Keegan Murray has a strong chance to be drafted by the Detroit Pistons at No. 5 overall. A player already on Detroit’s roster has been guiding him through his draft process.
Luka Garza, drafted by the Pistons at No. 52 overall in 2021, was teammates with Murray at Iowa during the 2020-21 season. Garza won multiple player of the year awards that season, including the Naismith and Wooden awards. After his run with the Hawkeyes ended, he told Murray that Iowa was now his team.
Murray was solid in filling Garza’s big shoes and is now projected as a top-six pick in the 2022 NBA draft after his strong sophomore season. The 6-foot-8 forward averaged 23.5 points, 8.7 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game while shooting 55.4% overall and 39.8% from 3. He’s considered a safe prospect in a draft with few sure things. And while he’s older — he’ll be 22 when next season starts — he wants to prove his ceiling is still high.
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“I feel like my ceiling is as high as anyone just because I’m a late bloomer,” Murray said during the NBA draft combine Thursday. “I feel like I haven’t really grown into my body yet. You can see the progress from when I was in prep school to my freshman year to my sophomore year. I still continued to work on my body, still adding weight and things like that. Like I said earlier, I’m a 21-year-old in an 18-year-old’s body. I’m still working on my body. I feel like my ceiling is as high as anyone’s in the NBA.”
Garza has been a “key influence” for Murray during the past two seasons. The Pistons center has spent time in Iowa City this offseason, and he and Murray frequently text. Garza was a late second-round pick, but Murray will likely become Iowa’s first first-rounder since Ricky Davis in 1998. Murray was one of college basketball’s most impactful players on both ends of the floor. But Murray feels he isn’t done adding to his game.
Murray said he was 5-10 as a high school sophomore, but grew to 6-8 by the end of his senior year. He only started four games during his freshman season at Iowa, averaging 7.2 points and 5.1 rebounds in 18 minutes per game while shooting 50.6% overall and 29.6% from 3. Murray’s sophomore season was a massive leap across the board. He emerged as one of the best players in the Big Ten and thrived as a primary option. He spaces the floor, has good footwork, is a smart cutter and runs hard in transition.
“I worked a lot on my skill development,” Murray said. “I remember last year at the end of the year, Luka told me this is going to be my team now. I had to do whatever to make that happen. For me, it was just becoming the best-conditioned guy on the court and not showing signs of weakness when I was tired, but also creating diversity in my skillset and putting the ball in the basket in different ways.
“My thing is trying to get up and down the court as fast as I can,” he added. “I always try to be the aggressor and not always have the defense be the aggressor. Being able to play in the open floor, being able to cut, push in transition, run the floor in transition, I think that’ll only expand my game even more at the NBA level, because every team has superstars. Any guy can be the guy any night. For me, I feel like that’ll translate really well.”
Murray’s 1.9 blocks per game last season suggests he can protect the rim. At 6-8, it’s more likely he’ll play power forward, defending the perimeter more often. Murray said he’s comfortable doing both.
“I feel like I can switch onto guards, switch onto bigs,” he said. “Obviously the athleticism and size is a little bit different than in college, but every level you go up is another challenge. I want to take the challenge. I don’t care who’s matched up across from me. I’m going to take that challenge and do what I can to stop them.”
Murray has ties to the state of Michigan, too. His father, Kenyon, starred at Battle Creek Central High School and was named Michigan’s Mr. Basketball in 1992 — the only player from Battle Creek to win the award. Kenyon also played at Iowa, and Keegan and his twin brother, Kris, followed in Kenyon’s footsteps.
Family is Keegan’s primary motivation, he said. Growing up, he visited his grandparents in Battle Creek every year. His life will change in five weeks, and he’s eager to share the moment with his family.
“My family just makes me work hard every single day,” he said. “Just knowing that in my position I can create generational wealth for not only my personal family but my overall family through generations. For me, I love the game of basketball, I’ve always loved it. And it’s crazy how a little round ball that you shoot through a hoop, how far that can take you in life. I just love the game. My family is with me through every step of the way.”
Contact Omari Sankofa II at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa. Read more on the Detroit Pistons and sign up for our Pistons newsletter.