Luka Garza's spectacular junior season stands above all others during my time on the beat

Luka Garza faced constant double-teams throughout the season, including in this game against Ohio State

By Pat Harty

IOWA CITY, Iowa - As it turns out, the only thing that could stop Luka Garza was something much bigger than sports.

One of the greatest seasons, if not the greatest, in the history of the Iowa men’s basketball program was cut short by a global pandemic that has basically shut down the world of sports.

And while it’s hard to argue against exercising on the side of caution as the Coronavirus continues to spread, you feel horrible for Garza, and for all of the student-athletes whose seasons were cut short.

It’s hard to even imagine how devastated the athletes must be as they try to come terms with this new and strange reality.

Iowa men’s basketball coach Fran McCaffery expressed his sympathy on the Allhawkeyes radio show on Friday morning.

McCaffery is Garza’s biggest fan, and vice versa.

They both have made each other better, and things were just starting to get real interesting with Iowa having entered postseason play as a lock to make the NCAA Tournament.

Only time will tell if the 6-foot-11 Garza has played his final game for the Hawkeyes as a junior.

It seems almost certain that Garza will at least test the NBA Draft process this spring, assuming that the process isn’t impacted by the fallout from the virus.

Garza has earned the right to explore his options, and the NBA has to be intrigued by somebody who stands almost 7-feet and has an assortment of post moves, a motor that never stops and the ability to make 3-point shots.

Every coach dreams of having a star player who is also the hardest worker on the team, and Fran McCaffery has that with Garza.

In the span of just one shortened season Garza has gone from being a good player to a great player, one of the greatest in program history.

Garza was named the National Player of the Year by the Sporting News on Thursday, and is the first player in program history to earn national player of the year distinction. He has also been voted the USBWA District VI Player of the Year and the Big Ten Men's Basketball Player of the Year earlier this week. 

The Washington, D.C., native is also a finalist for five national awards: Naismith Trophy, Oscar Robertson Trophy, Wooden Award, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award, and the Lute Olson Award.

Garza ranks second nationally with 12 20-point/10-rebound performances, 20-point games (25) and field goals made (287); third in points per 40 minutes played (29.9), fifth in scoring (23.9), 10th in 30-point games (5), 19th in double-doubles (15) and offensive rebounds per game (3.58), and 34th in rebounding (9.8). His 15 double-doubles are third most in a single-season by a Hawkeye in three decades and the most since 2002 (Reggie Evans, 18). Garza has averaged 26.7 points, 11.1 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks in 12 games against AP ranked opponents this season, including recording 11 straight 20-point performances.
Garza finished the 20-game conference schedule averaging 26.2 points per game, becoming the first player to average at least 26 points in Big Ten play since Purdue's Glenn Robinson in 1994 (31.1 ppg). Garza has scored a school-record 740 points this season, breaking the program's 50-year old record previously set by John Johnson in 1970. 

In addition to his statistics, Garza also helped a depleted Iowa team exceed expectations this season.

Iowa was considered an NCAA bubble team at best heading into the season, and that was with a healthy Jordan Bohannon and Jack Nunge.

But with Garza leading the way, Iowa won 20 games, including 11 in conference play, and was seeded fifth in the Big Ten Tournament.

So if you combine Garza’s individual statistics with his team’s success under tough circumstances, his season has to rank among the best in the history of Iowa athletics.

It ranks as the best that I’ve had the privilege of covering on the men’s side, which dates back to 1992.

I came to that conclusion after comparing Garza’s season with the best individual performances in men's basketballl and football since 1992. 

My top spot came down to Garza and former Iowa quarterback Brad Banks, who finished runner-up for the 2002 Heisman Trophy in his only season as a starter.

Banks was also named the Associated Press Player of the Year in 2002, so I could’ve just as easily picked him and been justified in doing so.

The fact that I picked Garza could be partly due to being a prisoner of moment, considering Banks’ season happened almost 20 years ago.

But it had more to do with everything that Garza had to overcome on and off the court.

There were times when Iowa played with just seven recruited scholarship players this season, but that didn’t stop Garza and his cohorts from having success.

My initial intent was to include all sports, but Iowa’s dominance in wrestling would’ve made that too difficult because there are just too many worthy candidates from which to choose.

So I narrowed it to just football and men's basketball, which explains why former Iowa baseball player Jake Adams isn't on the list.

It's also hard to rank offensive linemen due to a lack of statistics, so none of them made the list, either.

Here are my top five since 1992.

Name, class, sport, year, hometown

1. Luka Garza, Jr., basketball, 2019-20, Washington D.C. – He scored 20 points or more in a school-record 16 consecutive Big Ten games, the longest streak by any player in the Big Ten since Ohio State's Dennis Hopson 16 in 1987. Garza is the fourth player nationally since 2007 to finish with at least 700 points, 300 rebounds, 50 blocks, and 35 3-pointers in a season. The other three were Frank Kaminsky in 2015; Michael Beasley in 2008 and Kevin Durant in 2007.
Garza has scored 25 points or more 13 times this season, including the last three contests. He is the only Big Ten player to register seven 25-point/10-rebound performances in the same season in more than 17 years. He also has produced the two highest point totals in a game by a Big Ten player this season (44 at Michigan; 38 at Indiana).

2. Brad Banks, Sr., football, 2002, Belle Glade, Fla. - He went from being the backup quarterback in 2001 to the Heisman Trophy runner-up in 2002.

Banks led Iowa to an 11-2 record, and to its first undefeated season in the Big Ten (8-0) in 80 years. He finished with 2,996 total yards, including 2,573 passing yards, and accounted for 31 touchdowns.

Banks also rushed for 423 yards and his ability as a dual-threat quarterback made him unique at Iowa and hard for defenses to contain.

3. Shonn Greene, Jr. football, 2008, Sicklerville, N.J. - He also became a star in his only season as a starter, rushing for a school-record 1,850 yards and 20 touchdowns while leading Iowa to a 9-4 record in 1998.

Greene rushed for at least 100 yards in all 13 games in 2008 and won the Doak Walker Award, which goes to the nation’s top collegiate running back.

4. Andre Woolridge, Sr., basketball, 1996-97, Omaha, Neb. - He played three seasons at Iowa after transferring from Nebraska, and was a key performer in each season.

His senior season was by far his best, though, as Woolridge became the first player in Big Ten history to lead the conference in scoring and assists with averages of 20.2 points and six assists per game. He also led Iowa to 22 victories and to the second round of the NCAA Tournament despite being the team’s lone senior.

5. Marvin McNutt, Sr., football, 2011, St. Louis, Mo. - I hadn’t given him much consideration until researching and comparing his numbers to others.

That’s when I really started to appreciate what McNutt accomplished in 2011 when he finished with a school-record 1,315 receiving yards and 12 touchdown catches. He also had 82 receptions, which tied Kevin Kasper’s school record, and averaged 16.0 yards per catch.

Also considered: Drew Tate, football, 2004; Tavian Banks, football, 1997; Desmond King, football, 2015, Reggie Evans, basketball, 2000-01; Jared DeVries, football, 1998, T.J. Hockenson, football, 2018; Dallas Clark, football, 2002; Josh Jackson, football, 2017.