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A year after Keegan Murray’s NBA draft arrival, brother Kris is on the cusp of the league

When Kris — a projected first-round pick — is selected next week, the twins could be on opposing teams for the first time in their lives

CHICAGO – Next week’s 77th edition of the NBA draft could propel Iowa’s Kris Murray into rare air.

Last year, just before the Sacramento Kings selected Murray’s twin, Keegan, fourth overall, the televised image generated a shared laugh from the twins.

“They announce Keegan’s name and, as he walks to the podium, it’s my headshot from Iowa,” Kris Murray said. “So, technically, he didn’t get drafted.”

Which means Keegan hopes for a bit of redemption when his brother’s name is called next week. 

“They can at least put my face on the screen when Kris is drafted,” Keegan Murray said, laughing. “Now that would be fair.”

Since birth, a fair life for forwards Keegan and Kris has meant time together as family, classmates in school and teammates on the basketball court. But that all changed last year when Keegan entered the NBA draft. It split up the twins for the first time in their lives, which created a new challenge each had to overcome.

“We kind of grew up,” Keegan said. “We knew at some point we’d eventually split up, so it was good for both of us.”

Keegan Murray (left) and Kris Murray (right) at 10 months old.

Kanyon Murray

Kris Murray (left) and Keegan Murray (right) in fifth grade.

Kanyon Murray

While Keegan began a new life as an NBA rookie in Sacramento, Kris remained at school in Iowa City. The Murrays played two seasons together at Iowa. In their last season together, Keegan led the team with 23.5 points and 8.7 rebounds per game, while Kris averaged 9.7 points and 4.3 rebounds.

“My return to school meant I’d have a more expanded role, and I’d be able to show my game a lot more than the year before,” Kris said. “Keegan was one of the leaders of the team, and with him gone, someone had to fill in that need.”

In Keegan’s absence, Kris led the team with 20.2 points and 7.9 rebounds per game. He was the only Division I player to average 20 points, 7 rebounds, and a block per game while making 65 or more 3-pointers. With the Kings, Keegan set an NBA rookie record for 3-pointers made (206) this past season, beating the previous mark (187) held by Donovan Mitchell when he played for the Utah Jazz.

“That time away meant we weren’t relying on each other,” Keegan said. “Before, we’d always go to the gym together, we’d always eat together. It was about figuring out how to incorporate more people into our lives.”

The separation contributed highly to their growth, but the distance apart came with challenges. 

“We’ve been roommates and best friends our whole lives, so it was definitely weird not being around him those first couple of weeks, especially on the court,” Kris said. “It was definitely an adjustment, but I’d say my parents had a tougher time with us apart.”

Those challenges for their parents, Kenyon and Michelle, involved the distance from their home in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to visiting Keegan in Sacramento. And they had to learn how to parent a 22-year-old NBA player and a 22-year-old college junior. Parenting duties also involved their daughter McKenna, a rising high school senior, and Demetrius, an older son.

“How do we give them the time they all need when they’re all spread out?” Kenyon said. 

Kenyon played for Iowa from 1992 to 1996. He welcomed the separation because years of togetherness produced continuous comparisons from the outside.

“Keegan had a huge adjustment to the NBA, and without his brother, he had to grow up and learn some things on the fly,” Kenyon said. “And it was the same for Kris, now being in the spotlight this past season and by doing his own thing, he showed he’s an NBA talent as well.”

From left to right: Draft prospects Kris Murray, Cam Whitmore and Colby Jones stretch during the 2023 NBA Draft Combine at Wintrust Arena on May 15 in Chicago.

Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images

Kris, like many players invited to last month’s NBA Draft Combine in Chicago, didn’t participate in scrimmages. He may have proven enough in college. He has some range from the outside (33.5% from 3-point range) and is athletic enough to score in the paint. There’s also advantages to having a brother who plays in the NBA. Keegan has advised his brother about what’s expected by the league, and he’s provided support with various drills.

“Once our season was over, I joined Kris in Chicago and worked out with him for five days,” said Keegan, who, at 6-foot-8, 225 pounds, is five pounds heavier than his brother. “I was able to show him stuff I learned in the NBA, and I talked to him about my experiences.”

But what adds to Kris’ projection as a mid- to late- first-round pick is his defensive prowess. 

“He’s long, athletic, can shoot the ball and he’s sneaky defensively,” said a Western Conference scout. “He’s a good on-ball shot-blocker.”

Several mock drafts have Kris reuniting with his brother as the 24th overall selection by the Kings, a team on the rise after winning its first Pacific Division crown in 20 years. After a year apart, the prospect of playing together again is intriguing. 

“Their talents have always been able to work in unison,” Kenyon said. “Kris is a facilitator and Keegan is more of a shooter. And there’s just a different bond with twins as opposed to siblings.”

That bond has meant success on each level. In their last year together at Iowa in 2021-22, the twins helped the Hawkeyes finish 26-10 overall. It was Iowa’s most wins in 35 years.

“We’ve always been able to produce winning wherever we’ve been,” Kris said. “So playing together is definitely a goal of ours, because we have really good chemistry. If we don’t play together now, maybe sometime down the road.”

Kenyon Murray (left) and Kris Murray (center) attend Game 1 of the Sacramento Kings’ 2023 NBA playoffs series against the Golden State Warriors on April 15 at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, California.

Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

A new scenario will arise if Kris is selected earlier, or if the Kings decide to choose another player. The Murrays will be foes instead of teammates for the first time. It would rekindle the fierce one-on-one battles throughout their childhood.

As youngsters, the twins would battle for hours in the basement on their Little Tikes basketball hoop. As they got older, one-on-one in the driveway would begin during the day and turn into night games under the lights. 

There was a time in high school when the twins played at a gym with limited space on the other side of the basket. A padded wall was on the other side.

“One-on-one? I’d call it all-out war,” Kenyon said. “Whenever someone would go up for a shot, the other would make contact and they’d go flying into the wall. It never came to blows, but a few times I had to separate them. We eventually settled on just shooting free throws.”

The Murrays said they haven’t played one-on-one since they were sophomores in high school, and neither is sure who leads the series.

“I don’t remember who has the most wins in one-on-one,” Keegan said, “but now I’m the better golfer.”

Branson Wright is a filmmaker and freelance multimedia sports reporter.