Like Megan Gustafson, Luka Garza Maximizing Talent Through Hard Work
IOWA CITY, Iowa – When Luka Garza was a freshman at Maret School in Washington, D.C., coaches required athletes to participate in two sports.
Garza joined the track and field team after the basketball season ended.
“All the coaches wanted me to work on my speed,” Garza said. “They put me in the 100 for the first meet, and I didn’t really know what it would be like. I was in the fourth heat, so I thought that meant it was easier. It was bad. I got burned.”
Garza’s time has faded from his memory, but there is still a lasting image of his sprint to infamy. A video clip of Garza lumbering his way to the finish line was posted on Twitter right before the start of Luka’s college career at Iowa.
A classmate and friend, Julia Knowles, who is now on the track team at Lafayette College, posted it.
“A lot of people hold that video against me,” Garza said. “I really didn’t want it to go out on Twitter. It was bad. I never ran the 100 again. I stuck to the mile.”
Luka Garza will never be a sprinter. But no one is laughing at him now.
Iowa’s 6-foot 11 junior center has played his way into Big Ten and national player of the year discussions.
His off-season workouts are legendary, and the results are clearly evident this season. With nine consecutive games of 20 points or more heading into Thursday’s contest at Indiana, Garza has earned the accolades.
He sprints up and down the court relentlessly. He gets superior position on defenders before he receives the ball, then uses leverage, strength and footwork to score once he gets it. He also has the ability to shoot mid-range and three-point jumpers.
“My athleticism has always been my weakness,” Garza said. “Over time I’ve done my best to work as hard as I can to manage the God-given abilities I have.”
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Garza is averaging 23.1 points overall, and 26.1 in 13 Big Ten games. His streak of nine straight games of 20-plus points is the longest in program history since Fred Brown had 16 straight in 1970-71.
Garza’s run to prominence this season is not without precedence at the University of Iowa. Center Megan Gustafson was a consensus all-American and National Player of the Year last season, leading Iowa to a 27-9 record and the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.
Her rise to fame, as the most decorated player in school history, also started to gain national traction in her junior season when she averaged 25.7 points and 12.8 rebounds.
Gustafson was even better as a senior, scoring 1,001 points and finishing with 2,804 for her career and 16 school records.
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“When I got here and started going to the gym myself, she was always the one I would see out there working,” Garza said. “Doing the Mikan Drill, and stuff like that. I’ve seen a lot of players go into a gym and work out. But what she was doing, and how she was doing it, that was really impressive to me.”
All that work behind closed doors opened the door to fame for Gustafson in a season that will never be forgotten.
“So it was no surprise when I saw her start to dominate her junior year, and then obviously her senior year,” Garza said. “It was just an amazing moment for her, to win national player of the year and take her team to the Elite Eight, for her coach (Lisa Bluder) to win national coach of the year, it was just tremendous for the program. It’s a tribute to her and her hard work.”
The University of Iowa started a website dedicated to Gustafson in February of her senior season. The university will do the same thing with Garza this week.
Gustafson is also keeping an eye on Garza. When Luka was named a finalist for the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award last week, Gustafson tweeted, “Just checking in on my little bro, seems to be doing alright.”
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Gustafson remained humble throughout her record-setting career, and was unaffected by all the attention thrown her way.
Garza vows to be the same way.
“I think it all comes with experience,” he said. “In the past, I think I let it affect me when people started to talk more about me. But now I think I have my blinders on to what I want to do and what I want the team to achieve. All that stuff doesn’t affect me. I never try to be too high or too low, based on how people are talking about me.”
Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery thinks that all the attention that comes Garza’s way won’t change his approach to the game.
“It won’t affect anything that he does in terms of putting in extra time, how he responds to coaching, how he responds to his teammates,” McCaffery said. “There is never a level of frustration in him.”
Garza’s unselfishness is a trait that McCaffery finds admirable.
“I wish I could say that I had a lot more to do with that,” McCaffery said. “What I do think, and something I pride myself in, is that we just encourage him to be the way he is and continue to build confidence in him. And this is the result.”