By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – For the longest time, I've wanted to rank the top five single-season performances by a University of Iowa student-athlete regardless of sport, and including both men and women.
I had tried numerous times before and either became too frustrated because there were too many worthy candidates from which to choose, or there just wasn’t enough time to complete such a daunting task.
Well, unfortunately, a lack of time is no longer a problem due to a global pandemic that has changed life as we know it and left most of us in isolation, and with little to do, especially if you make your living covering sports.
Luka Garza also deserves credit for inspiring to me to finally complete this task with his record-breaking performance this season, which included scoring at least 20 points in each of his final 16 games.
Garza is one of the leading candidates for National Player of the Year accolades, with ESPN and the Sporting News already having awarded the 6-foot-11 junior center with that prestigious honor.
Garza’s sudden rise to stardom came just a year after fellow center Megan Gustafson was named the consensus National Player of the Year on the women’s side for Iowa.
Neither program had ever produced a National Player of the Year, but then it happens in back-to-back seasons.
It's incredible, to say the least.
And while I’m sure that many of you will disagree with my top five, and more power to you, there is no right or wrong answers when compiling these kinds of lists.
Iowa’s dominance in wrestling made trimming the list to just five a maddening experience because you could easily just pick five of the 19 wrestlers who won a national title while finishing undefeated.
Junior Spencer Lee was on the verge of making it 20 undefeated national champions as a near lock to win a third consecutive national title at 125 pounds.
But sadly, we’ll never know.
The sports world has been turned upside down by the spread of the Coronavirus and we’re scared, confused and restless because of it.
Hopefully, this column will serve as a distraction and give you something much more enjoyable to think about.
Every student-athlete that was considered was special in his or her own right, or they wouldn’t have been considered.
So without further ado, my top five:
Name, sport, class, season
1. Nile Kinnick, football, Sr., 1939 – Kinnick Stadium is named after him for lots of reasons, including the way in which he died while serving his country in the Navy.
Kinnick’s legend took on a whole new meaning when his plane crashed on June 2, 1943 off the shore of Venezuela in the Gulf of Paria. He was in the Naval Reserve and conducting a routine training flight when his plane developed an oil leak.
Some like to think that Kinnick, who was born in Adel on July 9, 1918, would’ve gone on to become the governor of Iowa, or even higher than that.
He was that revered, and still is to this day.
Kinnick’s mystique, and the way in which he died at the age of 24, makes it easy to overlook, or take for granted, what he actually did on the football field during that magical fall of 1939.
Iowa had combined to finish just 2-13-1 in the previous two seasons, and had only won more than one conference game just once from 1930 to 1938. The 1933 squad finished 3-2 in the Big Ten.
Attendance was dwindling and Irl Tubbs was fired as head after just two seasons and replaced by Dr. Eddie Anderson.
The decision to hire Anderson produced stunning and immediate results as the 1939 squad came out of nowhere to shock the college world, finishing 6-1-1, highlighted by a 7-6 victory over Notre Dame.
The team became known as the Ironmen because the starters rarely left the field, but there was no question Kinnick was its best player and emotional leader.
You name it and Kinnick did it for the 1939 team.
He scored or passed for all but 23 of the points tallied by Iowa during the 1939 season, and led the nation with 377 kick returns yards and with eight interceptions.
Kinnick also ranked among the top 10 nationally in total offense, and was a reliable kicker and punter.
His versatility and dominance, coupled with Iowa’s rise from the ashes, led to Kinnick winning the 1939 Heisman Trophy. He is Iowa’s only Heisman Trophy winner, and it’s highly unlikely that we’ll ever see one player impact a season the way in which Kinnick did in 1939.
2. Megan Gustafson, women’s basketball, Sr., 2018-19 – There were strong indications that she was on the verge of something special after having performed so well as a junior, but nobody could’ve expected what happened during her record-breaking senior season.
The 6-3 center from tiny Port Wing, Wis., went from being real good to arguably the greatest player in program history, and the consensus National Player of the Year as a senior.
And her team climbed with her, advancing to the Elite Eight and winning the Big Ten Tournament.
Gustafson led the nation in five categories as a senior, including points per game (27.8), field goal percentage (69.6), total points (1,001), field goals made (412), and double-doubles (33). She also ranked second in defensive rebounds per game (11), and third in rebounds per game (13.4) and total rebounds (481).
She also became the fourth NCAA women’s basketball student-athlete, and first ever post player, to score 1,000 or more points in a single season.
Gustafson’s senior season is the stuff of legends and something we’ll probably never see again.
I kept wondering if I was a prisoner of the moment for ranking Gustafson this high, but then realized that she checked all the boxes with regard to individual and team dominance.
3. Tom Brands, wrestling, Jr., 1990-91 – The Sheldon native, along with twin brother Terry Brands, helped to energize an Iowa wrestling program that needed a boost in the late 1980s.
They would combine to win five NCAA individual national titles, including three by Tom, who now coaches his alma mater, with Terry as an assistant.
I finally settled on Tom Brands from Iowa’s 19 undefeated national champions because he compiled the most wins (45) while finishing undefeated during the 1990-91 season.
Some might argue that Tom Brands was even better as a senior in 1991-92 when he finished 41-1 and won a third consecutive national title at 134 pounds. He was named the Most Outstanding Wrestler at the 1992 NCAA Championships, but he didn’t finish undefeated like the season before.
So I went with perfection.
4. Chuck Long, football, Sr., 1985 – He led Iowa through the glory years under Hayden Fry, and saved his best for last as a senior in 1985 when he passed for 3,297 yards and 27 touchdown while leading Iowa to the Big Ten title and to its first double-digit win season in school history at 10-2 overall.
Long also as a senior became the first quarterback in Big Ten history to pass for 10,000 yards during a career.
Long was an unheralded recruit from Wheaton, Ill., who picked Iowa over Northern Illinois. His high school team relied heavily on its ground attack, but Fry still saw enough potential from Long as a passer to offer him a scholarship.
Long almost joined Kinnick as a Heisman Trophy winner in 1985. Long finished second to Auburn running back Bo Johnson in the closest vote ever for the award.
5. Luka Garza, basketball, Jr., 2019-20 – The Washington D.C. native wasn’t in my initial top five, but then he was named the National Player of the Year by ESPN on Tuesday, and that convinced me that I was trying too hard to avoid being a prisoner of the moment.
I was punishing Garza for being fresh in our minds as the latest star when I should’ve realized that he was in uncharted territory from an awards standpoint for an Iowa men’s basketball player.
Garza is the first player in Iowa men’s basketball history to earn national player of the year distinction.
He was also named the National Player of the Year by the Sporting News, and has been named a first-team All-American by ESPN, USA Today, CBS Sports, Sporting News, and NBC Sports.
Garza is also is a finalist for five additional national awards: Naismith Trophy, Oscar Robertson Trophy, Wooden Award, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award, and the Lute Olson Award.
Garza finished with a school record 740 points this season despite not having the opportunity to play in postseason.
Garza also grabbed 305 rebounds and is one of three Big Ten players to ever total at least 740 points and 300 rebounds in a single-season. The others are Purdue's Glenn Robinson in 1994 and Purdue's Joe Barry Carroll in 1979.
He ranked second nationally with 12 20-point/10-rebound performances, 20-point games (25); third in total field goals made (287) and points per 40 minutes played (29.8), 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 Reggie Evans had 18 in 2002.
Combine Garza’s individual dominance with Iowa having exceeded expectations this season despite a depleted roster and it seems clear that his performance this season deserves to be in the top five.
Also considered in no particular order: John Johnson, basketball, 1969-70; Aubrey Devine, football, 1921; Brad Banks, football, 2002; Reggie Roby, football, 1981; Joe Williams, wrestling, 1997-98; Lincoln McIlravy, wrestling, 1996-97; Randy Lewis, wrestling, 1978-79; Terry Brands, wrestling, 1991-92; Mark Ironside, wrestling, 1997-98; Barry Davis, wrestling, 1984-85; Jim Zalesky, wrestling, 1983-84; Andre Tippett, football, 1981; Kristy Gleason, field hockey; 1993; Andre Woolridge, basketball, 1996-97; T.J. Williams, wrestling, 1998-99; Michelle Edwards, women’s basketball, 1987-88; Shonn Greene, football, 2008; Chris Campbell, wrestling, 1976-77; Duane Goldman, wrestling, 1985-86; Jake Adams, baseball, 2017; Alex Karras, football, 1957, Randy Duncan, football, 1958; Tavian Banks, football, 1997; Drew Tate, football, 2004; Marvin McNutt, football, 2011; Calvin Jones, football, 1955; Lester Belding, football, 1919; Gordon Locke, football, 1922; Larry Station, football, 1985; Marv Cook, football, 1988; Leroy Smith, football, 1991; Tim Dwight, football, 1997; Jared DeVries, football, 1998; Desmond King, football, 2015; Troy Steiner, wrestling, 1991-92; Josey Jewell, football, 2017; Ed Banach, wrestling, 1982-83; Eric Juergens, wrestling, 1999-00; Sam Logic, women’s basketball, 2014-15; Cindy Haugejorde, women’s basketball, 1979-80; Josh Jackson, football, 2017; Robert Gallery, football, 2003; Brandon Scherff, football, 2014; Dallas Clark, football, 2002; Artur Wojdat, men’s swimming, 1991-92; Tyler Cleveland, men’s tennis, 2001; Bashir Yamini, men’s track and field, 1998; Anthuan Maybank, men’s track and field, 1993; Nan Doak, women’s track and field, 1985; Ronnie Lester, men’s basketball, 1978-79; Fred Brown, men’s basketball, 1970-71; Charles Darling, men’s basketball, 1951-52; Don Nelson, men’s basketball, 1961-62; T.J. Hockenson, football, 2018; Murray Wier, men’s basketball, 1947-48; Sam Williams, men’s basketball, 1967-68; Kevin Kunnert, men’s basketball, 1972-73; Dick Ives, men’s basketball, 1944-45; Herb Wilkinson, men’s basketball, 1944-45; Jarrod Uthoff, men’s basketball, 2015-16; Debbie Bilbao, softball, 1997; Karen Jackson, softball, 1991; Kineke Alexander, women’s track and field, 2006; Jennifer Brower, women’s track and field, 1992; Marcia Pankratz, field hockey, 1984; Donna Chung, field hockey, 1982; Erin Lynn, field hockey 1989; Andrea Wieland, field hockey, 1992; Tangela Smith, women's basketball, 1997-98; Mary Kobaldt, field hockey, 1985; Elizabeth Tchou, field hockey, 1987; Kathleen Doyle, women's basketball, 2019-20; Kris Fillat, field hockey, 1992; Tim Costo, baseball, 1990; Chris Hatcher, baseball 1989; Franthea Price, women's basketball, 1989-90; Toni Foster, women's basketball, 1992-93; Mike Boddicker, baseball, 1978; Rafal Szukala, men’s swimming and diving, 1994; Lincoln Hurring, men’s swimming and diving, 1956; John Davey, men’s swimming and diving, 1988; Clifford Walters, men’s swimming and diving, 1936; Wentworth Lobdell, men’s swimming and diving, 1932; Spencer Lee, wrestling, 2019-20; Walter Ris, men’s swimming and diving, 1948; Deacon Jones, cross country, 1958; Larry Wieczorek, track and field, 1968; Ted Wheeler, track and field, 1956; Richard Ferguson, cross country, 1953; Tracy Dahl, women’s cross country, 1992; Nate Kaeding, football, 2002 and 2003; Duke Slater, football, 1921.