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Could Sacramento Kings draft pick Keegan Murray become Iowa's best NBA player in 50 years?


After being chosen with the No. 4 pick of Thursday’s NBA Draft, Keegan Murray made Iowa basketball history.

No Hawkeye, ever, has been picked so high. Fred Brown, who went No. 6 in the 1971 draft — yeah, 51 years ago — was the previous high. The great Ronnie Lester (in 1980) had been the last Hawkeye to even go in the top 10. 

And with his father by his side before a national-TV audience, Murray was asked what the Sacramento Kings are getting in him.

“A winner, first and foremost,” he replied.

The Kings should hope so; it’s a franchise that has experienced 16 straight losing seasons. They’ll have a new coach this season in Mike Brown, who no doubt will lean on his newest top-five draft pick.

Now that one piece of speculation is settled, another can be raised.

Finish this sentence: Murray will be the most successful former Hawkeye in the NBA since …

The answer depends on what’s to come and your definition of successful.

But let’s look at a few of the options to end that sentence.

… Ricky Davis?

Until Thursday, Davis had been Iowa’s most recent first-round draft pick. The Davenport North product left the Hawkeyes after his freshman season and was chosen No. 21 overall by the Charlotte Hornets in 1998, at age 19.

Davis would play in 736 games and score 9,912 points in a long NBA career to come.

Davis put up a lot of NBA points but for a lot of very bad NBA teams. During the small forward's highest-scoring season of 2002-23 (when he averaged 20.6 points per game), his Cleveland Cavaliers posted a 17-65 record. In 12 NBA seasons, Davis played in 11 postseason games (with two starts) and never won a playoff series. Additionally, Davis averaged 4.5, 4.7 and 4.6 points per game in his first three seasons. He was hardly an instant-impact star, but eventually the production was there.

In contrast, it's expected that Murray is going to make Year 1 splash with the Kings. In fact, in a recent interview, ESPN’s Jay Bilas said this about the ex-Hawkeye.

“The player that’s most NBA-ready that you can plug in right now is probably Keegan Murray of Iowa,” Bilas said. “… Tremendous hands. He catches absolutely everything. And he can use either hand. He can drive left; he can drive right. He shoots it from the perimeter. He’s got 3-point range, but also excellent out of the post and the mid-post. He runs the floor. He’s an excellent rebounder and makes really good defensive plays. I don’t think you’d call him a defensive stopper, but his recoveries are excellent. Just an incredibly smart player.”

For his career, Ricky Davis averaged 13.5 points and 3.5 rebounds a game. 

… B.J. Armstrong?

“The Kid” is in a slightly different category than Davis, who was a one-year Hawkeye on a so-so Iowa team. Armstrong was a beloved Hawkeye who delivered a lot of exciting moments — as Murray did last season for the Hawkeyes — during his college career that ended in 1989. He was chosen No. 18 overall by the Chicago Bulls. Two years later, he was winning the first of three NBA titles as a sidekick for Michael Jordan.

Armstrong’s NBA career ended with 7,320 points (averaging 9.8 per game over 11 years) and 2,479 assists (3.3 per game). He was part of 105 playoff games and won those three NBA championship rings. It'll be hard for Murray to top Armstrong's team accomplishments (especially with the Kings, who haven't been to the playoffs since 2006), but it would not be a surprise to see Murray blow past Armstrong in scoring. 

… Fred Brown?

“Downtown” Freddie was not only the highest-drafted NBA Hawkeye before Murray, he is the highest scorer. Brown accumulated 14,018 NBA points over 13 seasons, all with the Seattle SuperSonics. Alongside fellow former Hawkeye John Johnson (a No. 7 overall pick in 1970), Brown also won an NBA championship in 1979.

Even if Murray falls short of Brown's accomplishments, it's possible that Murray can become the most impactful NBA Hawkeye in 50 years. And like Brown did five decades ago, Murray will head West to begin his pro journey.

More: Keegan Murray will be the 34th Iowa basketball player to suit up in the NBA. Who are the others?

What a feather in the cap (and what a day) for Fran McCaffery.

Knowing McCaffery, he will never give himself much credit for identifying Keegan Murray and his identical-twin brother, Kris. McCaffery has said it was easy to see the potential the lightly recruited Murrays had out of Cedar Rapids Prairie. But the thing is, nobody else (except Western Illinois) did.

McCaffery was mocked by some for offering not one but two scholarships to legacy prospects while missing out on highly touted in-state prospect Xavier Foster. 

Who’s laughing now?

Murray’s answer was striking on the national-TV stage. Talking about what this pick meant to them, his first answer was about McCaffery’s Hawkeyes.

“For me, it’s about leading the future of the Iowa program,” he said. “This is the first step in doing that.”

It's impressive that Murray wants to be a leader in setting a new standard for Hawkeye basketball. Maybe his brother becomes a first-round pick next year.

Was it a coincidence that two future Hawkeyes delivered their commitments on the day of the NBA Draft? That’s up for speculation, but certainly the Iowa program has a lot of buzz right now with Murray being the fourth man to shake commissioner Adam Silver’s hand Thursday night on the stage inside Brooklyn’s Barclays Center.

As one legacy Hawkeye exited the program officially, another is coming aboard in Cooper Koch. A Class of 2024 forward with outside-shooting skills — on the cusp of national top-50 status, according to 247 Sports — and the son of former Hawkeye J.R. Koch gives McCaffery yet another long weapon that can score. Koch committed to the Hawkeyes on Thursday.

Hours later, a small-but-dazzling point guard in Moline's Brock Harding pledged to the Hawkeyes just days after receiving his first major-college offer. A 6-foot, 155-pound prospect doesn't have a star rating yet from Rivals. His film, though, is incredible — wicked quickness, a sweet 3-point stroke and savvy passes.

Here's guessing that Iowa fans trust McCaffery’s evaluations more today than they did in October 2019, when the Murrays accepted scholarship offers from the Hawkeyes.

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 27 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.