Fran McCaffery supporting Luka Garza ahead of upcoming NBA decision

The Hawkeye head coach said he just wants what is best for his star player.


Nichole Harris

Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery draws up plays during a timeout during a men’s basketball game between Iowa and Penn State on Saturday, Feb. 29 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The Hawkeyes defeated the Nittany Lions 77-68.

Robert Read, Sports Editor

Iowa’s star center Luka Garza has a decision coming up that will have a significant impact not only on the 2020-21 Hawkeye men’s basketball team, but on college basketball as a whole.

First reported by 247 Sports, the reigning Big Ten Player of the Year and consensus All-American will decide Aug. 2, the day before the deadline, whether or not he will pull his name out of the NBA Draft.

Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery joined college basketball analyst Jon Rothstein on the College Hoops Today with Jon Rothstein podcast on Monday. Iowa’s 11th-year coach made it clear that he will support Garza no matter what his decision is.

“I want what’s best for Luka,” McCaffery told Rothstein. “That’s the way it has to be. I can’t weigh that with anything that would be considered selfish. Luka knows if he comes back, we’re going to be a better team than if he doesn’t come back. Our chances to advance and do some special things are right there if he chooses to come back… He knows he has my full support in that pursuit.”

As a junior, Garza had one of the best seasons in Hawkeye history. He was the first player in program history to earn National Player of the Year recognition from a news outlet.

Garza averaged 23.9 points, 9.8 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks per game last season. His 740 points set a single-season program record.

Should Garza come back for his senior season, more records are set to be broken, including the Washington, D.C., native potentially becoming Iowa’s all-time leading scorer.

“He will be legendary in this state, if he’s not already legendary,” McCaffery said. “He pretty much is. I think one of the things he is excited about is the ability to do something for our program that maybe is unprecedented.”

Assuming Garza comes back, Iowa is among the deepest and most talented teams in the country.

Rothstein has the Hawkeyes at No. 3 in the nation in his latest preseason rankings.

Weighing that, along with the fact that the college basketball season is still very much surrounded by uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and Garza has a lot to take into account while coming to a decision. McCaffery gave Garza and his family credit for thinking this through.

Rothstein pointed out that McCaffery could have his best team ever should Garza return. McCaffery made it clear several times that he wants what is best for Garza. And if that means coming back for another season in the Black and Gold, McCaffery will be thrilled.

“You’d love to coach him for four years, I’d love to coach Luka Garza for 40 years,” McCaffery said. “All he does is come to practice and work hard. He’s a great person off the floor and a great representative of the program, he’s a great teammate, and he’s a great leader… coaches talk about the culture they establish. Culture is the players, the players you recruit, and how they conduct themselves. There’s not better example than Luka Garza.”

Hawkeyes trying to prepare for season amid pandemic

McCaffery covered a variety of other topics in his conversation with Rothstein. One of them was simply how the program is navigating through the difficulties of practicing and getting ready for a season while the COVID-19 pandemic is still ongoing.

How the college basketball season will look may be an even bigger question than if Garza is coming back.

“Do we go conference only or do we push the season back?” McCaffery said. “Do we play it as is? You look at all different angles. Obviously, we all hope the season starts November 8 and we play our schedule. If that’s not doable, alright, do we push it back into January? The longer it goes, the better chance we have for a vaccine.”

McCaffery told Rothstein on several occasions that safety is the most important aspect of guiding through the current situation.

With his sons Connor and Patrick as players on the team, McCaffery has a different perspective than other coaches might have at the moment. Rothstein asked if, from a parent’s perspective, McCaffery was comfortable moving forward with basketball at the moment.

“I would move forward with my sons on the team,” McCaffery said. “I wouldn’t, to be frank, view that any differently. I take very seriously the relationship I have with the players that I’ve recruited. I’m not going to treat my sons any different than I would treat another man or another woman’s child. That said, I’m going to listen to our doctors, to our trainers, and I’m going to evaluate safe practices. We’re going to do contact tracing, we’re going to wear a mask, we’re going to do all that stuff and truly minimize opportunity where we could catch the virus. I feel like we have to get moving in a positive direction.”

Bohannon, Patrick McCaffery medically cleared

Iowa’s depth is among the deepest in the country going into next season, and the return of injured players is a big reason why.

Jordan Bohannon only played in 10 games last season before undergoing surgery on his hip. Patrick McCaffery missed most of the season due to health issues relating to his previous battle with cancer.

Both players, McCaffery told Rothstein, are fully cleared to participate.

Forward Jack Nunge, who tore his ACL last season, is running and doing some change-of-direction drills, but is not yet ready for five-on-five action on the court. McCaffery said previously that Nunge should be ready to start the season.

All three players received medical hardship waivers after missing significant time last season.

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