Luka Garza Weighing Options While Working Out with Loaded Iowa Roster

June 25, 2020

Written by Rick Brown

Hawkeye Nation

IOWA CITY, Iowa –  Luka Garza is back in Iowa City for voluntary workouts with his teammates.

They lift weights, then play pickup games. Coaches are not involved.

Maybe it’s a sign that the reigning Big Ten Player of the Year is returning to Iowa for his senior season. And maybe it’s not.

“I feel like he’s weighing his options, which is what he should be doing,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said. “And in the meantime he’s in phenomenal condition, and his game is as good as it’s ever been.”

McCaffery won’t speculate on what he thinks Garza will do.

“If a team decides to take him and pay him…it only takes one,” McCaffery said. “I’m not thinking about it one way or the other until he tells us.”

But the chance to coach the leading candidate for national player of the year one more season gets McCaffery excited.

“If he comes back, it’s scary to think how great he will be,” said McCaffery, heading into his 11th season at Iowa. “To me, the most impressive thing is his consistency. And that starts with consistency of effort. He’s seen all kinds of defenses and all kinds of talented bigs, and he just consistently produces. Even when he got in foul trouble he was still getting 20 points and 10 rebounds.”

Consistency was Garza’s calling card last season.  He scored at least 20 points in his last 16 Big Ten games, and did it 19 times in the 20-game league schedule.

He averaged 23.9 points and 9.8 rebounds overall. That was an increase of 10.8 points and 5.3 rebounds from his sophomore season. His 25 games of 20-plus points was a school record.

Iowa’s first consensus all-American in 68 seasons has 1,559 points over three campaigns. Garza scored a school-record 740 points last season, and needs 558 more to pass Roy Marble as the Hawkeyes’ career scoring leader (2,116).

Garza also has 660 career rebounds, and needs 331 more to pass Greg Brunner (990) as Iowa’s all-time leader. Garza had 305 rebounds last season.

While the pursuit of those marks is fun to speculate about, it becomes a moot point if he skips his senior season. And Luka has until August 3 to make his decision. That could leave some teams scrambling if they lose a player to the draft at such a late date.

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“Everyone is in the same boat with that,” McCaffery said. “We’re lucky enough to have depth. We don’t feel like we have to run out and get a guy. I mean, how do you replace him anyway? You just don’t. We’ll have to play differently. But at least we have some bodies. It’s not like, “OK, if he does go we’re down to six guys or something like that.”

The loss of Garza would alter projections for this team, especially on the national level.

“That changes things, because the guy is going to be the national player of the year,” McCaffery said. “And he’s a great leader who makes everyone in the locker room better because of how he is.”

McCaffery hasn’t spent a lot of time trying to figure out a playing rotation heading into the 2020-21 season.

“We have a lot of guys who are good enough to play,” he said. “It will all get sorted out by the time we play our first game. There might be a couple of guys who don’t play as much as they would like, or feel like they deserve. But we’ve got some veteran guys that will graduate, playing time will open up and those guys will be ready.”

Iowa will welcome back guard Jordan Bohannon for his final season. He has 102 career starts, the most of any returnee. Bohannon’s 2019-20 season ended after 10 games, when he elected to have hip surgery.

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Garza has 87 career starts, Joe Wieskamp 66, Connor McCaffery and Jack Nunge 31 apiece, CJ Fredrick 25 and Joe Toussaint 20.

“There’s no substitute for veteran guys at this level,” McCaffery said.

Bohannon is part of a 3-point shooting threesome that has a track record of success. Bohannon has 284 career 3-pointers, and needs 91 more to pass Ohio State’s Jon Diebler as the Big Ten’s career leader (374 from 2008-11). Wieskamp has 111 triples over two seasons and Fredrick made 47 as a redshirt freshman last season.

Guard Connor McCaffery had a breakthrough season in 2019-20, leading the nation is assist-to-turnover ratio (4.59). He had just 22 turnovers in 934 minutes of floor time and saw his 3-point accuracy rise from 20.7 to 34 percent.

“I think what you saw him do is develop confidence in his offensive game,” said the coach. “And I think those numbers will go up a little bit. I think he’ll attack the rim and get to the free-throw line a little more. And then just keep playing defense and keep being smart, physical and tough. And get everybody organized out there, Make sure we get the ball to Luka, get it to our shooters J Bo, CJ and Joe. We’ve got a lot of people who can score.”

Toussaint averaged 6.5 points and played 553 minutes as a freshman while learning how to change speeds with the ball in his hands.

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“He’s going to keep getting better,” McCaffery said. “He’s smart, he’s tough and he’s got a great attitude. He’s a character kid, all the way through. He’s going to be tremendous.”

Forward Patrick McCaffery got a medical redshirt after playing in just two games last season.

“He’s another versatile guy who is 6-8, which is nice,” said the coach. “It’s nice to have versatile 6-3 guys. But also versatile 6-8 guys and versatile 6-1 guys.

Nunge, a forward who also got a medical redshirt after a knee injury and surgery ended his sophomore season after five games, has yet to be cleared.

“He’s close,” McCaffery said. “He’s running and shooting and cutting a little bit. He’s not playing live yet.”

Iowa’s depth will include a five-man recruiting class of guards Tony Perkins and Ahron Ulis, twin forwards Keegan and Kris Murray and forward Josh Ogundele. 

“They’re all good enough to play,” McCaffery said. “We’ve got some established veterans. It’s going to take a little bit of patience. But those guys are coming in here competing, and that’s what I love. If they earn it, they earn it.”

Offensively, this is the kind of dream team McCaffery would love to coach.

“Exactly, with the transition and motion stuff we run,” he said. “And then we can do some sets. The key to sets is versatility, because there are always counters. And you move guys around. Then you can’t be scouted once you start moving guys around.”

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