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Keegan Murray misses Iowa weather, but isn’t missing many shots as one of the NBA’s top rookies
Former Iowa All-American received a lot of cheers from Hawkeye fans during Sacramento Kings’ road trip to Minnesota
MINNEAPOLIS — A seven-game road trip for the Sacramento Kings started here with two contests in three days and a not-so-inviting cold blast
But for former Iowa All-American Keegan Murray, an average temperature hovering around zero was a nice Midwestern welcome back.
“I missed it because there aren’t many seasonal changes out in California,” Murray said. “I definitely miss the cold here.”
The Kings rookie received more friendly greetings in games against the Minnesota Timberwolves last Saturday and Monday. Hawkeye sweatshirts dotted Target Center, including those donned by multiple fans who stood and took pictures throughout warmups in the second row of courtside seats. Monday’s crowd of 15,432 also included a couple Murray Kings jersey-wearing supporters in the lower bowl.
“It’s really cool,” Murray said. “I know there was a big storm Saturday so I know it took a lot for a lot of people to get here. I’m grateful for that and I’m grateful to see a lot of black and gold in the stands ...”
It was the best chance for Iowa-based fans to see Murray in person until Sacramento’s March 15 trip to Chicago, and it came as a two-for-one. Fellow former Iowa All-American Luka Garza played a few minutes for Minnesota in Saturday’s game and was on the bench Monday after a near-triple double for the team’s Iowa G League affiliate Sunday.
“Seeing a familiar face is always cool, especially when I moved out so far,” Murray said. “Luka, we’ve been joking the last couple days and just making conversation. Getting back to our normal ways and just having fun.”
Murray ended up having more fun Monday night, tallying his third double-double of the season with 13 points and 13 rebounds in a 118-111 overtime win. His 3-pointer from the corner with 3:26 remaining in OT gave the Kings a 109-106 lead they didn’t relinquish.
It was a nice rebound for him and Sacramento after Saturday’s 117-110 loss in which he had eight points on 3-for-8 shooting and four boards.
The Minnesota series was almost a microcosm of Murray’s first professional season. He was quiet for stretches, but made a few key plays on both ends of the floor and contributed to an important win.
“As a rookie, I don’t give him too much advice, because I don’t want him to think that every time he has a big game I’m applauding him and then every time he has a bad game I have something to say to him,” Kings Coach Mike Brown said. “I’ll (talk to) him when I think it’s necessary. But for the most part, he’s about as mature or even-keeled as a rookie that I’ve been around and I’ve been around a lot of them.”
In a starting lineup with potential All-Stars De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis and veteran Harrison Barnes, Murray has taken on a role that frequently involves spacing the floor. Murray is shooting a rookie-best 42.2 percent from 3-point range, averaging 12.3 points and 4.4 rebounds in 29.7 minutes per game.
“Doing what I’m good at has been the big thing for me,” Murray said. “We have a lot of really good players in this locker room.”
Murray’s arrival has coincided with the Kings’ long-awaited resurgence. Sacramento is one of the best stories in the league, sitting 28-21 and in third place in the Western Conference after Monday’s win as it seeks to end a 16-year playoff drought.
That differentiates Murray, the No. 4 pick in last summer’s NBA Draft, from other high-profile first-year pros. Only two other 2022 lottery picks play for teams with winning records, and those two (New Orleans’ Dyson Daniels and Cleveland’s Ochai Abaji) don’t average more than 20 minutes per game.
“We rely on him and so he’s got to find his game while understanding that ‘I’m gonna make some mistakes and I’ve gotta be OK with it and try to learn from it and not get too down on myself when I do,’” Brown said.
⧉ Related article: Keegan Murray goes off Friday night for Sacramento Kings, career-highs in points, rebounds
Murray was named the West Rookie of the Month for December and will be in the running for the January award. Tuesday brought more good news, as the NBA announced Murray will play in the Jordan Rising Stars tournament on the Friday (Feb. 17) of All-Star Weekend in Salt Lake City.
Murray said before Monday’s game he’s hoping to catch an Iowa game during the all-star break. He hasn’t seen twin brother Kris since August, but said the two FaceTime every day.
With Kris frequenting 2023 mock drafts, Hawkeye basketball reunions could start to become more regular occurrences in the NBA.
“Iowa’s not really known for producing NBA talent as much as in football,” Murray said. “Just kind of trying to change the narrative of Iowa basketball is what we’re trying to do and I feel like we’re doing a good job of it. People in Iowa are responding and supporting us.”