Fran McCaffery preparing as if Luka Garza will be back next season

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Luka Garza faces a double-team against Ohio State

By Pat Harty

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Luka Garza returned to Iowa City about two weeks, and Thursday was his last day of a two-week quarantine.

Now the question is will Garza be in Iowa City for his senior year?

The 2019-20 Big Ten Player of the Year has declared for the NBA Draft and has until June 3rd to make a decision.

Should Garza return, a strong case could be made for picking Iowa as the preseason Big Ten favorite, and as a top-10 team overall.

In addition to the 6-foot-11 Garza, senior point guard Jordan Bohannon also returns after having missed most of last season with a hip injury. Bohannon is already Iowa’s all-time leader in 3-point field goal made and is considered one of the top clutch shooters in program history.

Junior guard Joe Wieskamp also chose to not test the NBA Draft process this spring after having done so a year ago, so Iowa could have arguably the top triumvirate in the Big Ten next season.

Throw in junior guard Connor McCaffery, sophomore guards C.J. Fredrick and Joe Toussaint, a healthy Jack Nunge at power forward, a bigger and healthier Patrick McCaffery at small forward and five incoming freshmen and there is so much to like about Iowa’s potential for next season.

Iowa hasn’t won a Big Ten regular-season title since 1979, but the pieces could be in place to end that drought next season – if Garza returns.

“I think what we would do is prepare as if he is coming back with an eye on the fact that he might not come back,” Fran McCaffery said Thursday on zoon conference with the media. “Okay, if he doesn’t, how do we look at the roster?

“Now the unique thing is we’re not actually on the floor. We might be able to, if we were, look at some different combinations and some guys at different positions, four-guard lineups, and obviously, looking at the younger guys, Jack Nunge in that spot and getting Patrick back on the floor.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has shut down sports at pretty much all levels, leaving athletes to either train individually, or in small groups.

McCaffery said Thursday that his players are handling this new normal in a mature and productive fashion, but there still is no substitute for practicing as a team.

McCaffery doesn’t have the opportunity to prepare for life without Garza, or with him, for that matter.

The players and coaches are just taking it one day at a time and waiting for Garza to make a decision that will have a huge impact on how Iowa is perceived heading into next season.

“Right now, there’s not a lot of planning going on in that sense because we’re not out there together on the court,” Fran McCaffery said. “But there’s certainly thought going into it, and I think to be honest with you, when we went into the recruiting class last year we knew it was a possibility that Luka might put his name in.”

Iowa’s five-player recruiting class includes 6-11, 255-pound center Josh Ogundele, who attended Worchester Academy in Massachusetts, but it currently living in his hometown of London, England due to the pandemic.

“One of the most important things I think is we needed to get Josh Ogundele to come,” Fran McCaffery said.

Fran McCaffery encouraged Garza to test the draft process and he ultimately wants what is best for his All-America center, who led the Big Ten in scoring last season, and who scored at least 20 points in each of the final 16 games.

McCaffery was asked on Thursday if he has a sense which way Garza is leaning.

“I don’t have a sense of which way he’s leaning and I typically wouldn’t have that,” Fran McCaffery said. “It’s not something that I meddle in. I typically support my guys when they decide they want to explore this opportunity that’s given to them.

“I’ve had conversations multiple times with Luka and his dad. He and is dad spoke to the NBA office to get the feedback, they spoke directly. So you get feedback in writing and then you can follow up with conversation and they did. I think that’s a positive thing because what you want is accurate information when you’re making a decision of this magnitude.”

Garza, who is from Washington D.C., told the media shortly after declaring for the draft that he would return to Iowa if he didn’t feel there was an opportunity for him to make an NBA roster next season.

Garza said he had no interest in playing in the G-League next season because he could always do that after playing his senior season at Iowa.

One player certainly doesn’t make a team, but Garza’s decision will greatly impact Iowa’s potential for next season.

In other news, Fran McCaffery said Iowa is finalizing plans to host a tournament next season, and he also said there are no plans to add any players to the roster this spring or summer, even with the uncertainty surrounding Garza.

“We obviously have a full roster right now at thirteen,” so we’re not trying to sign anybody late, we’re not looking at transfer pools or anything like that,” Fran McCaffery said. “We have thirteen. We’re set at thirteen, and just encouraging the guys to challenge one another.”

Fran McCaffery also said that Bohannon, Nunge and Patrick McCaffery, who is Fran’s son, are all doing well with regard to their health-related matters, and that Patrick McCaffery weighs over 200 pounds for the first time ever.

The 6-9 Patrick McCaffery only appeared in two games last season due to some residual effects from having had a malignant tumor removed from his thyroid in 2014.

“Patrick is coming along really well,” Fran McCaffery said. “He’s up over 200 pounds, which is the first time he’s ever been over 200 pounds. So that’s a good sign. And he’s had the ability to lift. We have weights here and those guys have been really diligent doing that.”

Fran McCaffery also said the senior forward Cordell Pemsl, who is from Dubuque, is looking to play a bigger role next season and that's why Pemsl chose to transfer to Virginia Tech as a graduate student.

McCaffery said Iowa wouldn’t have won 20 games last season without Pemsl’s contributions.