Senior players on the 1995–96 Iowa men’s basketball team, including 1996 Phoenix Suns draft pick Russ Millard of Cedar Rapids.
The last player from Cedar Rapids to be drafted in the NBA will be smiling when the next one is announced Thursday night.
Russ Millard linked to Keegan Murray, a 2022 lottery candidate, and not just because they’re from Cedar Rapids. Millard was a classmate in Iowa basketball and a teammate of Kenyon Murray, Keegan’s father.
In 1996, Millard was drafted by the Phoenix Suns in the second round (39th overall pick) of Allen Iverson, Ray Allen, Steve Nash and a high school student named Kobe Bryant.
“It’s a wonderful memory to be able to say that I went through it,” Millard said last week.
“It was amazing. The Houston Rockets asked me to draft it there in Houston. They were 30th overall with the first pick in the second round. I wanted to be at home in Cedar Rapids with family and friends.”
Houston, as it turned out, did not take Millard, but Phoenix.
The second rounds were not guaranteed then. Eleven of them had never played in an NBA game that year, and Millard was among them. Phoenix had a full roster of players with guaranteed contracts. He ended up spending the 1996-97 season. La Crosse Bobcats Continental Basketball Association.
The Suns brought Millard back to Phoenix for 1997 training camp, but waived him shortly before the start of the season. He went on to play in France, Spain, Argentina and Puerto Rico before retiring.
“I got married after college and took my wife with me everywhere,” Millard said. “It was a wonderful way to experience life together. I wouldn’t change it for anything. My eldest son was born in France.
“I have been married for 25 years and have three wonderful children. The oldest had just graduated from college.
According to Millard himself, “life pulls us in different directions.” After basketball, he settled in suburban Chicago, while Michigan native Murray raised his family in Cedar Rapids.
“My wife grew up in the western suburbs,” Millard said, “and O’Hare was a convenient hub for me when I played overseas.”
Today he sells BMW dealership in Naperville.
Millard, a 6-foot-8, 240-pound forward when he played in Iowa, was a Big Ten third-team player in his senior season. Three years earlier, as a freshman, he had missed his first semester due to academic problems. Eligible, he was assigned to the service after Chris Street of the Hawkeyes was killed in a car accident.
Millard played 15 minutes in Iowa’s first game since Street’s death in a 96–90 overtime win at Michigan State with the Hawkeyes 15 points behind with less than four minutes left in regulation.
Three days later, Millard scored nine points and didn’t back down from Michigan stars Chris Webber and Juwan Howard in the paint during No. 11 Iowa Unforgettable Win, 88-80, home win over Fab Five, which finished in fifth place.
Kenyon Murray had 13 points, seven rebounds, three steals and two blocks against his home state team. He was Michigan High School “Mr. Basketball” a year earlier.
“Kenyon found ways to get things done,” Millard said. “He was a master at predicting where the ball would be. He always seemed to be in the right place at the right time.”
These two games launched Millard’s prolific career. He averaged 13.7 points and seven rebounds with a 24-8 senior team tied for second in the Big Ten.
“One day coach (Tom) Davis sat me down and straightened me up,” Millard said. “He offered me opportunities that I never thought of. I’m happy that he saw something in me.”
On being drafted, Millard said, “What an honor it is for me to be from Cedar Rapids, to be able to put him on the map. Cedar Rapids wasn’t known for producing athletes, but their quality in the ’90s was phenomenal, be it basketball, football, baseball or wrestling.”
Twenty-six years later, another Cedar Rapidian would be an NBA inductee in Keegan Murray.
“That doesn’t surprise me,” Millard said. “These kids grew up with a ball in their hands. Keegan seems like a great kid. I couldn’t be happier for him.”
Comments: (319) 398-8440; [email protected]