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  • Writer's pictureJohn Bohnenkamp

Iowa's Murray: From Modest to Monster

Kris Murray has been a key piece off the bench for Iowa this season.

But he knows that when he gets into the game — he’s usually one of the first off the bench — his twin brother will have already taken over.

Keegan Murray is second in the nation in scoring, averaging almost 25 points per game. A lot of those points have come early in the Hawkeyes’ first seven wins of the season.

“I’ll sub in, and he’s, like, at 20 points,” Kris Murray joked after the Hawkeyes’ 85-51 win over Portland State.

It was in that game when Keegan had 14 of Iowa’s 16 points, just another game in a season in which he has advanced from being a freshman who showed plenty of potential in the 2020-21 season.

He’s already considered a top NBA draft prospect in a season in which he had to emerge as a leader.

The Hawkeyes lost center Luka Garza, the consensus player of the year last season, and forward Joe Wieskamp to the NBA draft in the summer. They were Iowa’s top scorers last season, and that was a lot of production to replace.

But Keegan has been able to do that. He opened the season with six games of 20 or more points and 18 in a win over Virginia in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

What’s impressive about him is how quickly he can get points. He had 24 points in 17 minutes in the season opener against Longwood, 26 against Alabama State and 29 against Western Michigan in 21 minutes in each game, 25 points in 22 minutes against Kansas City.

Keegan had 27 points and 21 rebounds in an 86-69 win over North Carolina Central, becoming the first Hawkeye in almost 50 years to get 20 or more points and rebounds in a single game.

“I just felt like I needed to do my part,” he said after that game in his usual unassuming manner.

It was after that game when someone pointed out to him that he wasn’t on a list of top-50 college basketball players that came out that day, and Murray just shrugged it off.

“I don’t know what to say. He’s just an amazing young player,” said Iowa forward Filip Rebraca. “He just understands the game so well. He makes the right decisions. He’s athletic, he’s lengthy, he can get to his spots. He chooses wisely. Defensively, he’s in the right spots, he helps you out.

“I literally have no complaints about the guy. I love him to death.”

“He's a confident kid,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “He stays within himself. Nothing seems to really rattle him at all. Very focused. He works hard in the offseason. He never tries to do the things that he can't do on the floor. I mean, he certainly has the talent to be a guy that could do that, just completely try to do everything in every possession.

“But he really has a keen understanding of how to play. If there's space, he goes. If there's not, he moves it. He's equally effective with the ball, without the ball, in the post, on the perimeter. Probably best in transition. I think the more space he has, the better he'll always be.”

“I feel like I’ve improved a lot,” Murray said. “For me, it was about honing my skills, just getting better in everything I did.”

Murray, the son of former Hawkeye Kenyon Murray, made the Big Ten’s all-freshman team last season after averaging 7.8 points and 5.5 rebounds.

“He never forces the issue, but obviously we need him to be the way he is now,” McCaffery said. “He accepts whatever it is we ask him to do.

“He’s been pretty consistent — shooting it, driving it, protecting the rim, getting rebounds in traffic. Defensively I think he’s been really good. … He seemingly does it with no fanfare, no emotion. But he’s really concentrated out there, really thinking. Sometimes I have to tell him to just relax, just go hoop.”

It’s been hard to find many flaws in Murray’s game. McCaffery had a hard time thinking of one after the North Carolina Central game.

“The thing about it is he doesn’t really hunt shots,” McCaffery said. “If I were to break it (down), I thought he took one bad shot today. Your leading scorer has the green light to take more than one bad shot, but he took one.”

Murray has shown the ability to adapt to his new role. More minutes mean more challenges. He picked up his second foul early in the win over Kansas City, but stayed out of foul trouble the rest of the way.

“You just have to adjust,” Murray said. “In the first half, I picked up my second (foul), and that’s something I have to learn off of. Just play without fouling.”

Murray had five points in an early 11-2 second-half run that gave Iowa a 48-28 lead, then had 10 consecutive points in the Hawkeyes’ 15-0 run that pushed the lead to 63-33.

Murray’s response was something McCaffery appreciated.

“He got that first foul quickly,” McCaffery said. “I left him in, there were a couple of situations where he missed some shots he normally makes. But he kept his composure. And in the second half, when we got all of those stops in a row, he was able to get out in transition and have some opportunities. Everyone was looking for him, and he was able to finish.”

The Murray brothers weren’t highly recruited out of high school, so they played a season at DME Sports Academy in Florida. When McCaffery offered scholarships to both players, they gladly accepted.

Still, they came in underrated as recruits, and it’s something Keegan uses as motivation. He’s underrated no more, but he likes to think those doubts are still out there.

“I’m just focused on the team,” he said. “I’m trying to get better as a person and a player. I’ve been putting a lot of hard work in. I’ve been an underdog my whole life. That’s just my mentality going into this year.

“Having a target on my back is something that doesn’t bother me.”

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