Leistikow's 5 Iowa basketball thoughts: Keegan Murray looks, sounds ready for the spotlight

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY — Keegan Murray is about to make one of the most unusual transitions of the Fran McCaffery era — from role player to spotlight player.

He was a sneaky-good bench player last year on an Iowa team starring Luka Garza and Joe Wieskamp. Now, the secret’s out. The 6-foot-9 sophomore forward won't catch anyone off guard this year with multiple top analysts pegging him as a first-round NBA Draft prospect.

From Matt Gatens to Devyn Marble to Aaron White to Jarrod Uthoff to Peter Jok to Tyler Cook to Garza, McCaffery’s high-powered offenses at Iowa often feature a leading man.

Murray has the physical tools and mindset to be that guy this season.

"In high school and in prep school, I was a scorer," Murray said Monday at Iowa basketball’s media day. "That’s what I was looked at as. Last year, I was playing a role, and I was trying to better our team."

Murray averaged 7.2 points and 5.1 rebounds and made the Big Ten Conference's all-freshman team last season. Those numbers may not scream star in the making, but the all-around game that makes him so attractive to those at the next level — the length and quickness to defend smaller or bigger players and an ability to run the floor and score in transition — is what should translate well for Iowa this winter. 

More:With more than 60% of last year's scoring gone, opportunity abounds for Iowa men's basketball players

The only piece missing on the stat sheet is his 3-point percentage (29.6% as a freshman), but Murray said that’s been his biggest area of growth this offseason. If he is nailing his 3s this season and plays like McCaffery expects, he'll have an NBA decision to make next spring.

"I’ve been a good shooter my whole life. I think that was just a confidence thing last year," Murray said. "This year, I’ll have all the confidence in the world that I can be a great shooter."

Murray has certainly heard the NBA Draft talk. He said Monday he considered it a byproduct of his hard work. He spoke freely Monday about having a "chip on his shoulder" that his only Division I offer (before going to a year of prep school in Florida) was from Western Illinois.

"I’ve been the underdog my whole life, and this year will continue to be the same,” he said. "That’s just my mentality going into this year."

McCaffery took some heat when he offered the Murray twins — Keegan and Kris — when it seemed nobody else wanted them. Nobody’s scoffing now.

Murray had arguably his best game as a Hawkeye in the first round of last year’s NCAA Tournament against Grand Canyon — 13 points, seven rebounds and four blocked shots. The moment wasn’t too big for him then; it's not now, either.

"Having a bigger target on my back doesn’t affect anything for me," Murray said. "My effort and energy will always be there. If I can change a game that way, then that’s what I’ll do."

Keegan Murray, behind, and twin brother Kris pose for a photo during Iowa's basketball media day.

Jordan Bohannon’s sixth media day really is his last.

Jordan Bohannon’s eligibility will (finally) expire after this season. The Marion native never envisioned he would play as a Hawkeye for six years, but there he was Monday, taking photos again with his No. 3 Iowa jersey that was in a frame seven months ago at last season’s senior-day ceremony.

"I’m beyond excited that I get to put on this jersey one last time, this year, and have fans back," Bohannon said. "It’s giving me goose bumps just talking about it.

"From giving my mom and dad flowers on senior day — I thought that was going to be my last day at Carver(-Hawkeye Arena) — to having coach McCaffery call me back into his office and say, 'We want you back. We want you to be the leader of this team. Here’s the keys to this team … and you can lead this team to the NCAA Tournament and solidify your legacy.' Once he said that, that opened my eyes on the impact I could have on these younger guys."

More:Illinois power forward Owen Freeman commits to Iowa over Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan State, others

Bohannon said his passion to leave a final mark as a Hawkeye is burning. He needs 11 3-pointers to set the Big Ten’s career record; McCaffery thinks he could make 90-plus this season as he becomes Iowa’s primary shooting guard. Bohannon is 40% for his career from 3-point land (364-for-909). It’s wild to think that he will end his Iowa career with more than 1,000 3-point attempts.

"I have the ability to make six, seven, eight 3s a game," Bohannon said. "That’s going to be my mindset every game, that I need to be an aggressive shooter. My shot can get so many people open, just with how (defenses) can extend out on me as well."

Why Iowa’s “1” guard is now wearing No. 2.

Joe Toussaint is doubling his uniform number. He wore No. 1 at Iowa in his first two seasons.

Now he’s No. 2, and it feels right.

"I feel so much more comfortable with No. 2 on my back," the junior point guard said Monday.

Toussaint said he began wearing No. 2 as a young child in the Bronx, New York, and wore it through high school. But when he got to Iowa, Jack Nunge was wearing No. 2. Toussaint said the No. 2 is worn by a lot of point guards from New York; he used Kyrie Irving (who wore No. 2 when he was with the Cleveland Cavaliers and now wears No. 11 ... with two 1s that add up to two) as an example.

More:The outside hype around Iowa basketball has faded. That's just fine for these Hawkeyes

"There’s just something about a 2 that’s different," Toussaint said. "I just needed it."

The jersey change is representative of Toussaint's fresh-start mentality. After starting 20 games as a true freshman, he didn’t start any as a sophomore and averaged just 3.7 points per game. Toussaint and Ahron Ulis are expected to share Iowa’s point guard spot.

"My mentality this year is to be a winner, be a killer," Toussaint said. "Just go hunt."

Even though Iowa lost big men Garza and Nunge, this team has size.

Part of media day is sizing up the team for the first time in a long time. And these Hawkeyes certainly pass the eye test with their length.

They will frequently trot out lineups with three or even four players at a time standing 6-8 or taller. The Murray twins have impressive wing spans, and either one could capably defend an opposing center. Keegan Murray said he even grew an inch this year (to 6-9) and has added 20 pounds (to 225) from last year’s playing weight. Kris is a half-inch shorter.

Transfer Filip Rebraca is 6-9, 230. McCaffery’s son, Patrick, is also 6-9 as a wing player.

Even incoming wing Payton Sandfort looks Big Ten-ready. Sandfort is more filled out than Wieskamp (similar height and skill set) was as a freshman. Sandfort isn't a redshirt candidate; McCaffery sees an instant role for the Waukee product.

More:Fran McCaffery likes his Iowa basketball team this season. Here's five takeaways why

"Payton's been great. Shooting the ball well. Moves without the ball. Handles it. Passes it. Tough," McCaffery said. " … We've got a lot of guys. He's one of them. He's ready."

Iowa’s two tallest players are in the developmental stage. Freshman Riley Mulvey (6-11, 245) and sophomore Josh Ogundele (6-10, 265) give McCaffery some extra options. Ogundele says he’s lost about 30 pounds; he looks more fit than he was a year ago. In a Big Ten with a lot of good centers, it’s good to have depth.

Connor McCaffery will come off the bench this year; Patrick McCaffery remains injured.

The only regular that didn’t participate in the open-practice portion of media day was Patrick McCaffery, who has missed 4-5 weeks with significant sprains of both ankles. There is still almost a month until Iowa’s season-opener (Nov. 9 vs. Longwood), but the sooner he can get back in the flow the better.

Connor McCaffery, meanwhile, was practicing and looked fluid. He is coming off spring surgery on his left and right hips. The plan is for Connor — who has 62 career starts — to come off the bench as a fifth-year senior, his father said. He has been largely a facilitator for the likes of Garza and Wieskamp and can play four positions.

"He's still going to be the guy that is constantly talking to guys on the floor or on the bench," Fran McCaffery said. "He understands what we're doing as well as anybody I've ever coached."

There is no starting lineup yet, but my best educated guess (if everyone’s healthy) is Toussaint, Bohannon, Patrick McCaffery, Keegan Murray and Rebraca.

More:Analysis: Iowa men's basketball releases full 31-game schedule for 2021-22 season

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 26 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.