IOWA CITY, Iowa - Tuesday was a red-letter day for the Iowa men’s basketball program, a reward for a job well done in the black-and-blue Big Ten.
It was also a day for digging through the record books to put those honors in perspective. Let’s start with this: Luka Garza was named the Sporting News National Player of the Year for the second straight season. That achievement is magnified when you look at the other players who won that award more than once.
It’s a Who’s Who list of some of the greatest players in college basketball history: Oscar Robertson of Cincinnati, Jerry Lucas of Ohio State, Lew Alcindor (now Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) of UCLA, Bill Walton of UCLA and Michael Jordan of North Carolina.
The Sporting News also named Garza a first-team all-American. So did Sports Illustrated. That is just a taste of what’s to come in the next few weeks.
Garza was also named outright Big Ten Player of the Year for a second straight season, the first player to do that since Jim Jackson in 1991 and 1992. Luka was born in 1998. Mateen Cleaves of Michigan State won the award in 1998 and shared it with Scoonie Penn of Ohio State in 1999. The coaches voted for Cleaves. The media sided with Penn. Garza is one of four Iowa players to be named the Big Ten’s top player. He was preceded by Murray Wier in 1948, Chuck Darling in 1952 and Sam Williams in 1968.
Garza was also named a consensus first-team all-Big Ten selection by coaches and media for a second straight season. The only other Hawkeyes to be named first-team all-Big Ten in multiple seasons were Herb Wilkinson, Bill Logan, Don Nelson, Williams, Ronnie Lester and Andre Woolridge.
When Devyn Marble was named to the all-Big Ten first team in 2014, he was the first Hawkeye to receive that distinction in seven seasons. He was also the first Fran McCaffery-coached player to do it. Garza is the fifth different player to be named a first-teamer on McCaffery’s watch, the most of any coach in Iowa history. Marble was followed by White in 2015, Jarrod Uthoff in 2016, Peter Jok in 2017 and now Garza in 2020 and 2021.
Coach Pops Harrison also had a first-teamer six times (four different players): Dave Danner in 1944, Clayton and Herb Wilkinson in 1945, Herb Wilkinson in 1946 and 1947 and Murray Wier in 1948.
Coach Tom Davis had four players named first team all-Big Ten five times total: Ed Horton in 1989, Acie Earl in 1992, Jess Settles in 1996 and Woolridge in 1996 and 1997. The Associated Press also named Garza the Big Ten’s player of the year on Tuesday. Garza got 11 of the 15 votes. Ayo Dosunmu of Illinois got the other four.
Iowa’s Joe Wieskamp, one of 10 players named to the preseason all-Big Ten team by the conference, lived up to it. He was voted to the five-man second-team all-Big Ten team by both coaches and media.
Two years ago, Wieskamp made the all-Big Ten freshman team. That’s where Keegan Murray landed on Tuesday. He and Wieskamp are two of seven McCaffery recruits to make the all-rookie team. And none of them were named Garza.
Also on that list were CJ Fredrick in 2020, Tyler Cook and Jason Bohannon in 2017, Aaron White in 2012 and Melsahn Basabe in 2011. Only Cook and Wieskamp were considered Top 100 recruits nationally.
Garza’s logged numbers never seen before by a men’s player at Iowa. He’s reached a school-record 2,201 points from the block, the baseline, the charity stripe and behind the 3-point line.
He’s led the Big Ten in scoring the last two seasons, joining Steve Smith of Michigan State and Evan Turner of Ohio State as the only players to do that since 1990. He’s scored a total of 1,382 points over those two seasons.
Garza’s the only men’s player in Big Ten history to have a resume that includes 2,000 points, 850 rebounds, 125 blocked shots and 100 3-pointers. He’s the only Iowa player to ever score at least 400 points in four different seasons.
The most impressive statistic to me is the fact that he’s scored at least 20 points in 31 of his last 40 Big Ten games. This against scouting reports designed to slow him down. But Garza’s legacy goes far beyond numbers, impressive as they are.
Tuesday’s honors are a reward for hours in the gym, often with his father, Frank, by his side. Luka’s more of a man-made talent than an athletically gifted star. His humble approach to the game, his teammates and his accomplishments makes him one of the greatest Hawkeye basketball players ever.
He’s already one of just three consensus all-Americans in Iowa history, joining Wier (1948) and Darling (1952).
Who is No. 1? That’s a debate without a clear-cut answer because of the evolution of the game. Weir, Iowa’s first all-American, stood 5-8 and had a deadly hook shot. Changes are, that hook shot would end up in the fifth row more times than not today.
John Johnson was a great scorer. Ronnie Lester was a living blueprint of the ultimate point guard. Roy Marble had a scorer’s mentality, and was a one-man wrecking crew against Iowa foes. B.J. Armstrong was a poised and pure point guard. Don Nelson was unstoppable, and Sam Williams always played with a green light. Darling was an old-school post player who was a challenge for any defense. Bill Logan, Herb Wilkinson, Downtown Fred Brown, the list goes on and on.
One thing is beyond debate, though. Only one player will be named a consensus first-team all-American twice during his career. His name is Luka Garza.