Keegan Murray opens up about his looming NBA selection and 2022 draft process
Just days before a life-altering moment, former Iowa basketball star Keegan Murray is leaving everything to fate.
Murray, a projected top-10 NBA draft pick, spent the last three months training in Chicago and visiting various NBA teams in between. On Thursday, he and his father, Kenyon, moved his things back into their Cedar Rapids home. On June 23, Murray will find out where he'll spend the foreseeable future as a projected first-round draft pick.
The pre-draft process is officially over. Now it's a waiting game.
"I think there's a calmness," Murray told the Register. "Just because I know that I've been through the process and it's pretty much up to fate and stuff. There's a level of excitement, too, because you don't know where you're gonna go and anything can happen on draft night. But I'm looking forward to the future."
The latest ForTheWin mock draft projects Murray as the No. 6 pick to the Indiana Pacers. Other mock drafts have him going as high as No. 3 to the Houston Rockets. It's a seismic shift in attention for Murray, whose extraordinary talent remained under the radar until about midway through his freshman season at Iowa. After a spectacular sophomore season, the 6-foot-8 forward decided to enter the draft.
His days of being overlooked are over. Murray will be one of a few dozen select prospects attending the draft in person, and he is expected to be an impact rookie from Day 1. Despite his new reality, Murray said he hasn't changed much. He hopes the same approach that got him this far will help him thrive at the professional level.
"I'm coming in with the same mentality," Murray said. "Obviously now there's a lot of attention and my name is thrown around a lot of different places. But I have to come in and treat myself like I'm an undrafted rookie. Just like I do when I got to (Iowa), just come in and just kind of earn my position and know that I have to earn it. Nothing will change in that regard."
Murray likened his pre-draft process to his prep school year at DME Academy in Florida, where his schedule was filled with basketball-related activities. His training sessions featured fellow draft hopefuls, but NBA veterans also could be found in the facilities.
Perhaps more than what he learned on the court, Murray's biggest growth came from soaking up knowledge from professional players. His biggest takeaway was how important taking care of his body is as a professional. He admitted he was "always sore" in the early weeks of training but over time he began mastering recovery and changed his diet habits with the help of his strength and conditioning coach.
"I think the biggest thing that I learned is the recovery part," Murray said. "It's obviously different, you play 82 games in a season, maybe more if you're in the playoffs. So it's a lot different than college so that's probably the biggest adjustment. The life on the road, the road trips, West Coast road trips, things like that. So it's been cool to hear their side of things on that perspective."
On the court, Murray's trainers pinpointed areas of his game that needed refining and would be critical to rookie success. He likely won't have as many plays called for him offensively (at least early on) as he did at Iowa, so being able to create on his own and knocking down shot opportunities when presented was his focus.
One particular drill that Murray remembers is "21," in which he had to make 21-of-25 three-pointers but couldn't miss two in a row. In addition, he played in a lot of one-on-one situations and expanded his ball-handling skills by going through several two-ball drills among other things.
"It was really just becoming more creative with the ball in my hands," Murray said. "That was probably the biggest point of emphasis, just doing different things off the dribble, tightening my handle, and things like that. I feel like that's really come a long way since the end of the season. And also the consistency with my shot every time. (The) key thing was 'Don't miss two shots in a row.' Throughout the process, I really got (more) consistent with my jump shot."
Murray met with many NBA teams throughout the process. He did a little of everything for Iowa last season, and he said teams haven't pigeonholed him to one position. With his size and ability to shoot and defend, teams project him as a player who can fit several lineup variations.
In addition to his physical gifts, Murray is embracing the challenge of helping turn a franchise around. He's won at every level of basketball he's played at so far, most recently with a Big Ten championship at Iowa. The thought of joining a young core and aiding in a push for playoff contention and beyond is one of the most exciting parts of his new journey.
"I think it's just kind of the vibe I bring," Murray said. "I'm a guy that likes to win. So obviously that winning mentality comes with it and being a professional on the court and off the court is something that I feel like I bring as well."
One notable visit Murray took during the process was to the Detroit Pistons, who hold the No. 5 pick. His former Iowa teammate, Luka Garza, just finished his rookie season with the Pistons, and he and Murray spent a good amount of time together during Murray's visit. Conversation topics included tips from Garza on how to navigate the draft process and the NBA.
Meanwhile, the thought of what Murray's upcoming selection means for Iowa basketball isn't lost on him. Only three Hawkeyes were drafted from 2000-20. Now the program will have three in the last two years with Murray, Garza (No. 52 in 2021), and another former teammate, San Antonio Spurs forward Joe Wieskamp (No. 41 in 2021). Murray could become the highest draft pick in school history (Fred Brown went No. 6 overall in 1971). Moving forward, he hopes that Hawkeye draft picks become the norm.
"I feel like with Luka and Joe last year and me this year it sets a precedent for Iowa basketball," Murray said. "It shows recruits that Iowa hasn't been the biggest basketball school in the world but you can come here and be successful. So I feel like we set that standard and raised that level that Iowa should be known for."
Murray plans on spending quality family time over the weekend before the entire Murray family travels to New York City on Tuesday for draft week. It's a special moment for Keegan to share with his family, particularly his twin brother, Kris, who went through the pre-draft process with him and hopes to have a similar experience next year.
"I've always had a close circle around me," Murray said. "That's not really gonna change from here on out. I think that'll definitely help me because there's a lot of distractions once you get to the NBA. A lot of people will come out of the woodwork and talk to you who haven't talked to you before. I think just having people that I trust and I know I can trust around me will help me in the future and the rest of my career."
Murray said he feels as ready as he can be physically and mentally. And if history's any indication, that means he's primed for another breakout campaign this upcoming year.
"I feel like for me my game's only just started," Murray said. "I feel like I have a long ways to go to where I want to be at as a basketball player. So it's an exciting time for me and my development."
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 email@example.com.