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NORTH LIBERTY — The opening day of the 2017 Prime Time League always does a few things: it brings a smile to some Iowa and Northern Iowa men’s basketball fans’ faces, getting to see hoops during the dog days of summer and it puts players on court for organized basketball for the first time in months.
But the most intrigue around games that often are played with leisurely competitiveness comes with getting to see the newcomers.
For the Hawkeyes, that means for most, a first look up close at Luka Garza and Jack Nunge, Iowa’s two towering incoming freshmen.
Taking into account the defensive intensity of the PTL, Garza finished his debut with 41 points and 10 rebounds, while Nunge had 35 points and 13 rebounds. Both showed range — Garza was 2 of 2 from 3-point range and Nunge was 2 of 6 — while they got to guard each other.
The roommates laughed about that coincidence while talking about their first showcase as Hawkeyes.
“I love this challenge,” Garza said. “This summer I’m trying to improve every part of my game. I’ve got to get ready to play against Big Ten centers and power forwards.
“Jack’s a great player. … We’re going to push each other has hard as we can.”
It’s been a busy month or so for both guys, who got on campus in the last few weeks following their respective graduations.
Garza said he graduated June 12, got on a plane that day, was in Iowa City by midnight to get settled into his new room, then was at his first college class the next day.
They’ve gotten to be part of the first official team workouts of the summer, and both said they’ve loved getting to jump right in with both feet. The competitiveness the incoming sophomore class talked about having last year has surely carried over, and both Garza and Nunge have gotten a dose of it already.
“It’s come at me quick, but I was ready for that,” Garza said. “When I signed that letter of intent, that’s what I came here to do.
“We’ve had (Gabe) Olaseni and Aaron White come back, so we have the team and more. Everyone wants to get better and everyone is pushing each other. The mind-set of this team is unlike anything I’ve ever been around.”
The returning Hawkeyes lauded both big men for what they’ve shown so far, and their size and abilities have a few teammates eager to get them on the floor for what they can potentially bring.
Point guard Jordan Bohannon, for instance, loves the potential for what Garza can do as a screener. Bohannon’s aggression in hunting for his shot in his PTL opener — 35 points with 8 of 15 3-point shooting — went with his comments after about knowing the offense needs someone to do that in the absence of Peter Jok. Garza, specifically, being good in the screen-and-roll low post role with his size creates a ton of options offensively.
It was just one example of myriad skills both Garza and Nunge potentially have to offer.
“Nunge can really shoot the ball, and he’s a normal Indiana kid and he’s been shooting the ball, and he’s just so lengthy it’s hard to contest his shots,” Bohannon said. “Luka, he plays a lot like (Ryan) Kriener does. He’s a fantastic screener and loves to get everyone else open. He realizes how he’s going to open himself up by screening.
“When you’re a shooter, you love to have those (kinds of) guys.”
Last year’s group of Hawkeyes said often they all got along very well and came together early as a group.
Two more new guys who play the same type of position as so many key members of the team — Tyler Cook’s role will only increase as the season rolls on — will make for an interesting integration.
Coach Fran McCaffery jettisoning, for the most part, the traditional positions can only help that. Garza and Nunge both said they feel comfortable at any spot on the floor. With only so many minutes to go around, malleability will be important.
“Any minutes I can get; whatever the team needs, that’s where I’m at,” Nunge said. “I can play at the 2, 3, 4, 5, anywhere (McCaffery) needs me.”
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