IOWA CITY, Iowa - I first met Luka Garza in the summer of 2017, at the North Liberty Community Center.
I interviewed him in a hallway before he played in a Prime Time League game, and I was impressed. Not by his skill on the floor. I hadn’t seen him play yet. He won me over with his infectious smile and humble nature as he shared the journey that taken him to a campus 900 miles from his home in Washington, D.C.
“I’ve always been good at soaking things in,” he said that day. “I’ve always been a student of the game.”
I thought of that introductory interview several times Sunday night, when Garza passed Roy Marble as Iowa’s career scoring leader in a victory over Penn State..
I thought of Marble, too, as well as Greg Stokes and Ronnie Lester. They all had “career scoring leader” attached to their names, and I was fortunate enough to see them play in person. Another thing struck me when I realized that it had been more than three decades since Marble passed Stokes as Iowa’s scoring king. Thirty-two years, to be exact. That, alone, is a testament to the standard Marble set. And it only polishes Garza’s accomplishment. Garza became the seventh different career scoring leader at Iowa over the past 65 seasons. Six different players held it in a 33-year span. And then Marble was the man for the next 32. Garza said that it was “truly an honor” to be mentioned in the same sentence as Marble, who passed away from cancer in 2015.
Last season, when Garza started stuffing the boxscore every game, it became evident that Roy’s record was in serious jeopardy. It happened roughly six years and two months after Garza came to Iowa City for the first time on his official recruiting visit.
It was a crazy weekend. Garza attended an Iowa basketball game against Coppin State the first night he was in town. The next day he took in a Kinnick Stadium doubleheader. Iowa’s wrestling team knocked off No. 1 Oklahoma State in the opener, 18-16, before more than 42,000 fans Then the Hawkeye football team delighted a sellout crowd by beating Minnesota that night, 40-35.
“I had a lot of fun, just seeing all the energy and the fans and what it would be like if I came here,” Garza recalled last year. “It was good for me to see, as a kid who had come to Iowa for the first time in his life and not knowing what to expect. I really felt at home.” Garza’s been embraced by Iowans over his 119-game career that’s followed. And who knows, he might set a scoring standard that will last beyond Marble’s 32-year ownership. Bill Logan ended the 1955-56 season on top of the list, scoring 1,188 points in 74 games over three seasons. Freshmen weren’t eligible back then. A center from Keokuk, Logan was a two-time first-team all-Big Ten selection and part of Bucky O’Connor’s beloved “Fabulous Five” team that won the Big Ten title and lost in the NCAA title game to Bill Russsell and San Francisco. Logan averaged a double-double his entire career with 16.1 points and 10.6 rebounds.
After the season, the numbers of all five starters - Logan (31), Carl Cain (21), Bill Seaberg (22), Bill Schoof (33) and Sharm Scheuerman (46) - were retired.
Dave Gunther, a forward from LeMars, tied Logan’s mark as a senior in 1958-59. Gunther averaged 21.9 points to finish with 1,188 points of his own. In his final game, Gunther scored 17 points in an 84-74 loss at Michigan State, the Big Ten champs that season. Gunther played eight fewer games than Logan overall. He, too, finished with a career double-double (18 points, 10.5 rebounds). He was a first-team all-Big Ten selection as a senior.
All-American forward and two-time all-Big Ten selection Don Nelson took over the top spot in 1962. He scored 1,522 points over three seasons and 72 career games before moving on to a long NBA career as a player and Hall of Fame coach. Nelson, from Rock Island, Ill., averaged 21.2 points and 10.9 rebounds over his career.
Nelson was the career scoring leader for 18 years before being replaced by a mercurial point guard from Chicago named Ronnie Lester.
Lester, also an all-American and two-time all-Big Ten performer, moved a point ahead of Nelson when he scored 23 points in a 81-62 victory at Wichita State on Dec. 11, 1979. Three games later, Lester would suffer a knee injury in a game at Dayton, Ohio, that forced him to miss 16 games in a Final Four season. Lester finished with 1,675 points in 99 career games. Lester’s No. 12 was retired before his final home game at Iowa Fieldhouse on March 1, 1980. Stokes, a southpaw center with a soft touch, entered a game against Ohio State on Feb. 28, 1985, needing just three points to pass Lester. His number, 41, was retired in a pregame ceremony. And then the native of Hamilton, Ohio, put 29 points on his home-state Buckeyes in an 87-82 victory.
Stokes, a first-team all-Big Ten pick as a senior, finished with 1,768 career points in 120 games. Marble was next, overcoming a rough start to become No. 1. He failed to score a point in the first two games of his college career.
“It was an all-time low,” he said of his slow start. “I spent my time wondering, “Am I any good?’ ” He answered that question by scoring 2,116 career points over 134 games. He averaged 15.8 points for his career and scored at a 20.5-point clip as a senior.
Needing 11 points in a Jan. 26, 1989 game against Wisconsin at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, a jittery Marble finished with 24 on nine-for-13 shooting from the field.
“It’s hard for me to tell when Roy’s nervous,” his dad, Roy Sr., said after the game. “But when the game started, I knew something was the matter with him.”
For thirty-two seasons, 2,116 was an unreachable standard until a 6-11 center from the east coast came to town and worked his way to the top.
Nerves got to Garza, too. The reigning Big Ten Player of the Year needed a free throw to set the record with 15 minutes left. He responded with the first airball of his career. Seven minutes of game action later, Garza got the basket that put him over the top. He still has four regular-season games, the Big Ten Tournament and the NCAA Tournament to add to his total. He’ll likely become the first two-time first-team consensus all-American in program history after the season. National and Big Ten player of the year honors are out there, too.
All from a hard-working guy who is humble as the day is long. A guy that Iowans consider one of their own.