Keegan Murray’s path has prepared him for the Kings’ potential road back to the playoffs
The No. 4 pick in the 2022 NBA draft is receiving high praise and welcomes the challenge of ending Sacramento’s long postseason drought
SAN FRANCISCO — Playoffs?
The Sacramento Kings haven’t been to the NBA playoffs since 2006, when rookie forward Keegan Murray was 5 years old. The franchise is also starting over with coach Mike Brown, its 12th coach since last making the postseason. At this point, just making it to the play-in tournament would seem like a major step forward for the Kings.
Murray, however, isn’t settling.
“The big thing we talked about when I came here was the playoff drought that they’ve been on and we’ve put a lot of good pieces together,” Murray told Andscape. “The chemistry is there. So, getting to the playoffs, doing damage in the playoffs, is a big priority for me. I know it’s a big priority for the organization.”
Considering Murray’s road to the fourth pick in the 2022 NBA draft, it’s easy to understand why he is dreaming big for the Kings. Before the Kings made the former University of Iowa star their prize selection, he was lightly recruited out of high school and questioned upon arrival at Iowa. He then blossomed far beyond anyone’s imagination.
His journey has helped Murray to feel a kinship with the Kings from the moment they drafted him. While it has been common for NBA agents to try to steer their prospective draft clients away from Sacramento in recent years, Murray wanted the challenge.
“I just embrace the Kings’ situation,” Murray said. “My whole life through my basketball career, I’ve been challenged. Not knowing where I was going to go in college. My senior year of high school in April, I had no clue where I was going to go. So that was a challenge within itself. And I got to Iowa, was another challenge to be able to play. So, I know that I just like to get through challenges, be challenged and exceed through it.”
Murray averaged 23.5 points, 8.7 rebounds, 1.9 blocks and 1.3 steals as a sophomore at Iowa last season. The Cedar Rapids, Iowa, native was also a 2022 first-team All-Big Ten selection and the winner of the Karl Malone Award for the nation’s top power forward. The Kings turned down potential trade offers and passed over draft prospects such as Jaden Ivey, Bennedict Mathurin and Shaedon Sharpe to select Murray.
The Kings have had their struggles in recent years in the draft. Sacramento selected the likes of Jimmer Fredette in 2011 over Klay Thompson and Kawhi Leonard; Thomas Robinson in 2012 over Damian Lillard; Ben McLemore in 2013 over CJ McCollum and Giannis Antetokounmpo; Nik Stauskas in 2014 over Zach LaVine; Willie Cauley-Stein in 2015 over Devin Booker; and Marvin Bagley in 2018 over Luka Doncic, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Trae Young.
But after watching Murray lead Sacramento to a 3-0 record in the recent California Classic Summer League games at Chase Center, the hard-luck Kings believe they made a great selection.
“Oh, my God, that dude is good,” Kings guard Davion Mitchell said. “He’s efficient. He plays the right way. He tries on defense. He just needs to talk a little bit more, but that will come along as he gets more comfortable with us.”
Brown said Murray fits his new Kings culture from “his personality to his basketball ability.”
“He’s long, he can score from three levels. He has a matureness about him that is unique for a guy as young as he is. I loved his journey getting to where he is, and his potential is off the charts,” Brown said. “People talk about his rebounding and ability to be a big defender for us. All of those pieces fit and jumped out at us. The person in itself is the right person for our culture as we step forward.”
Murray averaged a California Classic-best 19.6 points and 8.0 rebounds on 51% shooting from the field and 44% from 3-point range. The versatile 6-foot-8, 215-pounder scored 26 points on Sunday against the Miami Heat and 24 points on Tuesday against the Los Angeles Lakers. Murray and the Kings make their Las Vegas Summer League debut on Saturday against the Orlando Magic and top overall pick Paolo Banchero.
Murray said after playing in the California Classic that his “confidence is at an all-time high.”
“I played well. The consistency needs to be there a little bit more. But my confidence hasn’t wavered at all. It’s a good start for me and my career,” Murray said. “I just want to learn as much as I can. Going into Vegas, I know there are going to be good games and not good games.”
Kings associate head coach Jordi Fernandez, who coached the summer league team in San Francisco, gushed about Murray’s potential, and described him as “steady and efficient.” Fernandez added that the rookie is smart, coachable, humble, a good teammate and wants to do the right thing.
“I’m really impressed so far with Keegan,” Fernandez said. “Moving into Vegas, I’m very excited for him.”
“The first question I got from a media guy was, ‘Are you going to be a walk-on?’ So, I remember a lot of people were mad that they offered us scholarships during that time. That was kind of hard on me, because I knew that I was like a really good player. So, for me, it was just proving to myself, my family that I belonged there.” — Keegan Murray
Just three years ago, NCAA Division I schools were not excited about Murray despite a stellar prep career at Cedar Rapids Prairie High playing alongside his twin brother Kris.
After averaging 20.3 points and 7.2 rebounds at Cedar Rapids Prairie as a senior, Murray received only one Division I scholarship offer, from Western Illinois University. Small colleges Upper Iowa University, Truman State and Southwest Minnesota State, along with junior colleges, offered scholarships as well.
But believing that his sons were destined for something bigger, former Iowa forward Kenyon Murray convinced them to attend a postgraduate program at DME Academy in Daytona Beach, Florida.
“I wanted to go to a junior college close to home, but my dad started poking around at postgrad schools. So, I ended up doing that,” Keegan Murray said.
Murray led DME’s 10-member “Blue” team with 22.1 points and 7.5 rebounds in 26 games. Meanwhile, his brother Kris averaged 17.1 points and 10.1 rebounds. When Murray announced that he was entering the 2022 NBA draft, he gave DME Academy a shout-out, saying, “Thank you for giving me an opportunity to play at a high level and putting me on the path to become the player I am today.”
“I feel like it was important just because it gave me another year of growth,” Murray said. “In high school, I grew from 5-10 to 6-7 from my sophomore to senior year. So, it just gave me another year to grow into my body, develop a little bit more. We played a bunch of junior colleges down in Florida. So that was a challenge, playing D-I guys. So, I just felt like it got me ready for my freshman year.”
The Murray twins followed in the footsteps of their father by signing with Iowa. It was a dream that they had since childhood. Even so, there was a perception that the signing may have been more of a favor to their father.
“The first question I got from a media guy was, ‘Are you going to be a walk-on?’ ” Murray said. “So, I remember a lot of people were mad that they offered us scholarships during that time. That was kind of hard on me, because I knew that I was like a really good player. So, for me, it was just proving to myself, my family that I belonged there. And I felt like I did that.”
Murray’s play quickly changed the questions about him.
He averaged 7.2 points and 5.1 rebounds during his freshman season with the Hawkeyes in 2020-21. It was during that season, he said, that he began believing he could be an NBA player. The consensus first-team All-American led Iowa to a 2022 Big Ten tournament championship and was named Most Outstanding Player after scoring a record 103 points in four games. The Iowa single-season scoring record holder also ranked fourth in the country in points per game and first in player efficiency rating.
Murray announced he was entering the NBA draft on March 29.
“I feel like in the NBA, I can play 2 to 5,” Murray told ESPN’s Jonathan Givony at that time. “I can adapt to any position I’m put in. I’m looking forward to showing NBA teams my versatility on both ends of the court. I’m a lot more athletic than people realize. I’m as competitive a player as you’re going to get. It doesn’t show from my facial expressions, but I love the game of basketball and competing every single night was a blessing for me.”
Kris Murray averaged 9.7 points and 4.3 rebounds for the Hawkeyes last season and is expected to return for his junior year. With Murray off to Sacramento, it’s the first time since being born on Aug. 19, 2000, that the twins are living apart.
Murray says he and his brother are ready for the challenge of experiencing life away from each other.
“If anything, we’re happy to be apart just because we’ve been together for 21 years and you kind of nitpick at each other a little bit,” Murray said. “But he’s going his way. He is doing his thing at Iowa, and I’m doing my thing right now. So, we’re just happy for each other.”
Murray has not had a chance to get completely settled in Sacramento after being drafted last month. So far, the Kings have got to know him as a quiet, mild-mannered young man on and off the court. Sacramento will soon learn that his biggest hobby is playing golf and he also loves helping children in need.
“I golf a lot,” Murray said. “I am going to have to get a couple more rounds in to be as good as the NBA players who play well. I want to play in some of those tournaments. That would be pretty cool.
“I haven’t brought my clubs out yet. I literally went from being drafted to Sacramento and have been there ever since.”
Murray signed a name, image and likeness deal for a signature apparel line with Zoarc Athletics before his sophomore year at Iowa that had a twist to assist children in need of medical help.
Zoarc is an athletic-lifestyle apparel brand promoting fitness, health, performance and positivity. It created the IOWAVE shirt with proceeds benefiting the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital. Through his apparel line with Zoarc, Murray donated $2,164 on Nov. 2, 2021, to the children’s hospital.
Murray wrote on Instagram after presenting the check that “being able to be a part of something bigger than myself has always been my goal in life.”
“That children’s hospital is a big part of the University of Iowa and the sports there,” Murray said. “The NIL, obviously, it’s a money grab for a lot of people, but I actually want to do good with it.”
Murray says in the short time he has been in Sacramento, he has received warm welcomes from the Kings fans eager to get back to the postseason. With returning players De’Aaron Fox, Domantas Sabonis, Harrison Barnes, Mitchell, Richaun Holmes and newcomers Murray, Malik Monk and Kevin Huerter, the Kings have one of the more talented rosters that they’ve had in years.
Playoffs? While the drought has been long and the Western Conference is daunting, Murray envisions the Kings turning the corner next season.
“I’m excited to be here,” Murray said. “I feel like I can be a part of a team that turns the corner for this organization, I feel like this is a big thing that I wanted to be a part of going into the draft process and going into the draft. So, this is where I call home. I love it here so far.”