Generally speaking, five months is not a very long span of time. But five months can also be a long enough period of time to completely transform things for an individual. For example: Keegan Murray.
If you had told me at the end of October, on the cusp of the 2021-22 college basketball season, that he was going to be a strong contender for Big Ten Player of the Year, the Most Outstanding Player in the Big Ten Tournament, a consensus first team All-American, and a likely NBA Lottery pick, I would have asked you to pass the bottle so I could take a swig of whatever you were drinking. But five months later, here we are -- all of those things actually happened as Keegan had one of the best statistical seasons of the last 20 years and now he's headed to the NBA.
He expanded on his decision here:
The transformation of Keegan Murray from 2020-21 to 2021-22 is truly one of the most astounding things I've ever beheld -- not just as an Iowa fan, but as a sports fan. He was good last year -- 7.2 ppg, 5.1 rpg, and 2.1 steals + blocks per game made him an extremely effective sixth man for the Hawkeyes -- and we knew he would have a lot more opportunities this year in the absence of Luka Garza down low. But I don't think anyone expected him to explode like he did this season.
He ranked first in the nation in Player Efficiency Rating (37.8) and fourth in scoring (23.5), though he was tops among players from a major conference and he topped 20+ points 26 times this season and exceeded 25+ points 16 times, both of which were best in the nation. Not only could Murray put the ball in the bucket, but he could do it with ease and at every level; he was just as apt to launch a three over your head as he was to spin by you and dunk on your head. And god help you if he got the ball in transition. But he was more than just a scorer as well -- he averaged 8.7 rebounds per game and his 10 double-doubles were 51st in the nation. He also averaged almost two blocks a game (1.94) and was a consistent disruptive force on defense.
All of that statistical excellence -- combined with his obvious physical and athletic gifts as a bouncy 6'8" forward with impressive leaping ability, wingspan, and lateral quickness -- has made all NBA Draft Lottery buzz go from somewhat wishful thinking before the season into a stone cold lock. He's a fixture in the lottery in NBA mock drafts, often in the 6-10 range. If Murray is selected in that range, it would place in some truly rarefied air. No Iowa player has gone in the first round since Ricky Davis was selected 21st in 1998. Only four Iowa players have ever been selected in the Top 10: Ronnie Lester (#10, 1980), Fred Brown (#6, 1971), John Johnson (#7, 1970), and Chuck Darling (#9, 1952).
When you're being talked about as a likely Top 10 pick, your NBA Draft decision is pretty much a no-brainer. NIL makes it possible to earn more money as a college athlete than was previously possible -- but ads for Estela's Fresh Mex aren't in the same ballpark as NBA Top 10 draft pick salaries. Ziaire Williams was the 10th overall pick last year and he signed a 4-year contract worth $19.9 million.
I feel only profound gratitude for being able to watch what Keegan Murray did this year at Iowa. He was an incredibly thrilling, stupendously entertaining force of nature on the basketball court. In one of his Hyball columns this year, Bobby described Keegan as a player who "glides," which is a very apt way to describe his game. He glided his way through our lives as Iowa fans over the last two seasons -- and I'm so glad we got to see it. Good luck and godspeed in the NBA, Keegs.