Iowa Men's Basketball

Mental game: Iowa's Luka Garza says meditation works for him

Iowa star center says he has reduced worrying and being antsy

Iowa center Luka Garza (55) reacts after making a shot during the Hawkeyes' 77-68 men's basketball win over Penn State S
Iowa center Luka Garza (55) reacts after making a shot during the Hawkeyes' 77-68 men's basketball win over Penn State Saturday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — His demanding offseason skills and conditioning workouts get the bulk of the credit for Luka Garza’s dramatic increases in scoring and overall performance this season.

However, the Iowa junior center says what he has done by relaxing his mind is just as responsible.

Garza didn’t just become a capable basketball player this winter. He averaged 12.1 points as a freshman and 13.1 last season as a sophomore on teams that had other scorers in Tyler Cook, Jordan Bohannon and Isaiah Moss. He just lacked the consistency elite players typically have.

“I did a lot of visualizations and different things last year and through my whole career because my dad’s always been key on that,” Garza said Saturday after collecting 25 points and 17 rebounds in Iowa’s 77-68 win over Penn State. ‘“Last season there was a stretch where I put up 20 (points) four times in a row, and then I had a really bad stretch. I asked my dad to start involving more meditation.”

After seven straight games in which he scored at least 16 points last season including those four straight 20-pointers, Garza had a four-game stretch in which he totaled just 16 points and shot 5-of-25 from the field. Foul trouble, seldom a problem for him this season in which he averages a Big Ten-high 23.7 points, affected him quickly in two of the games in that slump.

This season, Garza has often said the swirl of positive attention he got last year during his string of good games ended up affecting him negatively. “Outside noise,” he calls it. Now, he says, he has “a tunnel vision of what I want to do with my life.”

"I just felt like I needed to do something,” Garza said about that 2019 slump. “When the noise around me was getting big, I felt like I was letting it get to me. I thought it was hard for me to be consistent, especially at the level we’re playing. I needed something.”

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Frank Garza, Luka’s father, and GuruGanesh Khalsa are the co-founders of Conscious Selling Inc., a sales-training service to technology companies. They have worked with Luka on meditation.

“Before the Michigan game (last December) was the first time I did a true guided meditation,” said Garza. “My dad and his business partner — he’s a Sikh, every single morning he wakes up and he meditates — he led me through it.”

Garza had 44 points that night at Michigan and did it playing with an ankle he sprained three nights earlier at Syracuse.

“Since then I’ve just been able to be consistent every night,” he said. “I feel composed and balanced and not antsy, which has been a problem throughout the course of my career.

“It’s a deep-breathing routine, calming myself down. The whole idea is being more balanced, just cool, calm and collected almost. Just me going to a game never too high and never too low no matter what’s going on.”

A lot has been going on. Iowa’s offense began going through Garza early this season. He has been a focal point of opposing defenses. He also has been in great demand by media organizations beyond Iowa. He is a national college basketball story.

So Garza meditates, and on game days he typically uses Skype to do it with his mentors online.

“It’s just a lot of deep breathing and different stuff,” said Garza. “He (Khalsa) is just talking and calming me down and just kind of guiding me through it. It’s a mantra I can do, all the things through the Lord that strengthen me. When it ends, I get ready to go to the game.”

NBA superstar LeBron James has used meditation for years. Kobe Bryant practiced meditation. Golden State star Klay Thompson does.

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“LeBron talked about in an ESPN interview how after the 2011 Finals (when his Miami team lost to Dallas) where he didn’t have that great of a series that he started looking into focusing on the mental side of the game,” Garza said.

“I’m not saying (meditation) is the key to success, that it’s going to give you the ability to put up 20 a night. It’s not that. For me, it works because I’m a guy who in the past could get really nervous or antsy. This is just really helping me calm down.”

Garza said two of his teammates have recently joined him in meditation sessions.

“I talk about my mental toughness and how I can miss shots and, unlike last year, not shut down,” he said. “I think that’s all just being balanced and calm and in a different mindset. I think that’s all credit to meditation.”

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

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