116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
The last player from Cedar Rapids to be taken in an NBA draft will be smiling as the next one gets announced Thursday night.
Russ Millard is connected to 2022 lottery pick-to-be Keegan Murray, and not just because they’re from Cedar Rapids. Millard was an Iowa basketball classmate/teammate of Kenyon Murray, Keegan’s father.
In 1996, Millard was selected by the Phoenix Suns in the second round (39th overall pick) of a draft that featured Allen Iverson, Ray Allen, Steve Nash and a high school kid named Kobe Bryant.
“It’s a great memory to be able to say I’ve gone through it,” Millard said last week.
“It was amazing. I’d been asked by the Houston Rockets to spend the draft there in Houston. They were sitting at 30th, with the first pick of the second round. I wanted to be home in Cedar Rapids and be with my family and friends.”
Houston didn’t take Millard, as it turned out, and Phoenix did.
Second-rounders weren’t guaranteed much then. Eleven of them that year never did play in an NBA game, and Millard was among them. Phoenix had a roster full of players with guaranteed contracts. He ended up playing the 1996-97 season with the La Crosse Bobcats of the Continental Basketball Association.
The Suns brought Millard back to Phoenix for their 1997 training camp, but waived him shortly before the season started. He went on to play in France, Spain, Argentina and Puerto Rico before retiring.
“I got married out of college and took my wife everywhere I went,” Millard said. “It was a wonderful way to experience life together. I wouldn’t have changed it for the world. My oldest son was born in France.
“I’ve been married 25 years, have three beautiful kids. The oldest just graduated college.”
In Millard’s own words, “Life pulls us in different directions.” He made his post-basketball home in suburban Chicago, while Michigan native Murray raised his family in Cedar Rapids.
“My wife grew up in the western suburbs,” Millard said, “and O’Hare was an easy hub for me when I was playing overseas.”
Today, he is in sales at a BMW dealership in Naperville.
Millard, a 6-foot-8, 240-pound forward when at Iowa, was a third-team all-Big Ten player his senior season. Three years earlier as a freshman, he had sat out the first semester because of academic issues. Once eligible, he was thrust into duty after the Hawkeyes’ Chris Street died in an auto accident.
Millard played 15 minutes in Iowa’s first game after Street’s death, a 96-90 overtime win at Michigan State when the Hawkeyes rallied from 15 points behind with less than four minutes left in regulation.
Three days later, Millard had nine points and didn’t back down from Michigan stars Chris Webber and Juwan Howard in the paint during No. 11 Iowa’s unforgettable, 88-80, home win over the fifth-ranked Fab Five.
Kenyon Murray had 13 points, seven rebounds, three steals and two blocks against his home-state team. He was Michigan’s high school “Mr. Basketball” the year before.
“Kenyon found ways to get things done,” Millard said. “He was masterful at predicting where the ball was going to be. He was always in the right place at the right time, it seemed.”
Those two games marked the start of a productive career for Millard. He averaged 13.7 points and seven rebounds as a senior for a team that went 24-8 and tied for second place in the Big Ten.
“Coach (Tom) Davis sat me down one day and straightened me out,” Millard said. “He offered me opportunities I never thought could happen. I’m happy he saw something in me.”
About getting drafted, Millard said “What an honor it was to be from Cedar Rapids, to be able to put it on the map. Cedar Rapids was kind of low on the radar for producing athletes, but the quality of them in the ’90s was just phenomenal, whether it was basketball, football, baseball or wrestling.”
Twenty-six years later, another Cedar Rapidian will be an NBA draftee in Keegan Murray.
“It doesn’t surprise me,” Millard said. “Those kids grew up with a ball in their hands. Keegan seems like a great kid. I couldn’t be more happy for him.”
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