Leistikow: Kris Murray's determination to craft his own Iowa basketball legacy

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY — When Keegan Murray walked onto the floor with his parents at last month’s NBA Draft, a giant mug shot of his identical-twin brother was shown on the Barclays Center video board.

“Yeah, Keegan was mad,” Kris said, grinning. “… I knew it right away.”

And when Keegan was selected No. 4 overall by the Sacramento Kings — a historic moment as the highest draft pick of an Iowa Hawkeye — Kris' photo reappeared for the world to see.

Noted Kris to an even wider grin: “I guess they just picked the better-looking twin.”

The dry humor of Kris Murray, who is returning to the University of Iowa for his junior year, is unmistakable. We saw it emerge last season for the Hawkeyes when he had some moments in the media spotlight, which mostly was consumed by his brother. But Kris’ personality is now beginning to shine in Iowa City, especially as Keegan’s early accolades at the NBA level continue to raise outside expectations for Kris.

Kris Murray has bulked up and has been working on his body for next season in preparation of being the team's star following the departure of his twin brother, Keegan, to the NBA's Sacramento Kings.

“I’m definitely a more independent person. I definitely want to make that impact on this team, separate from Keegan,” Kris said this week prior to an Iowa basketball practice. “My legacy will be different here at Iowa. The one that he left was a just a platform for the rest of our team to grow. And especially for me, to take over his role he had last year.”

While the rest of his family (mom Michelle, dad Kenyon, sister McKenna) was in Las Vegas to witness Keegan take the NBA Summer League by storm, Kris chose to stay home and work out with his teammates.

“I can’t just take a week off, even though I love Keegan and support him through everything,” Kris said. “We had a week of workouts, and I can’t miss those. I can watch him on TV, too, and I can always call him whenever.”

Kris may have a more comedic side than Keegan, but that shouldn’t be mistaken for a lack of seriousness toward the game of basketball. He's put on four pounds of muscle on his 6-foot-8 frame and is diligent about good nutritional choices.

“We wanted him out there with us obviously, because it’s kind of a big deal,” his father, Kenyon Murray, told the Des Moines Register. “But literally he was like, ‘Dad, I can’t go. I’m not going to miss anything.’

“He’s locked in. He says, ‘It’s my role to be the leader. And I want to be in the best shape.’ … So, I’m proud of him for that, obviously. That shows how dedicated he is and how seriously he’s taking the opportunity next year.”

Kris will also skip the family’s planned vacation to South Carolina in early August. Even Keegan will be going (accompanied by a Kings trainer, of course). The only getaway Kris allow himself is a flight south to the DME Academy in Daytona Beach, Florida, where the twins spent their first year out of Cedar Rapids Prairie High School preparing for college basketball. On July 28, the Murrays will be the first inductees into the DME Academy Hall of Fame.

Bottom line, Kris is laser-focused on the Hawkeyes’ basketball season ahead. And as his brother’s stock continues to go through the roof in the NBA — Keegan was the Summer League MVP after averaging 23.3 points and 7.3 rebounds in seven games for Sacramento — Kris' spotlight intensifies.

What did he mean by that comment about it being different than his brother’s?

“A lot of what he’s talking about is he’ll be a different player,” his father said. “He can dominate the game as much as Keegan did, but it’ll be in a little different way because his skill set is a little bit different. People just haven’t seen it, right?”

Kris readily admits that he probably won’t match Keegan’s sophomore-year scoring output. Keegan set the single-season record for points at Iowa with 822 (crushing Luka Garza’s previous mark of 747) and averaged 23.5 per game, the most of any power-conference player. While playing with his brother, Kris has always been more of a ball-handler even though they have almost identical physical attributes.

We saw Kris’ potential in pockets a year ago, especially when he poured in 29 points against Indiana with Keegan in foul trouble.

Now, it’s the Kris show. And a chance to create his own legacy.

This is the first time he’ll have ever played on a team without his brother. He could have followed Keegan into the NBA. As Iowa coach Fran McCaffery revealed Tuesday, Kris had guarantees to be a second-round pick and get a two-way NBA deal in which he could spend part of next season with the big club and part in the G League. Two-way contracts are worth roughly $502,000 – or about half a full-time rookie’s minimum salary.

Turning down half a million bucks to lead the Hawkeyes should be appreciated by Iowa fans out there.

“He accepted the challenge of coming back. He bet on himself,” McCaffery said. “A lot of guys, if they have a two-way, they take it.

“He loves his teammates, and he wants the responsibility that’s going to be placed on him. And he’s ready for it.”

And while his numbers next season (which begins Nov. 7) might not match Keegan’s — everyone should realize that going in — Kris wants to be playing on the second or even third weekend of the NCAA Tournament. As Hawkeye fans are well-aware, it’s been since 1999 since their team reached a Sweet 16.

With seven upperclassmen, including Kris and four players with significant starting experience, there’s a not-so-quiet hope in Iowa City that this team can be as good or better than the one that amassed 26 victories (second-most in school history), won a Big Ten Conference tournament title and earned a No. 5 seed in the Big Dance.

Iowa’s non-conference schedule is a beast — six power-conference teams, including a matchup with Duke in the Jimmy V Classic Dec. 6 in New York City. McCaffery wouldn’t have put such a gauntlet together if he didn’t think his team could handle it.

And he knows Kris is the guy to lead them. His time is here.

“You’ll see different statistics of mine that go up. We’ll have a really balanced roster this year. We have a lot of people that you’ll see made a lot of growth this offseason. So I think we’ll have a really balanced team that’s going to go a long way.

“Hopefully we’ll be playing in April this year.”

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 27 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.

Kris Murray averaged 9.7 points per game last season but should be in line to perhaps double that as a junior.