By Antonio Harvey | OBSERVER Staff Writer
Keegan Murray, the Sacramento Kings’ fourth overall pick in the 2022 NBA draft, reflected on his freshman season at the University of Iowa when he was introduced at Golden 1 Center on June 25.
Murray joined a solid roster that included Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery’s sons Connor and Patrick, Joe Weiskamp, and star power forward Luka Garza. Garza, who now plays for the Detroit Pistons, was the national player of the year for the 2020-21 season.
Hawkeyes coaches told Murray he would have to fight for minutes and not let scoring be his primary focus. The 6-foot-8, 215-pound forward from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, told The OBSERVER that he took the directive as a challenge to concentrate on defense.
“I remember I had an offseason meeting with one of our assistants and he pretty much told me, ‘Your job is not to score the ball, we’ve got guys to do that,’” Murray said at the news conference held at G1C’s main entrance. The assistant then challenged Murray to “find your role.”
“I tried to [outrebound] Luka at every practice,” Murray said. “We had a little stat sheet that we’d have after every practice. I think just having that hardship when I got there, knowing that nothing was guaranteed; I had to earn everything I got. I just kept that mind-set throughout the whole year.”
Murray did find his niche as the Hawkeyes’ sixth man. He played in all 31 games during the 2020-21 season, including four starts. He had 200-plus points, 35-plus blocks, 25-plus steals, and 15-plus 3-pointers made. His 39 blocks tied for fourth-most ever by an Iowa freshman. He averaged 7.8 points, 5.5 points, and 18 minutes in the Big Ten Conference.
While many expected the team would select Purdue guard Jaden Ivey, Kings General Manager Monte McNair said he and his staff closely monitored Murray’s freshman year and the front office “unanimously” declared him the best player available at No. 4. Detroit took Ivey fifth.
Murray’s sophomore season production solidified the Kings’ fondness for his game. Murray averaged 23.5 points, 8.7 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.3 steals, and 31.9 minutes in 35 games, all starts. His scoring increase in the Big Ten was the largest per-game margin in 49 years.
Murray, the son of former Hawkeye Kenyon Murray (1993-96), made 66 3-point shots (39.8%), had 68 blocks and collected 45 steals last season. Of his 303 rebounds, 100 were on the offensive end.
“The fact that he took it to the heights he did this year is certainly a testament to him and the program. It’s also things that we saw at the beginning of last year,” McNair said. “That just gives you more confidence that this guy was able to impact it in a smaller role off the bench and then come in and be the go-to star they needed this year when he was given a bigger role.”
Murray led the Hawkeyes to an NCAA Tournament appearance while earning All-Big Ten first-team honors. He set the Big Ten Tournament scoring record with 103 points in four games and was the second player in Division I history with at least 800 points, 60 blocks, and 60 three-pointers in a season.
Murray ranked fourth in the nation in scoring and first in total points (822) and field goals made (307). He earned consensus All-American first-team honors, Karl Malone Power Forward of the Year, was a finalist for the Wooden Award and Naismith Trophy, and was the Big Ten Tournament Most Outstanding Player.
“Obviously, Keegan is a well-rounded player, two-way player, (and) one of the most prolific scorers in the country,” McNair said. “(He) impacts the game in so many ways. We jumped at the chance at selecting him.”
Murray arrived in Sacramento with his father Kenyon, mother Michelle, and sister McKenna Murray. His twin brother Khris, who still is enrolled at Iowa, missed the trip because of mandatory activities with the basketball team.
McNair said Keegan Murray is projected to add instant help at both forward positions for the Kings, who are trying to end a 16-year playoffs absence.
The team is stocked at guard, led by De’Aaron Fox and Davion Mitchell. Murray will work in the frontcourt alongside two-time all-star Domantas Sabonis, who was obtained in a February trade that sent guard Tyrese Haliburton to Indiana.
Fans can get a look at Murray in the California Classic in San Francisco on July 2-3. The Golden State Warriors, Miami Heat, and Los Angeles Lakers also are participants. The Kings will compete in the Las Vegas Summer League beginning July 7.
“I’m excited to be here in Sacramento. It’s a dream come true to be able to put on the purple and black. So I’m grateful to be in this position,” Murray said. “I knew that at the end of the draft, I’d be with an NBA team. That was the goal all along. To have it be Sacramento was one of the best feelings ever. It’s a great fit for me.”