Russ Millard, Cedar Rapids’ last NBA draft pick, Hawkeye of influence

1995-96 Iowa State men’s basketball seniors, including 1996 Phoenix Suns rookie Russ Millard’s Cedar Rapids

Cedar Rapids’ last player to the NBA draft will smile when the next player is announced Thursday night.

Russ Millard is linked with 2022 lottery pick Keegan Murray, and it’s not just because they’re from Cedar Rapids. Millard was an Iowa basketball classmate/teammate of Keegan’s father, Kenyon Murray.

In 1996, Millard was selected in the second round (39th overall) by the Phoenix Suns, which included Allen Iverson, Ray Allen, Steve Nash and a man named Kobe Bryant. of high school students.

“It’s a wonderful memory to be able to say I’ve been through it,” Millard said last week.

“This is amazing. The Houston Rockets asked me to spend the draft in Houston. They were No. 30 and the No. 1 pick in the second round. I want to go home to Cedar Rapids, and my family together with friends.”

As it turns out, Houston didn’t pick Millard, and Phoenix did.

Back then, second-rounders weren’t guaranteed much. That year, Millard was one of 11 of them who never played in an NBA game. Phoenix’s roster is full of guaranteed players. He eventually played for the La Crosse Bobcats of the Continental Basketball Association in the 1996-97 season.

The Suns brought Millard back to Phoenix for training camp in 1997, but dropped him shortly before the season began. He continued to play in France, Spain, Argentina and Puerto Rico before retiring.

“I got married right out of college and took my wife with me wherever I went,” Millard said. “It was a wonderful way to experience life together. I wouldn’t change it for the world’s sake. My oldest son was born in France.

“I’ve been married for 25 years and have three beautiful children. The eldest just graduated from college.”

In Millard’s own words, “life pulls us in different directions.” His home after playing basketball in suburban Chicago, while Murray, a Wolverine, raises his family in Cedar Rapids.

“My wife grew up in the western suburbs,” Millard said. “O’Hare was a relaxing center for me when I played overseas.”

Today he works in sales at a BMW dealership in Naperville.

Millard was a 6-foot-8, 240-pound forward in Iowa and was a three-team All-Big Ten player in his senior season. As a freshman three years ago, he missed the first semester due to academic problems. Once eligible, he was pushed into duty after Hawkeye’s Chris Street died in a car accident.

Millard played 15 minutes in the first game since Street died, when the Hawks won a 96-90 overtime win over Michigan State from a 15-point deficit with less than four minutes left.

Three days later, Millard had nine points and was not in the paint from Michigan star Chris during Iowa State’s unforgettable 88-80 home win over the fifth-ranked Five Tigers at No. 11. Webb and Juwan Howard backed away.

Kenyon Murray had 13 points, 7 rebounds, 3 steals and 2 blocks against his hometown team. He was a Michigan high school “Mr. Basketball” the year before.

“Kenyon found a way to get the job done,” Millard said. “He’s good at predicting where the ball is going. He always seems to be in the right place at the right time.”

Those two games marked the beginning of Millard’s productive career. He averaged 13.7 points and 7 rebounds as a senior for a team that went 24-8 and tied for second in the Big Ten.

“Coach (Tom) Davis sat me down one day and straightened me out,” Millard said. “He gave me opportunities that I never thought would happen. I’m glad he saw something in me.”

Regarding being selected, Millard said: “It’s an honor to be from Cedar Rapids and to put it on the map. Cedar Rapids had very little focus on developing athletes, but in the ’90s, whatever the Whether it’s basketball, football, baseball or wrestling, they’re all very good.”

After 26 years, another Cedar Rapidian will be Keegan Murray’s NBA rookie.

“It didn’t surprise me,” Millard said. “Those kids grew up with balls. Keegan looks like a great kid. I couldn’t be happier for him.”

Comments: (319) 398-8440; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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