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IOWA BASKETBALL

Hawkeyes' Murray positioned for unique 'moment'

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As Keegan Murray waits for his name to be called in Thursday’s NBA draft, the Iowa forward can expect to endure a wide range of feelings.

Anticipation. Excitement. Suspense. Nerves. Reflection. Jitters. Calmness. Satisfaction.

“And then ultimately, it becomes a time to celebrate. Mission accomplished,’’ said Acie Earl, a former Hawkeye who was taken by the Boston Celtics with the 19th pick in the 1993 draft.

Iowa’s two most recent first-round choices in the NBA’s annual draft share Quad-Cities roots, Earl prepped at Moline and Ricky Davis played at Davenport North before the Charlotte Hornets made the 18-year-old the 21st pick of the 1998 draft.

Each had different draft day experiences.

Earl was invited to participate at the draft site in Detroit and was accompanied by a group of around 20 family members and friends. The mood was celebratory and Earl remembers the atmosphere as being similar to a family vacation or reunion.

Davis received the call at his family’s North Taylor Street home in Davenport, surrounded by family and friends on a night when champagne flowed and the front yard quickly filled with neighbors and former classmates once he was selected.

Murray is expected to become the Hawkeyes’ first first-round choice in the NBA draft since Davis when this year’s selections take place beginning at 7 p.m. on Thursday, joining an elite group of nine Iowa basketball players who have been chosen in the draft’s first round.

Projected as a likely choice of Sacramento at four, Detroit at five or Indianapolis at six, the 6-foot-9 consensus All-American has a chance to replace Fred Brown, selected sixth by Seattle in 1971, as the highest drafted Hawkeye ever.

Murray will be joined at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., by family members including returning Hawkeye junior Kris Murray.

“I’m excited for Keegan. He’s put a lot of work into this and it’s great to see it become a reality,’’ Kris Murray said. “It’s going to be a special time for our family.’’

Earl can relate.

“To be there with my family, my grandmother, my grandfather, all of my brothers, my best friends, it was a great day,’’ Earl said.

“It wasn’t a stressful time. The agents kept me informed but so much of the actual choice was hush hush, up in the air, that I found the best thing to do was to enjoy the moment. It was a once-in-a-lifetime deal and with all of the family there it turned into a big, fun trip.’’

Davis’ decision to leave Iowa after one season was a subject of debate at the time, but for the first freshman to ever play varsity high school basketball in Davenport the debate ended when the phone rang.

His agent, Arn Tellum, called him moments before the Hornets did to tell him he was about to be selected by Charlotte.

“I never doubted that I would go in the first round,’’ Davis said that night. “I’ve known for quite a while that I would go somewhere between the middle to the end of the first round and that was what I wanted.’’

After accepting congratulations from family and friends, the reality of it also set in.

Davis talked that night about how he knew he would have to prove himself all over again in a league he went on to play in for 12 seasons.

“You do that at every level. I have to improve in a lot of ways … and then get used to playing at a higher level,’’ Davis said.

Earl, who spent the first five years of a 12-year professional career in the NBA, said reality hits quickly.

“All of a sudden, it’s time to go back to work,’’ he said.

ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said during a video conference Tuesday he believes Murray is ready to do just that, calling him the most NBA-ready player in this year’s draft class.

“The player … who you can plug in right now is Keegan Murray,’’ Bilas said. “He is an incredibly smart player. Keegan is mature enough to step into the NBA and perform at a high level right away.’’

Murray positioned himself for that opportunity following a breakthrough sophomore season with the Hawkeyes.

In addition to scoring a school single-season record 822 points last season for Iowa, Murray blocked 68 shots and hit 66 3-point baskets to join Kevin Durant as the only two players nationally in the past 30 years with 800 points, 50 blocks and 50 3-point baskets in a single season.

He finished the season ranked first in the country in the player efficiency rating and was fourth in scoring at 23.5 points per game.

Murray sees room for growth as he moves on to the next level, expressing a desire to become a better distributor in addition to providing a diverse portfolio of offensive skills including the ability to score on all three levels to whatever team selects him.

“The NBA is more of an open-court game. The court is bigger, the 3-point line is deeper and there is room for more spacing and there are not many sets ran. I should be able to do stuff that I didn’t do in college,’’ Murray said at a news conference following the NBA Combine.

He also believes his defense must grow as well.

“I need to lock in there and approach that the same way I approached my offensive game,’’ Murray said. “It’s about being able to guard guys in different ways and I believe I am capable of doing that. I can use my length to my advantage.’’

Murray is anxious to begin the next phase in his career, building on what he learned first in high school at Cedar Rapids Prairie and then at the DME Academy in Florida before taking the court at Iowa.

“I know I will have to prove myself again, but that is all a part of it,’’ he said. “I believe I’m ready to go out and do good things. It’s the next challenge for me.’’

But before that, Earl offers some advice.

“Enjoy the moment. You’ve earned it,’’ he said. “It’s a moment you never forget.’’

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