Luka Garza made it official on Sunday: He will be pulling his name out of the NBA draft and returning to Iowa for his senior season.
This, as you might expect, is absolutely massive news for the Hawkeyes. Garza is coming off of a season where he averaged 23.8 points and 9.8 boards for a top 25 team, was named a first-team All-American and put himself alongside Dayton’s Obi Toppin in the race for National Player of the Year.
He’ll enter next season as the preseason National Player of the Year. Iowa is currently a top ten team in the NBC Sports preseason top 25. Those two things are, as you might expect, correlated.
And this makes Garza unique.
It is not that often that we see players return to school after seasons where they received accolades like Player of the Year and first-team All-American. The reason this happened is that Garza, despite his voluminous production, doesn’t really project as a great pro because of his lack of athleticism and mobility. He’s a terrific low-post scorer that is an aggressive rebounder, plays with the motor of a honey badger and can step out and knock down a three. But he’s not a rim protector and he’s not a guy that can switch in pick-and-rolls. Players of his ilk have gone out of style in a league where centers are expected to play a certain way.
That said, Garza did project as a really good pro in Europe, and combine that with the fact that he is of Bosnian descent, he could have made quite a bit of money had he opted to play in Europe. He had a very real decision to make: Return to school to be the most famous player in a sport and try to do something that has never happened for Iowa basketball, or go make six figures — with a crooked number in front — playing high-level European hoops.
He chose the former.
How often does a player that is that unquestionably great return for another year in the collegiate ranks? Cassius Winston did it. Doug McDermott did it. They were both preseason National Player of the Year favorites, which is precisely what Garza will be. It’s a big deal having him on the floor, to say nothing of the impact that he has on everyone else on that Iowa roster.
What makes this so interesting is that the Hawkeyes have talent alongside him. Joe Wieskamp is one of the best shooters in the country. Joe Toussaint has a chance to be a breakout player at the point as a sophomore. C.J. Frederick had a really promising freshman season. Jack Nunge should be healthy, and Jordan Bohannon is expected to be back as well. This is a borderline top 25 Iowa team without Luke Garza.
But with him back?
I think this Iowa capable of getting to a Final Four and winning a national title. And if I had to guess, Luka Garza will thrive in Iowa colors assuming that basketball is, in fact, played this winter.