Luka Garza will make a decision Sunday that sounds like a jump ball right now.
The Iowa men’s basketball All-American and reigning Big Ten Player of the Year will choose between playing his senior season with the Hawkeyes or turning professional. His choice, his father said Tuesday, is extremely difficult and made more so by the NCAA’s deadline of next Monday for NBA draft early-entry candidates to withdraw from the draft.
“Bizarrely unfair,” Frank Garza called the NCAA’s deadline, given the 2020 NBA Draft isn’t until Oct. 16 and there’s no clarity on what kind of season college basketball will have for 2020-21.
The player’s confidence in the college season happening couldn’t have been strengthened by the news his team got Monday when it learned two of its players had tested positive for COVID-19. The team paused workouts for 14 days. The individuals who tested positive were isolated, and those in the program who might have been exposed to someone with the virus have been quarantined.
The break will give Garza even more time to think about whether he’ll choose to stay at Iowa, pursue an NBA roster spot, or sign with a professional team overseas.
“A lot of the decision is based on principle, not professionally,” his father said from his home in Washington, D.C. “It’s coming from the heart. That’s why he’s torn. If there were a (certain) season, it would be a slam dunk. He’d be coming to do something that’s never been done before with his teammates for his coach, his community, his university.
“You’ve got to believe that with the reality the NCAA needs to make money, they’re going to figure it out.”
However, he added “Look at yesterday’s news with baseball. And then (at Iowa) with the basketball. And you’re going to get more of that.”
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NBA executives, Frank Garza said, have “floored me with how much research they’ve done and how much they’ve learned about what No. 55 (Luka) is all about.”
But if the NBA were a lock for Garza, his decision might have already been made and Iowa’s considerable cast of returning, proven players might already have started adjusting to being without its 23.9-points-per-game man in the middle.
There is a third option for the player that isn’t insignificant: Playing professionally overseas.
Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery recently said in a podcast that Garza has offers on the table. Frank Garza verified it, saying “There’s a huge amount of interest, and his biggest money is over there (in Europe). His game translates over there immediately.
“There is a strong push, including a shoe deal, if he wants to pursue it in Europe. As a 21-year-old, he wouldn’t have to worry about any little (college) stipend which barely allows him to pay rent and eat when he’s 6-foot-11 and 265 (pounds).”
On the other hand, there’s the strong pull of staying at Iowa and spending another season with Joe Wieskamp, Jordan Bohannon, C.J. Fredrick and the rest of his Iowa teammates. With the caveat that Garza returns, many have pegged the Hawkeyes as a preseason Big Ten favorite and Final Four contender.
“Why isn’t the NCAA going to a timeout?” Frank Garza asked about the deadline his son and many other NBA early-entry candidates must make by next Monday. “This isn’t in the best interest of the student. It’s not even in the best interest of their mental health to be putting them the obligation on them as the NCAA is giving zero guidance, absolutely none, on this whole matter.
“The decision for Luka is like ‘OK, what do I believe? What do I have faith in?’ ”
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McCaffery has expressed nothing but full support for whatever Garza chooses. He’s helped make the decision harder for Garza by surrounding him with good players and the potential to be part of a dynamic team this winter.
“I think he feels he has like-minded people with him who are equally motivated,” McCaffery said. “We’ve got a veteran group, we’ve got an unselfish group. We recognize we’ve got the best player in the country and we utilize him the right way.”
Before sharing his decision with the world Sunday, Garza planned to reveal it to his teammates in person. Now he’ll tell them from his quarantine to theirs.
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