Luka Garza Minnesota Pregame Portrait

Luka Garza

IOWA CITY, Iowa – It was the news for which Iowa basketball fans had been anxiously awaiting for months. Turned out, it was worth the wait.

“My heart is in Iowa City,” Garza said in a press release. “I love this place too much to leave it. I love my teammates, coaches, community, fans, and university. It would have been way too hard to close the book without the last chapter.”

Sunday, senior center Luka Garza announced he was withdrawing from the NBA Draft ahead of Monday’s NCAA deadline. The reigning Big Ten Player of the Year could still go back into the draft by the Aug. 17 NBA deadline, according to the Athletic’s Sam Vecenie. Garza said unless he’s told he’s the No. 1 pick in the draft, he would not be leaving school this year.

Vecenie listed Garza as the No. 89 player on his latest draft board (subscription). ESPN has him No. 79 on its board.

With Garza, Iowa is a preseason Top 10, perhaps Top 5 team. Without him, it would have been a talented, veteran team with a big hole in the middle.

“With the overall depth, length, and experience that we have returning I believe we have a group determined to make the most of this season,” Garza said. “We have goals of where we want to be, but right now it’s not about winning championships; it’s about taking it one day at a time so we can be the best team possible.”

Garza hasn’t shown up on many mock NBA drafts but his father, Frank Garza, has indicated his son has opportunities overseas. With the COVID-19 restrictions beginning in March, Garza and other prospects have been shut out of pre-draft workouts.

Last season, Garza (6-11, 260) was named the Sporting News, Stadium, Basketball Times, Bleacher Report, FOX, ESPN National Player of the Year after leading the Big Ten with 23.9 points and 9.8 rebounds per game. He was the country’s only player with 700+ points, 300+ rebounds, 50+ blocks and 35+ 3-pointers. His 740 points broke John Johnson’s program mark of 699 set in 1969-70.

The Hawkeyes welcome back four other starters – Joe Wieskamp, Connor McCaffery, C.J. Fredrick and Joe Toussaint – along with Jordan Bohannon, a three-year starter who missed most of last season following hip surgery. Jack Nunge returns from an ACL tear after starting the first five games in ’19-20 as does Patrick McCaffery, who missed most of the campaign with a health issue. The program welcomes five talented freshmen.

Garza’s return means coach Fran McCaffery can ease newcomer Josh Ogundele (6-11, 245) into his college career. The first-year player from London joins Garza and Nunge as traditional options in the post. Iowa could go with a smaller lineup at times like it did last year when Nunge went down.

“Luka’s decision is incredibly unselfish and heart-warming,” Fran McCaffery said in a press release. “Luka has an opportunity to advance himself professionally, but instead, he is thinking more about the program and his teammates. His goals are team-oriented. He has an incredible bond with his brothers in the locker room and believes in this group.

“He is willing to bet on himself, which shows tremendous confidence. I am excited to be part of it and thrilled to have an opportunity to coach him again. There is no better feeling than having student-athletes here for the right reasons, who want to be great and do it in our program.”