‘Dream come true’: Sacramento Kings rookie Keegan Murray reflects on long journey to NBA

·7 min read

Kings fans got to hear from rookie first-round draft pick Keegan Murray for the first time Saturday when the team held an introductory news conference for him inside the grand entrance at Golden 1 Center.

It was easy to see what the Kings saw in Murray, who hit all the right notes and checked all the right boxes following a whirlwind 48 hours that brought him to Sacramento as the No. 4 pick in the NBA draft.

“I’m excited to be here in Sacramento,” Murray said. “It’s a dream come true to be able to put on the purple and black, so I’m grateful to be in this position. Sacramento has welcomed me with open arms so far, so I’m excited to see everyone at the games and things like that. For me, it’s been a journey from where I came from to where I am now, so this is just the first step in my journey and I’m forever grateful to be in Sacramento.”

The leadup to the draft was packed with speculation that the Kings might draft Jaden Ivey or trade the pick to acquire veteran talent, but Murray had everything they were looking for. General manager Monte McNair said he wanted to add shooting, length and defense. Murray, a 21-year-old, 6-foot-8, 225-pound forward from Iowa, has all that and more.

“Keegan, the player, and Keegan, the person, is somebody that is the exact type of player that we want to bring into our system here,” McNair said. “On the court, both ends of the floor, up and down, versatile, somebody who can play in multiple different situations and succeed. And, as we also said, the person, the work ethic, the competitiveness, the humility, and everything we look for, so we’re excited to welcome him.”

Family ties

McNair also extended a warm welcome to Murray’s parents, sister and girlfriend, who attended Saturday’s news conference and posed for pictures with Murray when it was over.

Murray’s father, Kenyon, received the Mr. Basketball state player of the year award at Central High School in Battle Creek, Michigan, before going to Iowa, where he finished 16th all-time in scoring and third in steals. He went on to play professionally in the CBA and IBL. He was runner-up for league MVP after averaging 25.0 points, 8.0 rebounds and 8.0 assists in 1998.

Kenyon Murray was recently named head coach of the girls’ basketball team at Prairie High School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where his daughter, McKenna, will be a junior this fall. He has also coached AAU, high school boys and men’s community college basketball. Both of his sons, Keegan and twin brother Kris, followed in his footsteps at Iowa. Keegan declared for the draft this year following a breakout sophomore season. Kris is projected as a potential first-round pick next season.

Keegan Murray was asked if it will be difficult to be away from his brother, with whom he shared the womb, the court, a car and living quarters for so many years.

“It’s not difficult at all,” he said with a smile. “If anything, we’re glad that we’re apart. I think we’ve grown enough with each other at this point in our lives that it’s time to separate because there would be little things that I’d be annoyed with him and little things that he’d be annoyed with me, so it’s time. He’ll do his thing at Iowa and he’ll have a great career there, so I’m excited to see his season next year.”

Murray chuckled when told one 2023 NBA mock draft is projecting the Kings will select his brother in next year’s draft.

Growth spurt

Murray has grown eight inches since his sophomore year at Prairie High. He only had one scholarship offer coming out of high school and considered enrolling at a community college before electing to spend a year at DME Academy, a private sports training institute in Daytona Beach, Florida.

Murray ultimately committed to Iowa, where he averaged 7.2 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game as a freshman. He only played 18.0 minutes per game in his first season with the Hawkeyes, who relied more on center Luka Garza and guards Joe Wieskamp and Jordan Bohannon.

“I’ve always grown up being a scorer, so that was kind of different from that aspect,” Murray said. “I remember I had an offseason meeting with one of our assistants and he pretty much told me: ‘Your job is not to score the ball. We’ve got guys to do that, so what are you going to do to find your role, find your playing time on the court?’

“And for me … I had to be the best rebounder possible and the best defender possible. I tried to outrebound Luka every single practice. We had a little stat sheet that we’d have after every single practice, and my goal was to have more rebounds than him. I took that to heart. … Nothing was guaranteed. I had to earn everything I got.”

Iowa coach Fran McCaffery entrusted Murray with a much bigger role as a sophomore last season. He averaged 23.5 points, 8.7 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.9 blocks and 1.3 steals in 31.9 minutes per game to earn the Karl Malone Award as the nation’s top power forward. He shot 55.4% from the field, 39.8% from 3-point range and 74.7% at the free-throw line.

Murray led the nation in player efficiency rating, win shares, offensive win shares and box plus/minus. He ranked first in scoring, second in rebounds, third in true shooting percentage, fourth in blocks, fifth in steals, sixth in field-goal percentage and 10th in 3-point goals. He was named first-team All-Big Ten Conference, Big Ten Tournament MVP and a consensus first-team All-American after helping the Hawkeyes go 26-10 to reach the NCAA Tournament.

‘Love for the game’

Murray was asked what fueled his love for basketball as he made his way up through the ranks.

“I think what shaped my love for the game of basketball is just how I’ve been unappreciated my whole life,” he said. “I feel like, coming out of high school, unranked, one Division I offer, thinking about going the JUCO route, I think that just built my love for basketball even more to know that I have a lot to do, a lot to grow in my development, and I’m just excited to develop my game even more here.”

Murray had dinner with Kings center Domantas Sabonis and breakfast with De’Aaron Fox during a pre-draft visit in Sacramento. Murray feels he will be a good fit with Fox and Sabonis as the Kings seek to end their NBA-record 16-year playoff drought.

Some NBA analysts are giving the Kings a poor draft grade for selecting Murray over Ivey and trading away their two second-round picks. Maybe that criticism will continue to fuel the fire in Murray, who took a moment to explain how much this opportunity in Sacramento means to him.

“It means a lot, just knowing three years ago, where I was at in my life, just trying to find a scholarship to go to school and play basketball, to being where I’m at today, it’s been a dream come true,” Murray said. “These last 48 hours have been the best time of my life. Haven’t really soaked it in much. Just ready to get to work. I think all this stuff right now is just getting me prepared even more to get on the basketball court, and these last 48 hours, to be able to share it with my family has been a blessing for me.”

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