed to stretch out before him as far as their eyes could see.
He was better known as “Cas” to his teammates on the Malone Tiger basketball squad, where he was a star player and a leader who was strong, determined and focused. A point guard, he ran the defense and offense. He was consistently a top contributing scorer, as well. And he believed in his sense of what needed to be done at a given time.
“He was definitely a kid who marched to his own drum, and that was sometimes frustrating, but I always respected him for it; I always appreciated that about him,” said coach Steve Welch.
“That‘s what made him a good leader: Once he had a conviction on something, he stuck with it. He was his own man, a good team leader and coachable even though he had his own ideas about what course to take. The ball was in his hands more than anyone else, as point guard, and he handled that ball with some real leadership.”
Off the court, he hustled just as hard. He had two jobs, one in construction and one in fast food, at a local KFC. Welch said Murff had a good sense of balance, not letting basketball consume his every thought but putting all his talent on the court when it was time to play, practice and ready himself for the game.
Idleness bored Murff, Welch said, and he had dreams he believed in working for. Although he was clearly a key player, Welch said he kept working to solidify his position on the team and never took his spot for granted.
His principal, Doug Powell, remembers something from last school year that put a spotlight on his ability to lead off the court as well.
Powell was having a serious man-to-man talk with another student and Murff witnessed as the confrontation grew more heated. Murff put in his two cents—”No, you need to listen to him,” he told his fellow teen. That peer-to-peer intervention, Powell said, defused the tension in a way that reached the student when he could not.
“He calmed him down, and calmed me down, and totally deescalated the whole situation,” Powell recalled.
In basketball and in life, he had role models in his older brothers and in one of their old teammates, Chai Baker, who had been recruited to play for the Oregon State University Beavers in 2014. But a very serious heart condition, discovered when Baker was on the court very early in the going for OSU, ended his playing days. Baker’s heart had stopped for two seconds in that life-changing collapse. He was No. 11 for Malone. Murff was also No. 11 for the Malone Tigers. He told Welch he was going to make No. 11 live on in legend, carry it forward with the pride it deserved. Welch could see that happening.
Murff’s potential also caught the attention of an opposing coach way back in middle school.
Cottondale’s Chris Obert saw the spark and told Welch to watch out.
“He’s got the juice,” Obert remembers saying. “He’s going to be the guy.”
Obert said he checked in with Welch from time to time about Murff’s progress.
“Every time I saw him, it was clear that he was definitely a talent, a very good player, a grown man out there, and a good young man overall,” Obert said.
“He had a toughness and he tried to will his team to win. He always seemed like the leader that could carry it, the weight of that.”
Off the court, Murff had a big, ready smile and loved to make people laugh.
Welch knows that part of the player well: He’d been coaching Murff since the player was a pint-sized second- or third-grader, in a league once run by Friendship Baptist Church. He’d been in the Malone School program since sixth grade.
“He could be the class clown,” Welch said. “He liked to keep the mood light and he loved making people laugh. He had so much going for him. We’re really all just still stunned. We’re going to miss him.”
Welch said his teammates met briefly to share their thoughts and feelings Sunday night, several hours after word of his death had reached them all. Welch said he felt that, if Murff could have been there, he would have been trying to make his teammates laugh rather than see them give way to sorrow.
Powell said Murff’s memory will linger.
“He really exemplified the Tiger spirit, the Tiger family,” the principal said. “He has a wonderful family and our hearts go out to them. They have tremendous faith in God and I believe that is helping them through. We are here for them in all the ways we can be as the Tiger family supporting the home family.
“He was a very bright young man, a leader on and off the court, with a magnetic personality that made others want to be around him. He just wanted to be himself, he didn’t see himself as, or want to be, a star. He did want to do his best.”
Welch and Powell both expected Murff to get the attention of college basketball programs and Welch wouldn’t have been surprised to have seen him campaign to wear No. 11 for some future team, so he could keep his vow to build on its legacy.
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