Gareth Murray’s ambitions for his Caledonia Gladiators side are as formidable as his stature. 

At six foot seven inches tall, Murray is a mountain of a man but it’s his aspirations for Scotland’s only professional male basketball team this season that are even more striking.

Under his tenure, Murray has ensured Gladiators have become one of Britain’s most impressive basketball teams.

Last season saw the Glaswegian lead his side to their first silverware in twenty years when they lifted the BBL Trophy.

And he’s hoping to further cement their status as one of the best teams in this country over the coming months.

Today, Caledonia Gladiators begin their new season with Murray having set lofty goals for the months ahead, and he’s not afraid to voice his hopes for his side.

“We want to be top two in the league, that’s where we need to be,” he says. 

“And this season, we want to be in every final. We’ve got the Trophy and the Play-offs, that’s the two finals we want to reach and we want to be top two in the league, that’s our very clear goals. Those are realistic expectations for me.”

After a solid pre-season campaign, Gladiators begin this new campaign away to Manchester Giants on the opening day of the BBL season before heading to London to face last season’s champions, London Lions, on Thursday.

The opening games will be something of a feet-finding mission for Murray’s men, with seven new players included on their 13-man roster.

However, with a brand, spanking new arena in East Kilbride ready for the side’s opening home fixture, on the 5th of October, Murray is optimistic his team will hit the ground running and he is utterly unfazed by the increased pressure upon both his own and his players shoulders following their impressive form last season, which also included a second-placed finish in the BBL.

“This season, we’re a lot more prepared, we’ve had budget increases, we’ve moved to our new arena, we’ve had some squad changes and our own expectations are definitely raised so it’s going to be an exciting season,” the 38-year-old says.

“Things do feel a bit different in terms of pressure but that’s all part of the game – I had pressure as a player and now I’ve got pressure as a coach but the pressure isn’t something that should be constantly on your mind. 

“For me, it’s about doing my job the best I can – getting the guys playing together well and then you have to see what happens. We have the right group of players, the right coaching staff, great facilities and on and off the court everything is taken care of so it’s about making the most of all of that on game day.”

The National: Gareth Murray has high hopes for his team this seasonGareth Murray has high hopes for his team this season

As for Murray himself, he’s managed to transfer his success as a player into success as a coach remarkably quickly. As one of Scotland’s most successful players on the court, he remains in the fledgling stages of his coaching career.

Two years as player-coach, beginning in 2020 taught him, he says, a considerable amount and so as he goes into his second year as the fully-fledged manager of Caledonia Gladiators fresh from signing a three-year extension to his contract with the club, he’s optimistic he’s now pulling together all the strands that are required to ensure he can get the very best out of both himself and his players.

“My first couple of years, being a player-coach, was a big learning curve – there’s so much over and above what people see on game day for a coach to deal with,” he says. 

“I’ve had to learn about building relationships and building the team chemistry because that’s when the tactics come together. It’s all the little things that people don’t see that make the difference – I’m still learning and developing, it remains early days for me in my coaching career but I’m getting the hang of it.”

At the close of last season, Murray stated his intention of turning Gladiators into the UK’s “biggest and best” basketball team in the UK.

While not there yet, Murray is optimistic they’re well on their way to fulfilling that goal in the near future.

“We’re getting there,” he says of hitting his stated target. 

“With our new arena, it changes everything - we’ve got our own weights room, our own practice court, our own 1600 seat arena and then in a couple of years, we’re looking at having a 4500-6000 seat arena so that’s massive. Really, we have everything we need on our doorstep.

“Are we the top team right now? No, we’re not there yet but we’re going in the right direction.”

This season will also bring a new challenge in the shape of European basketball.

In eight days, Gladiators will begin their campaign in the qualifying rounds of the Basketball Champions League, taking on Swiss side, Fribourg Olympic, in Turkey.

For Murray, making their European debut is another important step of his side’s development journey but, this season at least, he sees European competition more as a learning experience than a major priority.

“In Europe, the teams are bigger, they have a lot more experience and they’re spending more money. This is our first year in Europe so initially, we want to compete well and see what the gap is and what we need to do to get to that level,” he says. 

“The European part is more about learning and seeing what we can do better - it’s the British league that’s the main focus and that’s where we want to be doing really well.”