Luka Garza returning for senior season at Iowa with championship goals in mind

The reigning Big Ten Player of the Year is withdrawing his name from the NBA Draft.


Nichole Harris

Iowa center Luka Garza attempt to push past Illinois forward Giorgi Bezhanishvili during a men’s basketball game between the Iowa Hawkeyes and the Illinois Fighting Illini on Sunday, February 2, 2020. The Hawkeyes defeated the Fighting Illini 72-65.

Robert Read, Sports Editor

Two minutes before the video conference where he was set to announce whether or not he was returning to Iowa for his senior season started, Luka Garza posted six words on his Instagram page that gave Hawkeye fans everything they wanted to know.

“I’m back baby where the love?”

The Big Ten Player of the Year and consensus All-American is withdrawing his name from the NBA Draft and returning to Iowa, a place he said he loves too much to leave early.

“I felt very confident that I wanted to come back and finish my career at the University of Iowa,” Garza said on a Zoom conference Sunday. “[Iowa head coach Fran] McCaffery saw something in me that not a lot of other coaches saw and he took a chance on me. I feel like he’s done so much for me and my career that it wouldn’t be right to finish it off.

“I’m very excited to be back with my teammates and look toward winning a national championship, winning a Big Ten championship. We have big goals in mind… Hopefully we can make some history this year.”

Garza went through the draft process to receive feedback from NBA teams.

The feedback he did get was different than what he would have gotten in any other offseason. The COVID-19 pandemic prevented Garza, who was named national player of the year by six news outlets following his junior season, from meeting or working out with any NBA teams in person. He received an invite to the NBA combine, but it has not been rescheduled after being postponed in May.

“Luka is a big-picture guy,” McCaffery said. “He’s looking at everything. It’s wise to do so and I encouraged him to do so.

“The important thing I think is that he felt good about going through the process the way he did. He felt like he had done his homework.”

Garza said he informed McCaffery of his decision on a phone call Friday. He let the team know in a Zoom meeting Sunday morning.

While there are still questions about upcoming fall and winter sports due to COVID-19, Garza said that he remains confident there will be a men’s college basketball season in some way.

“I didn’t want to make a decision based on an unknown,” Garza said. “If I would have left based on there not being a season and I would have watched the team play without me, I would have been upset and regretted the decision a lot. Whatever happens, I made the right decision and I won’t regret it.”

The Hawkeyes won 20 games last season and were likely headed to the NCAA Tournament before it was canceled.

After Garza’s announcement, Iowa has seven players who have experience in the starting lineup returning to the team for the 2020-21 season.

“Obviously it was huge news for us as well as the fans,” Iowa junior Joe Wieskamp said. “He’s just such a big leader for us, not only on the court but off the court. He’s constantly communicating with guys and motivating guys to get in the gym. It’s good to have his leadership back. I think that’s one of the most important things.”

McCaffery said Sunday that this will be the deepest team he has ever coached.

Before Iowa paused its voluntary workouts after two players tested positive for COVID-19 on July 27, the team got some time in on the court.

The team returned for voluntary workouts on June 15, and Garza said that spending time with the team, and seeing up close how good the group could be, was a major influence on his decision to return.

“Practicing with the guys… feeling what that team was like with all the guys out there, it felt like it could be something special,” Garza said. “It would be the best team that I’ve ever played for and possibly one of the best teams Iowa has ever had. That was a determining factor for me.

“It was the best decision of my life to come to the University of Iowa. And I think it’s the best decision for me to stay.”

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