Working vacations helped elevate game for Iowa’s Luka Garza
IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Family vacations are a little different in Luka Garza’s family.
Iowa’s star big man went to Bosnia to visit relatives last summer and did two-a-day basketball workouts with his uncle and cousin. Morning workouts focused on offense, evening workouts were for defense and rebounding.
Then there was a trip to California, where he did three-a-day workouts with his father, Frank, and his grandfather, James Halm, an assistant coach at NAIA school California State-Maritime.
There was no time for rest and relaxation on these so-called vacations.
“Every point in the summer, who I was working out with has really contributed to where I am right now,” Garza said.
With the regular season winding down, Garza is a national player of the year candidate.
“Maybe the best big guy in the country,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “That kid is a load, and when he does pop out, he can shoot it.”
Garza has led the Big Ten in scoring since November. He ranks fifth nationally at 23.7 points per game (26.1 in conference play). He’s shooting 59% on 2-point shots, and he’s attempted the most 3-pointers of any big man in the Big Ten, making 38 of 106 for a respectable 36%.
The 6-foot-11, 260-pound Garza has the two top scoring games in the Big Ten, with 44 points in the conference opener against Michigan and 38 against Indiana. In a rematch against Michigan, he had 33.
More impressive is his current streak of 15 consecutive games of 20 points or more in Big Ten play, a school record and the longest streak in the league since Purdue’s Glenn Robinson had 15 in 1994. Garza faces constant double teams for the 18th-ranked Hawkeyes.
“It’s really hard to do in this league, knowing the quality of coach that we’re going up against and the things that they’re doing to stop him, and it just doesn’t seem to affect him in any way,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “He continues to get better with his ability to play out of a double team in terms of making plays for other people, and if he’s having an off day shooting, he’s going to be all over the glass.”
Garza’s lowest scoring output of the season was nine points in a Nov. 29 loss to San Diego State. That was a night after he needed four stitches for a cut lip but still scored 17 in a win over Texas Tech.
Two weeks later, he had a front tooth knocked loose in a win at Iowa State. He had 21 points and 11 rebounds in that game.
“I attack every game the same way,” Garza said. “I’ve always been a guy that, when I’m out there, I’m trying to score. But I’m not going to go for any record if it comes at our expense. I’ve seen every kind of defense they can throw at me. So I’m ready for anything.”
Garza is excelling in a conference featuring other talented big men such as Minnesota’s Daniel Oturu, Ohio State’s Kaleb Wesson, Kofi Cockburn of Illinois and Maryland’s Jalen Smith.
“The consistency of productivity, considering the quality of teams in our league and the quality of big guy that he’s doing it against, I think, is what separates him,” McCaffery said.
Garza averaged 13.1 points as a sophomore and 12.1 as a freshman. There were times, he said, when he would have good games and then soak up the praise.
“And then I wouldn’t have a good game the next time,” he said.
It was a hard lesson that taught Garza to block out distractions and not get caught up in hype.
“I kind of have blinders on for what I want to achieve, and what this team needs to achieve, the potential we have,” he said. “I don’t let it get to my head.”
The Hawkeyes (20-10, 11-8 Big Ten) finish the regular season at Illinois on Sunday, and then there’s the Big Ten Tournament next week in Indianapolis and the NCAA Tournament.
Garza said the player of the year speculation is a tribute to the entire team.
“Only the players that are on the best teams,” he said, “get included in that conversation.”