How Keegan Murray transformed from son of Battle Creek legend to Pistons’ NBA draft target

Detroit Free Press

Kenyon Murray might be the greatest basketball player ever from Battle Creek.

He averaged 26 points and 10 rebounds at Battle Creek Central and was named Michigan Mr. Basketball in 1992 — the only player from Battle Creek to win the award. He finished with 1,448 career points, setting both a city and school record. He made the 1992 McDonald’s All-American game, then started 95 of 124 games in four years at Iowa, where he ranks third in school history with 200 steals and 16th with 1,230 points.

But his son, Keegan Murray, surpassed him at Iowa, and now is a few days away from hearing his name called near the top of the 2022 NBA draft. The Detroit Pistons hold the fifth pick Thursday night and are big fans of Keegan.

To understand Keegan’s incredible leap over the past few years, you have to go back to Kenyon.

A 6-foot-5 wing when he played, Kenyon is humble about his accomplishments and listed several players from Battle Creek who he believes were just as good as he was — Western Michigan alumnus Ben Reed and Fairleigh Dickinson alumnus Tony Warren are among them.

He had a more decorated high school basketball career than his twin sons, Keegan and Kris, but admits — with joy — they surpassed him in talent when they were in ninth grade.

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Yet Keegan and Kris only had one low-major Division I offer when they graduated from Prairie High School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in 2019. The high-major offers didn’t begin to roll in until Keegan and Kris attended DME Academy, a post-graduate basketball school in Daytona Beach, Florida.

As a freshman at Iowa, Keegan appeared in just 13 games and played 42 total minutes.

He came back as a sophomore and dominated . While Kris was a productive role player, Keegan put the Hawkeyes on his back. He averaged 23.5 points, 8.7 rebounds and 1.9 blocks and is now considered one of the most NBA-ready prospects in the draft. He’s a late-bloomer; he’ll be 22 when his rookie season starts this fall. He’s one of the oldest prospects in the draft, which many analysts believe could cap his ceiling.

But Keegan is just getting started. During the draft combine in May, he joked he’s a 21-year-old in an 18-year-old’s body. His dad agrees, and Keegan’s IQ and atypical path to college stardom are big reasons why.

“The one thing that I know has gotten him here is just the idea of doing the work, and it’s going to pay off,” Kenyon told the Free Press in early June. “That’s the thing that people don’t know about, either one of them, is just how much they love the process of getting better.

“As a parent, it’s just great to see your kids’ hard work come into fruition, especially on a stage like this where less than 1% of any basketball player is gonna have an opportunity to play at that level. It’s pretty cool to see.”

Keegan credits his family for getting him to this point. His dad starred in basketball, but his mom, Michelle, was a four-sport athlete in high school and played golf in college. Keegan and Kris lettered in golf for three years in high school and also played baseball. His younger sister, McKenna, plays basketball at Prairie.

“My ‘why’ is my family, for me,” Keegan said at the combine in May. “My family just makes me work hard every single day. Just knowing that in my position I can create generational wealth for not only my personal family but my overall family through generations. 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”

Kenyon, too, was a late-bloomer; he can relate to his sons’ respective journeys, as he didn’t start playing basketball seriously until eighth grade. His professional career included stops in China and Sweden, but he turned to coaching after an ankle injury cut short his playing career.

He was an assistant coach at Indian Hills Community College in Iowa when his sons were born, and was an assistantcoach at Prairie when his sons were in high school. Last week, he was announced as Prairie’s girls basketball coach; he’ll coach McKenna, who will be a junior next season.

“I know how hard it was for me to get to the level that I got to in a short amount of time,” Kenyon said. “I think that experience prepared me to coach and help develop my boys, and now help develop their sister. It’s a cool honor, but that’s in the past and it’s all about my kids and their future now.”

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Keegan has prototypical size for a power forward, standing 6 feet 8 with a 6-11 wingspan, and is skilled. He knocked down 39.8% of his 3-pointers (66-for-166) and shot 55.4% overall last season. He separates himself with intelligence on both ends of the floor, making smart rotations on defense and playing within his role on offense.

He handles the ball well enough to attack closeouts, can bully smaller players in the post and thrives as a cutter and in transition. Keegan makes few mistakes and understands the importance of being effective without the ball in his hands. NBA teams believe he’ll be a productive player right away.

During his four years at Iowa, Kenyon was a notable defensive player, and credits his former head coach, Tom Davis, for teaching him how to watch film and break down opposing players. He joked that as kids, Keegan and Kris got tired of watching his old VHS tapes. They would break down film after weekend AAU practices while they were in fourth grade. As an assistant at Prairie, one of Kenyon’s primary responsibilities was to lead all film sessions.

He takes pride in breaking down video, and that joy is one of many things he shares with his sons. Keegan and Kris are left-hand dominant, like their father, but Kenyon and Keegan are right-handed shooters.

“That’s why the IQ is where it is, because if you ask Keegan anything, he’ll probably tell you where he’s supposed to be, and he’ll tell you where everybody else is supposed to be to, just because they’ve been groomed to understand how important watching film is and scouting your opponent,” Kenyon said.

Keegan’s ascent in college basketball was sudden, but he said he always had the ability to play at that level. His body had to catch up to his mind. He was 5-10 as a high school sophomore, but grew to his current size as a senior.

He also didn’t start lifting weights until his sophomore year of high school. Kenyon encouraged his sons to practice yoga and build strength with bodyweight exercises. He believes the approach is paying off now.

“I wanted to make sure there wasn’t anything that would debilitate them or hurt them, not having the right supervision in the weight room, things like that,” Kenyon said. “They definitely have younger bodies when it comes to that. And obviously the growth spurt over the last three or four years is proof that it can come later. I think you’ll see him continue to physically develop. I feel like he didn’t have the body aches and things like that. They’ve been pretty injury-free.”

Kenyon and Michelle didn’t pressure their sons into playing basketball, but they took to it naturally. When they were younger, Kenyon had an agreement they would only spend 45 minutes to an hour in the gym and focus on skill development. But they loved practicing, and would often get shots up on weekends following baseball tournaments.

So it wasn’t a surprise when Keegan and Kris wanted to attend prep school to increase their chances to play college basketball at a high level. They evaluated seven schools before deciding on DME Academy.

Rather than pay for a housing and meal plan at the school, they decided it would be more cost-effective if they rented a three-bedroom apartment. So Michelle moved to Daytona Beach with her sons, who trained three times a day for 6½ months. Kenyon stayed in Iowa with McKenna, and they made monthly trips down to Florida to reunite.

Keegan averaged 22.1 points and 7.5 rebounds a game at DME, and he and his brother ended up with over 40 Division I offers. But they only visited one school — Iowa. They wanted to stay close to home and follow their dad’s footsteps.

“Once the Iowa offer came through, that’s where they wanted to go, and that was it,” Kenyon said. “For them coming home, it was kinda funny, we joke about it that they went all the way to Florida to come back to Iowa to play basketball. But it was worth it for both of them.”

As a freshman at Iowa, Keegan sat behind Naismith and Wooden college basketball player of the year Luka Garza, who was selected in 2021’s second round by the Pistons. Keegan did an admirable job filling Garza’s shoes, and could soon become his teammate. They’ve been in touch through Keegan’s draft process.

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The Pistons hosted Keegan in Detroit on June 12-13. He sees upside in the young roster and would be comfortable with the Pistons as a landing spot.

He proved he could exceed expectations in college. He’ll be presented with the same challenge in the NBA.

“They’ve got a mix of young and veterans,” Murray said Thursday of the Pistons. “With Cade (Cunningham), he’s a really good player on both sides of the ball. Saddiq Bey has really come into his own during the last couple of years, especially this season. They’ve got a lot of young talent — Killian Hayes, Isaiah Stewart, Kelly Olynyk is a veteran. They’ve got a lot of pieces and I think I would be able to plug into their system and be successful.”

Contact Omari Sankofa II at Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa. Read more on the Detroit Pistons and sign up for our Pistons newsletter.

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