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IOWA CITY — Wednesday marked the first day in college basketball's early signing period, and the Iowa men's basketball team got things kicked off in a big way with their big man.
As the Hawkeyes prepare for their first regular-season game Friday against Kennesaw State, they also officially welcomed the marquee member of the 2017 recruiting class, and a key component for the future. Six-foot-11, 250-pound Luka Garza officially signed his letter of intent, and Coach Fran McCaffery finally got to gush about the versatile post player.
McCaffery said Garza's game has transformed from the first time he saw the Maret School (Washington, D.C.) senior to now, with changes to his body that have made him quicker, more mobile and more able to use his length.
'I saw him two years ago now and fell in love with his game,' McCaffery said. 'He's a rare combination of a guy with a really good low-post game who can stretch the floor and make 3s and who understands how to compete on every possession, and that's a rare combination when you get a guy who is 6-10 and a 7-3 wing span and can stretch the floor and play smash mouth inside. Up-and-unders and jump hooks, and those kinds of moves, you don't see a lot of that anymore. He's effective.
'So you put all that together, you've got something special.'
Garza represents a type of player Iowa doesn't have right now.
After losing 7-foot center Adam Woodbury to graduation, the Hawkeyes' have Tyler Cook, Ryan Kriener and Dom Uhl at 6-foot-9 as their biggest frontcourt players. Those players certainly aren't peanuts, but size can't be taught, and Garza's will add a vital dimension to what Iowa hopes to do next year and beyond.
McCaffery threw out Kevin McHale and Marc Gasol as players of whom Garza reminded him. Garza's inside-out combination, plus ability to run the floor effectively, all while instinctively using his size defensively is what drove those comparisons, McCaffery said.
When Garza was in Iowa City on his official visit, he played at an open gym, and a few Iowa players were there to see what he was made of. Sophomore forward Ahmad Wagner echoed his coach and said Garza was some kind of combination of Woodbury and Kriener.
'He's real big, goes hard. He's good,' Wagner said Wednesday. 'He's got the physicality Woody (Adam Woodbury) had, and he's got that mentality, but he's also got that skill to him. He's a little bit bigger than (Ryan) Kriener, a little smaller than Woody. He's got that inside-outside game a little bit.
'This makes us harder to guard. You can't put a true 7-footer on the court if you've got small (post players) who can run the ball and handle the ball; it's tough to guard. … It makes us harder to guard and I think that's an advantage for us.'
Garza also represents another highly-touted player who McCaffery and his staff — in this case, primarily Sherm Dillard early, then heavily McCaffery — were in on from an early point, before many of the offers and interest rolled in. Iowa was in on Cook early in that way, and it paid off in spades both times.
McCaffery said Wednesday that approach has worked because 'most players that you recruit are relationship people.' The time investment allows comfort with the program that makes committing to a future much easier. Knowing who they'll be playing with, how coaches deploy players and all those other details are invaluable.
The early signing day serves as a respite for having to sweat out an even longer verbal-to-signing commitment period, like McCaffery's football counterparts deal with.
Every recruiting process is a little different, but Garza's followed a pattern McCaffery and Co. have seen before. Iowa wanted Garza to commit 'a lot earlier' than he did — on his unofficial visit nearly a year before Garza made his verbal. McCaffery said at that point it becomes about patience and weighing what it's worth for both parties.
In this case, it led to an even stronger connection, and ultimately bringing in a player who they know very well and they believe can impact the program's future.
'I think in fairness to him or anybody else, you have to give him an opportunity to really study it, and that's what he did,' McCaffery said. 'A lot of coaches will complain about it, but it's those kind of starting from scratch and building a relationship, and then ultimately getting the opportunity to coach somebody I think is going to be great, and that's what makes this business fun.'
Iowa is expected to sign its second commit for the 2017 class, Jack Nunge, on Thursday. The Hawkeyes' other commit, Connor McCaffery, is not expected to sign during the early signing period.
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