By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Selfishly, I would prefer that Luka Garza return to Iowa for his senior season because just think of how much fun and excitement we could have.
And yes, it would help from a business standpoint, too, because imagine the hype and the interest surrounding the 2020-21 Iowa men’s basketball team should Garza return, along with senior point guard Jordan Bohannon and everyone else on the roster.
With the 6-foot-11 Garza, you could make a strong case for Iowa being a top-10 team nationally and the Big Ten preseason favorite for next season.
Even without Garza, Iowa still would look pretty good on paper with Bohannon and juniors Joe Wieskamp, Connor McCaffery and Jack Nunge and sophomores C.J. Fredrick and Joe Toussaint forming a solid nucleus.
There has to be a part of Fran McCaffery that would prefer that Garza return for his senior season because few would benefit from that more than Fran McCaffery.
But this decision isn’t about what is best for Fran McCaffery, or the Iowa media or the Iowa fans.
It’s about what is best for Garza, and Fran McCaffery made that abundantly clear when he spoke with Garza shortly after the season ended prematurely in early March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
And that says a lot about Fran McCaffery.
“Before I even said anything, he recommended to me that I should put my name in and go through this process,” Garza said of Fran McCaffery. “Coach wants what’s best for me and that’s why I came to this school. And it’s been evident that he was the coach for me since I made that decision, and even before that.
“He was very excited for me. He wanted me to put my name in the process. He understood my mindset going through it and I think we’re only the same page.”
Here is the link to Friday's podcast:
Garza announced on Friday morning that he was declaring for the NBA Draft while maintaining the option of returning for his senior season.
And it’s clearly the right thing to do under the circumstances, a win-win situation.
Garza would have to be convinced that he will make an NBA roster next season or he will return to Iowa.
It’s that simple.
He is coming off a junior season in which he was named a consensus All-American, the Big Ten Player of the Year and was the recipient of the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Center of the Year award.
Garza led the conference in scoring and he scored at least 20 points in each of the final 16 games.
He also helped a depleted Iowa team exceed expectations, so Garza is clearly in a good place right now.
But there still are questions and concerns about his athleticism and whether it would hinder him in the NBA.
“I’m all over the place,” Garza said of how he is perceived by NBA teams. “Some teams really like me and some teams are scared because of my athleticism. So I just kind of want to hear that for myself. That’s obviously something that’s followed me my entire career and will continue to follow me.”
“I’m not going to go in without 100-percent confidence of being able to make a roster. I don’t see any interest in ending up in the G-League without any type of deal or anything like. That’s something I’d be able to get after my senior year.”
Unlike a lot of players who declare for the NBA Draft, Garza isn’t in a situation where he has to start making money for his family.
He is also three-fourths of the way through college, so earning a degree won’t be a daunting task at this stage.
Garza just wants to play in the NBA like so many other kids who grow up with that dream.
But if there is any doubt whatsoever about whether Garza will make an NBA roster, he could return to a great situation at Iowa to play for a head coach that he highly respects and with teammates that he admires and vice versa.
“I’m excited about the possibility of coming back,” Garza said. “There’s something special about this group at Iowa. I came to play for Coach McCaffery and it would be special to make a run and play for a Big Ten Championship.”
Wieskamp tested the draft process last season and it wouldn't be a surprise if the 6-6 Muscatine native did it again this year. Players have until June 3 to declare for the draft.
By testing the draft process, players get to learn where they stand without risking their college eligibility. They can learn what they specifically need to work on from a skill standpoint and use that information to get better.
In Garza's case, testing the draft process seems like a no-brainer.