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Luka Garza’s Rise to Stardom Shines Light on Iowa Basketball Program

April 7, 2020

Written by Rick Brown

Hawkeye Nation

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Luka Garza’s record-setting junior season at Iowa has done more than make him a national name in college basketball circles.

“It definitely helps the program,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said. “But you know what the beautiful thing is? This has had no affect on him. He’s the same guy. Just humble and hungry. It’s incredible when you have a guy like that, and you get to see his family enjoy what he’s earned.”

Garza  didn’t win the Wooden Award, which went to Dayton’s Obi Toppin on Tuesday. Toppin also won the Naismith Award, the Associated Press College Player of the Year and the Oscar Robertson Award.

Garza took the high road Tuesday on Twitter after the Wooden Award was announced on ESPN.

Garza did collect some hardware on Tuesday. The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame announced that Garza was the recipient of the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Center of the Year Award.

“I have looked up to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar my entire life,” Garza said in a statement. “To win an award in his name is a tremendous honor and one that I share with my family. I am incredibly grateful to have the coaching staff, group of teammates, and my family, which put me in position to win this award. Lastly, I’d like to thank the support of Hawkeye Nation.”

Earlier, he took home the Pete Newell Big Man of the Year, presented by the National Association of Basketball Coaches.

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Garza was named National Player of the Year by The Sporting News, Basketball Times, ESPN, Stadium and Bleacher Report. Seth Davis and Dick Vitale also named him their national player of the year.

McCaffery said that seeing Garza get honored nationally “is the best feeling in the world. You’re thrilled for a guy that you saw put in the time and is one of the best teammates you’ll ever see. For that guy to be national player of the year is really special.”

Garza, the Hawkeyes’ first consensus all-American since Chuck Darling in 1952, is everything McCaffery could ask for in a player.

“Obviously he’s supremely confident in his game,” McCaffery said. “He’s got no ego. There’s never any negative there, never any issues. He’s a great leader and he’s incredibly positive. He requires zero maintenance off the court, and does the job in the classroom. He’s a coach’s dream.”

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Garza averaged 23.9 points and 9.8 rebounds overall, and 26.2 points and 9.7 rebounds in Big Ten play. Garza’s fundamental superiority in the paint was only part of his game. He also showed an ability to be effective offensively away from the basket.

He scored at least 20 points in a school-record 25 games in 2019-20. He set another school record by doing it in 16 consecutive Big Ten games, and 19 of 20 overall including a 44-point night at Michigan and a 38-point effort at Indiana.

“I can’t get over who he did it against, too,” McCaffery said. “This was a particularly good year for big guys in our league.”

Garza also won Big Ten Player of the Year, Iowa’s first honoree since Sam Williams in 1968.

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“I felt pretty confident that he would be first-team all-conference at a minimum (as a junior),” McCaffery said. “And then there’s the potential to have the other stuff come his way depending on how he develops.  But I’m not surprised he would have been one of the top players in the country. You never know if a guy is going to be the national player of the year, or the Big Ten player of the year.”

Michigan State senior guard Cassius Winston was the preseason pick to be the Big Ten’s player of the year. Winston averaged 18.6 points overall and 19.6 in Big Ten games. He also dealt with personal tragedy when his younger brother, Zach, was killed in November.

“Cassius had a great year,” McCaffery said. “It wasn’t like he stumbled. Even with the tragedy he suffered, he was still spectacular.”

Garza also joined the Purdue tandem of Glenn Robinson (1994) and Joe Barry Carroll (1979) as the only players in Big Ten history to score at least 740 points and grab 300 rebounds in a season.

Garza hasn’t announced whether he’ll return to Iowa for his senior season or test the NBA waters. But McCaffery relishes the thought of coaching him for one more season.

“I think he’s going to keep getting better,” McCaffery said.

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