Iowa Men's Basketball

No one's better to be No. 1 at Iowa than No. 55, Luka Garza

National Player of the Year favorite is about to become Hawkeyes' all-time top scorer

Iowa's Luka Garza is greeted by fans as he comes off the court after the Hawkeyes' 74-59 win over Michigan on Feb. 1, 20
Iowa’s Luka Garza is greeted by fans as he comes off the court after the Hawkeyes’ 74-59 win over Michigan on Feb. 1, 2019, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. (The Gazette)

You’ll probably never see anyone replace Luka Garza as Iowa’s all-time leading men’s basketball scorer.

Garza almost surely will become No. 1 Sunday when Iowa plays Penn State in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. He needs 14 points. He had 17 by halftime of his last game.

He is at 2,103 points, and he has several more games left to add to his total. If the Hawkeyes do some winning at the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments, that total will only get fatter. Let’s say he plays nine or 10 more games and scores 200 points. That would put him fourth on the Big Ten’s all-time points list. None of the top three played in this century.

Those are numbers. Garza is more than numbers.

Much has been made about his grueling offseason workouts and his continual efforts to add new dimensions to his offensive game. Those are real. But that’s sports stuff.

The things to remember most about Garza are his humility, his eagerness to publicly praise teammates and coaches, his friendliness to everyone, the way he treated kids before and after games in the years when kids could attend games at Carver,

Win or lose, Garza has always shown up afterward to answer every question thoughtfully in media interview sessions. He’s the rare sports person who talks even more after defeats, using the time to sort of analyze things that didn’t go well out loud while giving himself far more of the blame than he deserved.

Of course, we’ll always recall how fun it was to watch him play. Garza leads the nation in scoring and has been held under 16 points just once in his last 46 games, that in a 30-point Iowa victory over Michigan State last weekend. Sunday, he almost surely passes Roy Marble to top Iowa’s scoring list.

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“I want them to think of a guy who brought it night in and night out,” Marble said about himself not long before his 2015 death at age 48 because of cancer.

“To hear (Garza) kind of mentioned in the same sentence as Roy Marble, I coached against Roy, I watched him play,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said. “We became really good friends after I got here. Of course I had the opportunity to coach his son (Devyn), one of my favorite players ever.

“I wish Roy was here to see it. He would have been a big Luka Garza fan and he would have gone out there and given him a big hug when he broke the record.”

Garza, who holds great players who came before him in high esteem, would have liked that.

“I know how much of an honor it would be to pass a guy like Roy Marble,” Garza said after scoring 30 points Thursday in Iowa’s 77-62 win at Wisconsin. “He’s a legend, a Hawkeye great, and he’s paved the way for so many guys who put on this uniform and represented this university.”

The scoring record, said Garza, “just speaks to countless teammates I’ve had who have made me look good over my career as a post guy. You need great guards who are able to feed you the ball and put you in positions to score, and I think they’ve made me look good for years.

“I’m just really thankful that Coach McCaffery found me and provided me an opportunity to represent the University of Iowa. I love this place. I’m just thankful for every time I get to wear the jersey. It’s definitely awesome.”

It will forever be a shame Hawkeye fans couldn’t have seen Garza and his team play in person this season. A day will come when a big crowd is in Carver and Garza is brought back to be properly celebrated. In future decades, older Hawkeye fans will talk about Garza the way older fans today reminisce about Ronnie Lester, about B.J. Armstrong, about Marble.

For now, Garza still has several games left at Iowa. There is work to be done.

“I didn’t come back to score points and I didn’t come back to win awards,” he said. “I’ve won awards. I did that last year. My main focus is winning games.”

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Luka Garza of Washington, D.C., with no personal ties to his university or this state before arriving, has been No. 55 here for four years. It’s the biggest uniform number allowed in college basketball.

But he’ll soon be No. 1 on the program’s scoring list. He already is No. 1 in many Hawkeye hearts.

Comments: (319) 398-8440; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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