Iowa Men's Basketball

Luka Garza stays with Iowa basketball for senior season

Big Ten Player of the Year declines to stay in NBA draft

Iowa's Luka Garza is greeted by fans as he comes off the Carver-Hawkeye Arena court after a 2019 basketball game. (The G
Iowa’s Luka Garza is greeted by fans as he comes off the Carver-Hawkeye Arena court after a 2019 basketball game. (The Gazette)

Anyone else can talk all they want about Luka Garza being the heavy preseason favorite for 2020-21 men’s college basketball National Player of the Year awards, but Garza said he’s looking to acquire other things.

“This year, what I want to do is win championships,” Garza said Sunday. “I don’t care about any stats, I don’t care about any of the awards. I want a championship. With that mindset, the rest of it will come.”

Garza wasn’t just talking about a Big Ten title when he announced via Zoom that he was returning to Iowa for his senior season and opting out of October’s NBA draft.

“I’m very excited to be back with my teammates and look toward winning a national championship, winning a Big Ten championship,” he said. “We have big goals in mind. Once we get back on the court we’re going to start getting to work, and hopefully we can make some history this year.”

Garza is the 6-foot-11 center who was Iowa’s first consensus first-team All-American since 1952 and is the reigning Big Ten Player of the Year. He averaged 23.9 points per game last season, the most by a Hawkeye since Fred Brown in 1970-71. He averaged 26.2 points in Big Ten games, the most since Purdue’s Glenn Robinson in 1994.

Garza also averaged 9.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocked shots. He did get National Player of the Year by six different national media outlets, and was honored with the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Center of the Year Award by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

He returns to a Hawkeyes team that was 20-11 last season and returns several other veteran players in Joe Wieskamp, Connor McCaffery, Jordan Bohannon, Jack Nunge, CJ Fredrick and Joe Toussaint.

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“Seven returning starters,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery calls them. They account for 149 of Iowa’s 155 games started last season.

“Huge news,” Wieskamp said about Garza’s decision.

“He brings a whole different dimension to our team,” Fredrick said. “He was the most-dominant player last year in college basketball.”

The decision didn’t come easily for Garza given he had three options. He could have stayed in the NBA Draft and tried to earn a roster spot in that league. He also could have signed with a professional team overseas.

The NBA being unable to hold individual workouts or its annual Combine for draft entries because of the COVID-19 pandemic helped tilt Garza’s decision Iowa’s way.

“That added a lot of uncertainty to what I had to decide,” said Garza.

“A lot of times it comes down to a workout where you show up with other players that they might have rated higher.” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said, “and all of a sudden they say ‘Wait a minute, this guy’s better than them,’ and he’s moving up. I feel for Luka in that regard, he didn’t have those opportunities.

“Because typically, he outplays the guy that lines up in front of him. That’s what he does. He would have done it at the Combine, he would have done it at individual workouts, and I have no doubt he would have moved up in the draft.”

Garza said “I would have been drafted. I had a lot of opportunities in the NBA as well as Europe for a lot of money. But at the end of the day I feel like teams that like me this year will like me next year and will like me even more because I’ve put in the work this summer and will continue to put in the work.”

He said he’s confident there will be a college basketball season, something Hawkeyes fans will want him to be correct about with every fiber of their beings.

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“I didn’t want to make a decision based on the unknown,” Garza said. “If I would have left based on there not being a season and would have had to watch the team play without me, I would have been upset and regretted that decision a lot. Whatever happens, I made the right decision and won’t regret it.

“I love this place too much to leave it early. I love the University of Iowa, I love my teammates, I love my coaches, and I just love what has happened to me since I’ve been here.”

Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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