Though he was born in Bellingham, Mount Baker junior Reuben Murashov is proud of his Russian heritage.
His father, Vladimir, moved to the United States from Latvia in 1990, and his mother, Lillian, moved from Vladivostok, Russia, the same year, before they met in California.
"We always like to joke with him that he was born an American citizen and doesn't even have a visa, so he couldn't even visit Russia," Mount Baker boys' basketball coach Rob Gray said in a phone interview. "But he is very proud of his Russian heritage."
So much so that he decided to invite his teammates to his house to experience a true Russian meal as the Mountaineers prepared for one of their biggest regular-season games of the year against Meridian on Jan. 26.
"I wanted them to try the food," Murashov said. "They thought it was totally different, so I finally got them to try it. I wanted to see their reaction. I really hoped they would like it."
Murashov's mother prepared Russian cabbage rolls, and just in case they didn't like it, Murashov asked her to make some potatoes with cheese, fried chicken and spinach dip.
"All of them liked it," Murashov said. "My mom did a great job. I can't cook."
But as proud as he is of Russian cuisine, Murashov is most proud of the Russian work ethic.
"My dad didn't have basketball when he was growing up," Murashov said. "In fact he didn't have a whole lot of athletics. What they do have, though, is hard workers. When things are tough, they fight to survive.
"That's what motivates me to work harder than anyone else. It motivates me what type of blood I have. I look at the history of my country filled with hard workers, and it inspires me."
Murashov definitely is doing his heritage proud, especially when it comes to his work ethic in the game he loves.
"Reuben is a bit of a basketball junkie," Gray said. "It seems like he's always in the gym working or playing. ... He's worked hard to make himself into the player he is today."
The forward leads the Mountaineers with 12.4 points per game, as they prepare to host Blaine in the first round of the Class 1A Northwest District Tournament on Tuesday, Feb. 5.
That's more than five points per game more than what he scored as a sophomore.
Making that improvement hasn't come easily. It's come through a lot of hard hours and sweat in a variety of gyms - everywhere from Mount Baker's open gym sessions to pickup games at the YMCA.
Murashov even participates in a traditional 6 a.m. Friday morning game at Mount Baker against staff, coaches and alumni in games that can get pretty rough and tumble.
"It's all pretty physical," Murashov said. "They push you around and set some pretty hard screens, some moving screens - it's dirty basketball. ... It gets pretty rough out there. I treat it like a challenge to see how good I am mentally under pressure. I get to see where my game is. Nothing comes easy in the game of basketball. Challenges are always there; you just have to take the challenge and not be afraid. It pushes me to be a better basketball player."
There's little doubt that Murashov is developing into quite the player.
Gray said the junior is good at handling the basketball, and when his shot is on and he's consistent, he's a pretty good 3-point shooter, as well.
"I think he's at his best when he's attacking the basket and cleaning up messes others create," Gray said.
Though he stands only 6-foot-4, Murashov's long arms make him play like he's 6-7 or 6-8, Gray said, making him a presence on the boards, especially at the offensive end.
Murashov is averaging about six rebounds per game, along with three to four assists, and Gray said he is improving his defensive play.
"He works hard on his game outside of the open gym," Gray said. "He's constantly working on his ball handling or his defense or this shot or that shot. He works hard to develop them on his own, and then he gets into the gym to utilize it in games and perfects it. He's just a competitive young man who wants to keep getting better."
Even though he has worked hard to get better, Gray said Murashov is humble about his game.
He's developed into Mount Baker's biggest scoring threat, as he's the only Mountaineer who's played the entire season to enter the postseason averaging in double figures, though Zan Roman has returned from a football injury to average 11.4 points in nine games and give the team another scoring threat, and Dalton and Ty Munsell have been consistent scorers throughout the season.
But Murashov doesn't realize how good he is, Gray said.
As the team was preparing for that crucial Meridian game, which ended up earning it the Northwest Conference's No. 2 seed to the district tournament, Gray had the scout team play some box-and-one coverage focused on Murashov.
"He was getting frustrated, because he felt that the rest of the team wasn't playing defense," Gray said. "He asked why are they doing that. I had to explain to him that other teams were going to try to shut him down, and we needed to prepare for that. I had to explain to him that other teams think he's pretty good, and they were going to try to stop him. He just doesn't see that. He doesn't realize how strong a player he really is."
Mount Baker's Northwest District foes know how good he is, though, and you can bet they'll be preparing ways to slow him down during the double-elimination tournament that wraps up Saturday and will send four teams on to the 1A tri-district tournament.
"It's going to take a team effort for us to succeed," Murashov said. "We've got to play good team offense and good team defense. Now that we're at full strength and have Zan back from injury and everybody back from the flu, we feel we can go a ways. We have to play with a lot of high energy and work hard to get to where we want to go."
Hard work is something that just comes naturally to Murashov.
Reach David Rasbach at email@example.com or 360-715-2286.
Reach DAVID RASBACH at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 715-2271.