By MATTHEW WEITZEL
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Luka Garza, the 2020 National College Basketball Player of the Year by six major news outlets and Big Ten Player of the Year, announced on Sunday that he is returning to the University of Iowa for his senior season.
“My heart is in Iowa City,” said Garza. “I love this place too much to leave it. I love my teammates, coaches, community, fans, and the university. It would have been way too hard to close the book without the last chapter.”
Garza is one of five players since 1975, and first since 2008, to return to school after being recognized as the Sporting News National Player of the Year. The other four players are Tyler Hansbrough (2008), Dee Brown (2005), Michael Jordan (1983), and Ralph Sampson (1982).
The Washington, D.C., native had a historic season in 2019-2020, leading the nationally-ranked UI men’s basketball team to 20 victories and a likely NCAA Tournament berth if not for the COVID-19 pandemic. Garza said that not having the opportunity to achieve two of its goals last March — winning the conference tournament and making an NCAA Tournament run — was difficult.
“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. “There will be a lot of preseason hype, but that doesn’t mean anything; at the end of the day, it’s what we do when the ball is tipped. 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.”
“My heart is in Iowa City. I love this place too much to leave it. I love my teammates, coaches, community, fans, and university. I don’t care how many games we are able to play, I want to be here and wear IOWA across my chest one more time. It would have been too hard to close the book without the last chapter.”All-American Luka Garza
Iowa returns seven players with significant starting experience. In addition to Garza, the Hawkeyes also return upperclassmen all-conference honorees Jordan Bohannon and Joe Wieskamp. Redshirt junior Connor McCaffery led all Division I players in assist-to-turnover ratio, while CJ Fredrick was honored on the All-Big Ten Freshman Team a year ago. Sophomore point guard Joe Toussaint and redshirt sophomore Jack Nunge have also earned starting nods.
A unanimous consensus first-team All-America selection, Garza became the first UI men’s basketball student-athlete to earn National Player of the Year distinction (Sporting News, Basketball Times, ESPN, FOX, Stadium, Bleacher Report). The center was also named the Pete Newell Big Man of the Year, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Center of the Year, USBWA District VI Player of the Year, and Big Ten Men’s Basketball Player of the Year.
Garza visited with five NBA teams and three Euro League clubs while going through the NBA process this summer, gaining valuable insight about each team and what he can do to be ready to perform in the NBA when the time comes.
“I need to continue to improve my lateral quickness and foot speed to be able to excel in guarding ball screens at the next level,” Garza said. “I feel like teams have confidence that I will be an NBA player in the future.”
“Luka’s decision is incredibly unselfish. 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. Luka has an incredible bond with his brothers in the locker room and believes in this group."Iowa Head Coach Fran McCaffery
Head Coach Fran McCaffery said that Garza’s decision is incredibly unselfish and heart-warming.
“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.”
Garza said the last couple weeks were stressful in the decision-making process due to the pandemic and uncertainty of sports during these unique times. But in the end, Garza said he couldn’t make the decision based solely on unknowns.
“If I left thinking the season was going to be canceled and then I watch my guys play without me, I would have regrets the rest of my life,” said Garza. “I don’t care how many games we are able to play, I want to be here and wear IOWA across my chest one more season.”
Garza finished the 20-game conference schedule averaging a staggering 26.2 points per game last season, becoming the first player to average at least 26 points in Big Ten play since Purdue’s Glenn Robinson in 1994 and first true center since Minnesota’s Tom Kondla (28.3 ppg) in 1967. Garza scored a school-record 740 points in 2019-2020, breaking the program’s 50-year old record previously set by John Johnson in 1970. Garza became one of three Big Ten players to ever to total 740+ points and 300+ rebounds in a single season. He scored 20 points or more in a school-record 16 straight Big Ten games, the longest streak by any player in the Big Ten since Ohio State’s Dennis Hopson (16) in 1987.
Last season, Garza ranked second nationally in 20-point games (25); third in total field goals made (287), fifth in scoring (23.9), 19th in double-doubles (15), and 34th in rebounding (9.8). He produced against top competition all season, averaging 26.7 points, 11.1 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks in 12 contests against AP ranked opponents, including recording 11 straight 20-point performances.
“Earning a college degree is something that is not only important to me but very important to my mother. With all the uncertainty going on, the one certainty would be me earning my degree. My entire family guided me in the right direction and that is why I feel so confident and excited about my decision.”All-American Luka Garza
2019-20 On The Court
1,559 — career points, 558 from becoming Iowa’s all-time scoring leader
740 — school single season record in points scored
44 — points at Michigan, third most in program history
38 — points at Indiana, two points from an Assembly Hall opposing player record
26.7 — scoring average against 12 AP Top-25 opponents
26.2 — scoring average in 20 Big Ten games
25 — games scoring 20+ points, which tied for second nationally
19 — scored 20+ points in 19-of-20 Big Ten games
16 — first player since OSU’s Dennis Hopson (1987) to score 20+ in 16 straight B1G games
15 — double-doubles (points/rebounds)
11 — consecutive games scoring 20+ points versus AP Top-25 teams
10 — nationally ranked with five 30-point games
7 — games with 25+ points & 10+ rebounds, most in B1G in 17 seasons
5 — fifth Sporting News Player of the Year to return since 1975
3 — nationally ranked in points per 40 minutes played (29.9)
1 — only Hawkeye to amass 740+ points and 300+ rebounds in a season
Garza will enter his senior season with 1,559 points, 660 rebounds, 104 blocked shots, 99, assists, 47 steals, and 20 double-doubles. Garza ranks 10th in Iowa career blocked shots and double-doubles, and 12th in scoring. He is 558 points from surpassing Roy Marble as the school’s all-time leading scorer. He has reached double figures in scoring 70 times, including 20 points or more 37 times.
Achieving on-court success with his teammates is not the only goal Garza has on his mind.
“Earning a college degree is something that is not only important to me but very important to my mother,” said Garza. “With all the uncertainty going on, the one certainty would be me earning my degree. My entire family guided me in the right direction and that is why I feel so confident and excited about my decision.”
McCaffery commended Garza on his approach during this process, analyzing both the professional and personal side of things.
“He is willing to bet on himself, which shows tremendous confidence,” McCaffery said. “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.”