Why Iowa basketball's Kris Murray bypassed the NBA for his junior season: 'It's a great situation'

On Wednesday, Iowa basketball forward Kris Murray was met with what he called "the biggest decision of his life." 

He'd spent the past six weeks in Chicago going through the NBA pre-draft process. June 1 was the deadline for players to decide whether to stay in the draft or return to school, and Murray's decision went down to the final day. 

"There was definitely (NBA) interest throughout this whole process," he said Thursday. "I just kind of had to weigh both options, but ultimately come back to Iowa. I have no guilty conscience about not staying in the draft at all. I'm so excited to be back and, yeah, it was definitely a tough decision, probably the biggest one I've made my life but I'm happy with the decision." 

With Murray announcing he's returning for his junior season, he's projected to emerge as the team's No. 1 scoring option, a position that was just held this past season by his twin brother and projected NBA lottery pick, Keegan Murray. 

MORE: Leistikow: The many benefits of Kris Murray's Iowa basketball return

Kris noted on Thursday that next season will be the first time he can remember he and Keegan won't be teammates, but he said it'll be a good thing and it'll allow them both to grow individually. Still, there will naturally be comparisons between the Murray twins this upcoming season. Those comparisons aren't new to them, but being separated for the first time will provide clarity in the differences in their play styles.

Iowa forward Kris Murray (24) announced he's returning to school for his junior season on Wednesday.

Their father and former Iowa basketball player, Kenyon Murray, said Wednesday in an interview with the Register that Kris is a better rebounder and could be in the double-digit rebounds per game range. But the biggest difference is Kris' playmaking ability, which will be displayed more this upcoming season as he'll have the ball in his hands much more. 

"Just an ability to handle and create for other people," Kenyon said on Wednesday during the Register's Hawk Central radio hour. "That'll be probably the biggest difference that (people) will see between Kris and Keegan. Kris played point guard growing up. I think, no knock on Keegan obviously, but Kris is a more willing passer. I think there'll be some nights where he has seven or seven or eight assists in a game." 

How real was the NBA interest as decision day loomed? Very real, according to Kenyon Murray. All 30 NBA teams inquired about Kris and provided feedback in some capacity. Despite not participating in the NBA combine, Kris worked out for teams at Priority Sports' pro day following the combine, the same agency that represents Keegan. 

More:Why Keegan Murray could have a better NBA career than other top draft prospects, according to Mike Schmitz

A good showing at the pro day sparked further interest and the buzz surrounding Kris reached late first/early second-round conversations. But certain circumstances prevented a guaranteed high draft selection that could've sold Murray on going pro.

That factors included teams' plans for how they'll use their picks, upcoming free agency and the trade market. With the NBA offseason yet to officially begin, the variables provided too much risk. Whereas returning to Iowa had more concrete benefits. 

"The fact that he's going to be able to come back, be the man and show that he can lead," Kenyon said. "I think those are the things that that NBA teams want to see as well. I think when Keegan walks in the room, he believes he's the best player in the room. That comes from being a leader and performing at a high level. And I think that's one of those things that Kris will have the opportunity to do and build on this year coming back to Iowa." 

Iowa forward Kris Murray (24) will likely enter the 2022-23 college basketball season as a projected first round pick.

Returning, and having a strong season, should help answer remaining questions that NBA teams have. Kris said he and Iowa's 2022-23 team have high expectations that include trying to win a second straight Big Ten tournament title. As for Kris, who will see a much larger workload than he did last season, the opportunity and challenge ahead of him is exciting. 

"I want teams to have me on the top of their (scouting report)," Kris said. "I want to be like the focus of their defense and I'm excited for that because I think my game can evolve in different ways. 

"I think you've got to be excited for it just because it's a great situation. It's better than having low expectations or like not being seen as a breakout player. It's something that I feel good about in myself and my game and I'm excited for the pressure, high expectations and everything that comes with it." 

More:Kris Murray is back with Iowa basketball. What does that mean for Hawkeyes in 2022-23?

Beyond physical improvement, perhaps Kris' greatest development throughout this process came from his mentality. He gained confidence by testing himself and succeeding against other NBA Draft hopefuls and professional players. He took sole ownership of the draft process, making what Kenyon described as "adult" decisions for his life throughout the two months. 

Now, and maybe for the first time since high school, Kris won't be an unknown commodity or underrated player entering a basketball season. NBA interest confirmed that he's physically ready but the process helped him mature as a person.

"I'd say making the right decision has always been something that I've been able to do my basketball career so far," Kris said. "I think I've matured especially on the mental side of basketball and just kind of learning what it takes to become an NBA player. I think that's the biggest thing I took from this process." 

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 ksmith@gannett.com.