Just by returning to the Iowa Hawkeyes for his senior season in 2020-21, U.S. center Luka Garza joins the esteemed company as one of the rare Sporting News Player of the Year award winners to return the following season .
That’s not the only elite group he wants to join.
With Garza returning to the Hawkeyes, their seven of their top 10 point producers will return from a # 5 offense in efficiency among Division I teams. The defense was not at that level, only 97th, and Iowa will have to improve to challenge the first Big Ten title since 1979 and the first NCAA Final Four since 1980. But that’s the plan.
“It was very strange and very difficult. COVID-19 caused a lot of uncertainty, “Garza told the media on Sunday. “At the end of the day, I was confident that I wanted to come back to finish my career at the University of Iowa.”
Garza showed up 10 minutes early for the announcement that he would be withdrawing from the NBA Draft 2020, which was run through Zoom, perhaps an indication of his eagerness to resume the Iowa basketball climb.
Garza said he was sure he would have been drafted if he remained on the early enrollment list, although he acknowledged the general criticism of his game. He said he had chances to play in Europe “for a lot of money”, but chose to stay in college because “I love this place too much to leave it early.”
Garza’s decision was complicated by the uncertainty about college basketball in 2021-21 as a result of the pandemic, but he said “to be sure there will be a college basketball season.” He said it could be delayed or changed, but believes the season will take place, and would have regretted leaving expecting it to be canceled and then forced to watch while the Hawkeyes played without him .
The opportunity to add to his legacy as a college basketball player was another factor in his return. He said he looked up to players like Frank Kaminsky of Wisconsin and Tyler Hansbrough of North Carolina, who completed their senior seasons, calling them “legends.”
He was asked if the pressure to be a pre-season player of the year might bother him and shared how he eased buzz on prices last season.
“Four games in, and I hear All-American from the first team,” said Garza. “And I managed to get rid of that.”
Garza is the first Sporting News player of the year to return the following season since Hansbrough, who won in 2008. He didn’t repeat as our winner – Oklahoma’s Blake Griffin surpassed him that season – but he did one better through the Tar Heels to the 2009 NCAA Championship.
Garza is the fifth SN winner to return for a new season since 1980. The others: Ralph Sampson (1982), Michael Jordan (1983) and Dee Brown (2005).
He could become the fifth player to win the award in consecutive years by joining Jordan, Bill Walton (1972, 1973, 1974), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1967, 1969), Bill Bradley (1964, 1965), Jerry Lucas (1961, 1962) and Oscar Robertson (1958, 1959, 1960).
That’s a great company.
Garza’s return is not unexpected. He was not highly rated by concept analysts and had trained with the Hawkeyes since returning to campus, although their work was briefly interrupted due to multiple COVID-19 positives among the players.
He turns 22 during the season and is expected to have a long professional career, although his lack of jumping ability and lateral speed can mean that he spends most of his time in European competitions.
“He’s incredibly confident in his ability to improve,” said Iowa coach Fran McCaffery. “Many people take the money in front of them.
“Luke is a big man. He looks at everything. “
Garza achieved an average of 23.9 points and 9.8 rebounds for an Iowa team competing in what could be described as the deepest conference in a generation, although a lack of revenue due to March Madness being canceled. The NCAA tournament selection committee didn’t even produce a bracket for conversation purposes, but the final composition of about 100 fake brackets at the bracket matrix placed 10 Big Ten teams in their field, all with a number 9 or better.
Garza was routinely challenged by high-level big men – including Daniel Oturu from Minnesota, Kofi Cockburn from Illinois, Jalen Smith from Maryland, Xavier Tillman from Michigan – but recorded 15 double doubles, five games with 30 points, and closed the season 2019-20 down with 16 consecutive games of 20 or more points. He is a powerful low-post scorer who converted 58.9 percent of his 2-point attempts, but also called 39 3-pointers as a 36-percent long-range shooter. He tried 195 free throws, but his accuracy of 65.1 percent was clearly less than better than 80 percent as sophomores.
That consistent against elite competition is why Garza was chosen by SN over Dayton’s extraordinary Obi Toppin.
After losing points guard Jordan Bohannon to 10 games in the year, Iowa managed to finish fifth in the Big Ten with a 21-10 overall record and 11-9 in conference play. The Bracket Matrix predicted them for a number 6 seed in the NCAA tournament if it had been played, although that would have been influenced by how the Hawkeyes performed in the Big Ten Championship, which was also canceled due to the pandemic.