Iowa's Keegan Murray looks ahead to NBA Draft: 'I'm not even close to where I think I can be'
IOWA CITY — Keegan Murray has been overlooked for the majority of his basketball career. His super sophomore season at Iowa changed that, as he went from a bench player last year to one of college basketball's biggest stars in 2022.
Now, the consensus first team All-American is looking ahead to professional basketball.
Murray announced his intent to enter the 2022 NBA Draft on Tuesday via his Twitter account. Shortly after, Murray met with reporters via Zoom to explain his decision.
"We really didn't start talking about it until after the season," Murray said. "That was best for me to keep that distraction aside. But I felt like it was in my best interest for me personally to go ahead and declare."
In replacing last season's national player of the year in Luka Garza as Iowa's No. 1 option, Murray tripled his points per game output from about seven points to 23.6 points per game, fourth nationally and first among power conferences. He was a six-time Big Ten player of the week, first-team All-Big Ten selection and finalist for the Naismith Trophy, the highest honor in college basketball.
Currently, Murray is the No. 5 prospect on ESPN's best available draft prospects list, and ForTheWin's latest mock draft projects Murray as the No. 6 overall pick to the Sacramento Kings.
"He's got such great demeanor; nothing seems to bother him," ESPN basketball analyst Jay Bilas said of Keegan. "He's not a demonstrative player but his game speaks very loudly. Obviously, there's a responsibility being the best player but it doesn't seem to weigh on him. It's really impressive."
Murray will sign with an agent soon and then will determine where he'll train for the NBA Draft combine on May 16-22 in Chicago. Despite his long list of accolades and growing acclaim from NBA Draft analysts, Murray has a laser focus on continuing to improve his game. He's set goals for himself physically and on the court over the next few months.
"Putting on good weight and trying to increase my athleticism," Murray said. "I feel like over the past couple of years I've been able to help myself physically in the offseason and that's what I'm trying to do this year. On the court, I'm trying to make my game better in every area.
"I can get better at anything. I'm not even close to where I think I can be so that's something that I'm going to try to do over these next couple of months."
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Murray largely answered every question that scouts had for him ahead of this season. Last summer, Murray was a projected first-round pick largely because of his build and defensive ability but questions loomed about his offensive skillset.
This season, Murray recorded 20-plus point games 26 times and 25-plus points in 16 games, both of which rank first nationally. He shot 55% from the field and 39.8% from the 3-point line. In the Big Ten tournament, he won the Most Outstanding Player by breaking the tournament record for most points (103) and field goals (38).
Bilas compared Murray to Indiana Pacers guard Malcolm Brogdon. ESPN Draft analyst Mike Schmitz described Murray as "the most complete prospect in the draft" via his Twitter account. Personally, Murray doesn't compare himself to any NBA players but understands what he can bring to any team that drafts him this June.
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"Early on, I'll be a guy that does whatever's necessary for our team's success," Murray said. "I feel like I'm a guy that can space the floor and stretch the defense out offensively. Shoot 3s, catch-and-shoot, play off the dribble, play in transition and just do whatever's necessary for the team to win."
Murray's scoring prowess this year didn't take away from his other abilities on the court. He led Iowa in rebounding (8.7) and blocks per game (1.9) and is a finalist for the Lefty Driesell Defensive Player of the Year, presented annually to the top defensive player in Division I basketball. His willingness to do anything on the court is why he's continuing to rise up draft boards in recent months, Bilas said.
"He's not just a scorer. He plays at both ends," Bilas said. "He established himself as a defender, rebounder, sort of a playmaker in regards to he'll do the dirty-work stuff. He doesn't do the headline stuff and then the other stuff gets swept aside. He does the other stuff first and does the headline stuff along with it, and there's a difference there."
In just two seasons, Murray cemented himself as one of the best players in Iowa program history. He surpassed Garza for the single-season scoring record (822 points) and became the fourth consensus first team All-American in school history. The only accomplishment that's left is becoming Iowa's first first-round pick since Ricky Davis in 1998 and its first lottery pick since Ronnie Lester in 1980.
Murray is no longer underrated. When asked what he's most looking forward to about the NBA, he answered with proving that he belongs among the best players in the world on a nightly basis.
"For me it's just going up against the best players each and every night," Murray said. "Showing what I'm made of and knowing that I'm supposed to be (in the NBA). And I know that I'm supposed to be there."
Kennington Lloyd Smith III covers Iowa Hawkeyes football and men's basketball for the Des Moines Register. You can connect with Kennington on Twitter @SkinnyKenny_ or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.