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IOWA CITY, Iowa - It started with phone calls from NBA personnel to the Iowa basketball office before the 2021-22 season had tipped off. And then they began to show up at Iowa’s practices. “We had so much traffic this fall with NBA teams,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said. “They all came in. I would say this is the busiest we’ve been, with him.”

Him, as in sophomore forward Keegan Murray, who made it official Tuesday when he declared for the NBA Draft.

“A lot of them came in with Joe Wieskamp and Luka Garza, and Devyn Marble, and Aaron White, and Jarrod Uthoff,” McCaffery said. “But they were here constantly. They came to our games.

There were games where we had over 25 scouts. They were all doing their jobs. They were working hard and writing their reports. To a man they said to me, “OK, he’s gone, just so you know. He’s leaving early. You better enjoy him now because he’s not coming back.’ ”

McCaffery would love to have Keegan under his wing for another season. But the coach, who got his bachelor’s degree from The Wharton School of Finance and Commerce at Pennsylvania, knows dollars and cents and common sense made it an easy decision for his standout 6-foot-9 forward.

“Like I’ve said a million times, I’m not going to recruit Keegan and then tell him I’m not going to try and help him reach his goal, which is to get to the NBA,” McCaffery said. “And then when he’s right there, talk him out of it because it’s better for me. That’s not who I am.”

Murray averaged 7.2 points and 5.1 rebounds off the bench and made the all-Big Ten freshman team in 2020-21. But he caught the attention of NBA eyes with his versatility, his length and his skill set. He was projected as a 2022 first-round draft pick as far back as last summer.

He had gone from hardly being recruited as a senior at Cedar Rapids Prairie to being a projected a first-round pick in two years. I asked Keegan at Iowa’s media day last October what he would call a story like that.

“I’d say it’s a remarkable story to believe,” he said. “If you put your mind to it, you can do whatever you want to do.”

He also did his best to avoid the NBA talk that day.

““I’m just focused on the team,” Keegan said. “I’m trying to get better as a person and a player. I’ve been putting a lot of hard work in. I’ve been an underdog my whole life. That’s just my mentality going into this year.”

But there’s no avoiding that talk now after Murray’s breakthrough season in 2021-22. Keegan will likely be Iowa’s first first-round NBA pick since Ricky Davis in 1998. Davis, who averaged 15 points as a freshman, was selected by Charlotte with the 21st pick.

Keegan even has a chance to become Iowa’s highest-drafted player ever. Fred Brown went to Seattle with the sixth pick in 1971, a year after John Johnson was taken by Cleveland with the seventh pick. Iowa’s only other Top 10 draftee was Ronnie Lester, who was selected by Portland with the 10th pick in 1980 and was traded to Chicago.

“I’m just thrilled for him,” McCaffery said. “Because he’s worked really hard and his attitude is so incredibly positive.”

Murray became Iowa’s fourth consensus all-American after averaging 23.5 points and 8.7 rebounds and scoring a single-season record 822 points. He is a finalist for the Naismith Award and Lute Olson Player of the Year awards, the Karl Malone Power Forward of the Year Award and the Lefty Driesell Defensive Player of the Year Award. He’s also on the Wooden Award ballot.

“To have Keegan enjoy the accolades that he’s getting, and the opportunity to go to the NBA as a Top 10 pick, it’s great to see,” McCaffery said. “”Because when you watch somebody who is humble and works and hopes to have an opportunity, and then it happens for him, that’s what every coach wants.”

It seems like just yesterday that McCaffery was catching some second quessing in some circles for signing Keegan and his twin, Kris, to letters of intent. They were legacy recruits, following the footsteps of their father, Kenyon.

McCaffery had watched both of them play for years, because they’d cross paths with his sons, Connor and Patrick, in tournaments and leagues. The Murrays’ shooting touch and on-court IQ always caught McCaffery’s eye.

The Murrays were lightly recruited at Cedar Rapids Prairie, even though Keegan averaged 20.3 points and 7.2 rebounds and Kris 18.4 points and 6.3 rebounds as seniors. But when they started filling out their 6-8 frames as they headed to DME Sports Academy in Daytona Beach, Fla., for the 2019-20 season, McCaffery offered them scholarships they quickly accepted. “Having the opportunity to play alongside my (twin) brother in front of friends and family is a dream come true,” Keegan said when he signed a letter of intent with Iowa. “Being able to earn my education from the University of Iowa will be a great experience.”

The recruiting story of the Murrays seems hard to believe, just three years after no one seemed to want them.

“It’s always been baffling to me that Keegan and Kris didn’t get more recognition through the recruiting process,” McCaffery says now. “They should have. I don’t know what it was, but now everyone’s shocked. They were always good. It wasn’t like they were bad and then they were good. They were always good. They got bigger and stronger. And that was obviously a big part of it, and as they continued to grow into their bodies they were able to do more and more things.”

Keegan joined Kenyon as a 1,000-point scorer at Iowa. And with Kris expected to step into a much bigger role in 2022-23, he could match his brother and dad’s grand accomplishment. Keegan (1,046) and Kenyon (1,230) are just the second father-son tandem to reach 1,000 points at Iowa, joining Roy (2,116) and Devyn (1,694) Marble.

While McCaffery will put his energy behind coaching Kris Murray and his Iowa teammates next season, he predicts that Keegan will have a bright NBA future “because of his versatility and how humble he is. He’s a great teammate. And in the pros you have a lot of egos. It’s more of the entertainment business. And you have stars. And your ability to consistently produce while fitting in is critical. And nobody will do that better than him.”