Iowa Men's Basketball

The wait begins: A Luka leap, or will Iowa basketball get Garza back for senior year?

All-America center will see if the NBA says "Now" or "Next year"

Iowa center Luka Garza (55) smiles at the Hawkeyes' bench late in the Hawkeyes' 72-65 men's basketball win over Illinois
Iowa center Luka Garza (55) smiles at the Hawkeyes’ bench late in the Hawkeyes’ 72-65 men’s basketball win over Illinois on Feb. 2 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

A world with a future chock full of the unknown just got even murkier for Iowa Hawkeyes men’s basketball.

Luka Garza’s Friday announcement that he was declaring for the 2020 NBA draft, but not hiring an agent to retain the option of returning to the Hawkeyes for his senior season, is something that may not come with a resolution as soon as it normally would.

The NCAA’s deadline for early-entrants to withdraw from draft consideration is June 3. The draft is June 25. But will the draft be postponed until later in the summer, virtually forcing the NCAA’s hand to move back its deadline? Murky.

What it ultimately boils down to for consensus first-team All-America junior center Garza and the Hawkeyes is this:

“A real opportunity is something that would draw me to stay in (the draft), a team that really has a plan for me,” Garza said Friday. “I’m not going to go in without 100 percent confidence of being able to make a roster. I don’t see any interest in ending up in the G League without any type of deal or anything like that. That’s something I should be able to get after my senior year.”

Garza is like most early-entrants. He doesn’t say it, but he thinks he’s an NBA player. Now. That’s the mentality of good high-level college players, and scoring 26 points a game in Big Ten play is a pretty effective way to build your self-esteem.

Former Hawkeyes Peter Jok, Tyler Cook and Isaiah Moss were NBA early-entries who came back to Iowa for another season. Current Iowa player Joe Wieskamp did the same last year as a freshman.

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All quickly realized the draft pool is loaded with good players and NBA teams don’t blow smoke at those who are unlikely to be first-rounders. Only first-round contracts, by the way, are guaranteed, and there are only two rounds and 60 players drafted.

As of noon Friday, there were 99 early-entrants. Then there are international players, and college seniors. Few prospects who aren’t surefire first-rounders get anything resembling promises.

“I’m all over the place,” Garza said. “I think some teams really like me and some teams are scared because of my athleticism. I just kind of want to hear that for myself.

“It’s all really about fit, how that organization sees me. A real opportunity is something that would draw me to stay in — a team that really has a plan for me.”

Compounding the uncertainty is the current climate in which there can be no in-person workouts with NBA teams. The annual NBA Combine, normally held in May, would seem likely to be scratched. What pro teams get for a while will be videos of players working out and online/phone interviews.

Using Zoom wouldn’t seem to be the best way for a draft prospect to zoom up the draft rankings.

Dayton’s Obi Toppin, Oregon’s Payton Pritchard and Seton Hall’s Myles Powell declared for the 2019 NBA draft but didn’t hire agents. All three returned to their college teams for the 2019-20 season. They joined Garza on All-America first-teams after the season.

Among other Big Ten players who are going through the NBA draft process are Illinois center Kofi Cockburn, Minnesota center Daniel Oturu, Michigan State forward Xavier Tillman, Maryland forward Jalen Smith, and Ohio State forward Kaleb Wesson. Iowa State guard Tyrese Haliburton is viewed by many as a potential lottery pick (top-14 player).

Garza said his Iowa coach, Fran McCaffery, recommended the draft process to the player.

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“Luka was one of the top players in the country last season and going through the NBA Draft process is something that he should absolutely do,” McCaffery said in an Iowa news release. “We fully support Luka in the pursuit of his professional goals. This process is extremely valuable in gathering information from NBA personnel.”

Garza knows the security blanket waiting for him in Iowa City if he doesn’t stay in the draft. Iowa is a trendy pick in online 2020-21 preseason top 10s by national basketball writers. That’s with, of course, the assumption Garza returns.

“That’s why,” he said, “obviously I tried to make it very clear in my statement that I’m keeping my eligibility and that I’m excited for the possibility of coming back.”

This is one time Hawkeye fans will quietly root against Garza. Don’t be too good this summer, they’ll whisper, so you’ll come back and be too good against the rest of the Big Ten.

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