The University of Iowa’s last Associated Press first-team All-America men’s basketball player was someone you never saw play. Unless you’re old.
He was Chuck Darling, a 6-foot-8 senior center. He averaged 25.5 points for a Hawkeyes team that went 19-3. In 1952.
Were the voting today, Luka Garza would be Everbody’s All-American. His sample size of 2019-20 results is growing as big the 6-11 Garza himself. Through 24 games, the Iowa junior center is averaging 23.1 points and 9.9 rebounds. He averages 26.1 per game in Big Ten play.
“[Iowa] has a National Player of the year candidate in Luka Garza,” Illinois Coach Brad Underwood said after Garza stung the then-No. 19 Illini with 25 points in the Hawkeyes’ 72-65 win in Iowa City on Feb. 2. “Boy, he proved he is every bit of that.”
“He’s mastered a really unique offensive package,” said Indiana Coach Archie Miller, whose team hosts Iowa Thursday night.
“Garza, he is, in my mind, as good a player as there is in the country right now,” said Nebraska Coach Fred Hoiberg last Saturday after his team’s 96-72 loss to the Hawkeyes in Carver.
In that game, Joe Wieskamp scored 30 points for Iowa. Garza had a “quiet” 22 points in 27 minutes. It was his ninth-straight game of at least 20 points. No Hawkeye has done that since Fred Brown in the 1970-71 season.
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Iowa’s Adam Haluska led the Big Ten in scoring in the 2006-07 season with 20.5 points per game. His longest stretch of 20-point games was four. Three seasons ago, the Hawkeyes’ Peter Jok topped the conference with 19.9 ppg. Never that season, however, did he string more than two 20-point games together.
Seven regular-season games and what comes after them still remain for the Hawkeyes, so all ballots should still be blank today. However, Garza appears close to being a shoo-in to become Iowa’s first AP first-team All-American in 68 years, and that’s just the cake. The icing is he’s a serious candidate for national Player of the Year awards.
Garza is one of the 20 late-season finalists for the John R. Wooden Award. For raw numbers, none of the other 19 players has a pair of numbers as strong as Garza’s 23.1 and 9.9. Marquette’s Markus Howard, for instance, is a sensational player who tops Division I with 27.4 points per game, but doesn’t have big rebounds or assists numbers.
Dayton center Obi Toppin, often cited as a POY possibility, averages 19.6 and 7.8. His team took a 21-2 record into its game Tuesday night, so you certainly enter that in his equation.
Others who have been named as strong contenders for the Wooden or Naismith Player of the Year (Iowa’s Megan Gustafson was the 2019 women’s Naismith winner) are big on what are seen as intangibles to go with nice stats.
But what about Garza’s effect on a team that is 17-7, after getting picked to finish eighth in the Big Ten in a media poll last October. Which was before it lost three players from its rotation to health issues?
On top of that, Garza has gotten acclaim for how he plays as much as how he produces. The variety of ways he scores for a big man, the fact that he constantly hustles — these have made impressions near and far.
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“He just plays so hard,” Hoiberg said. “That is the thing I love about that kid more than anything. He obviously has a skill set. You can’t stop him in the paint when he gets an angle. He carves out space as well as anybody I have seen at this level.”
“The ONLY place u find SUCCESS ahead of WORK is in the dictionary,” ESPN’s Dick Vitale wrote in a recent tweet lauding Garza.
Comments like that seep into the consciousness and subconsciousness of award-voters. The final say-so, however, belongs to Garza. If he helps the Hawkeyes stay competitive through the rest of February and then March, he’ll attend a lot of awards banquets in April.
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