By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Iowa fans got their wish on Sunday as All-America center Luka Garza announced that he will withdraw from the 2020 NBA Draft and return for his senior season.
Garza had to make a decision by Monday in order to keep his college eligibility.
And while his decision to return to Iowa is a massive boost for a team that has plenty of talent and experience to play alongside the 6-foot-11 Garza, it isn’t quite time to celebrate, because at this stage, what is Garza returning to in college with the highly contagious Coronavirus still spreading in multiple states and causing the threat of Major League baseball to shut down?
Garza could also change his mind and re-enter the draft by the August 17th deadline, or he could ultimately choose to play professionally overseas if the college basketball season doesn’t happen, or happens on a limited basis with no fans in attendance.
Iowa recently paused its team workouts after two unidentified players reportedly tested positive for the virus.
So much is uncertain right now, although, Garza said Sunday that his decision to return to Iowa is final. He also said Sunday that he was leaning towards returning to Iowa throughout the exploratory process.
That process has been impacted greatly by the COVID-19 pandemic because Garza couldn’t workout for teams. He was invited to the NBA Draft combine, but no date has been scheduled for that annual showcase event, and Garza had to make a decision about college by Monday.
“It’s been really strange and very difficult, especially with Covid-19, that added a lot of uncertainty to what I had to decide,” Garza said. “But at the end of the day, I felt very confident that I wanted to come back and finish my career at the University of Iowa.”
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said that Garza met with his teammates on Sunday and that sealed the deal.
“Before it was official, we had a conversation on Friday,” Fran McCaffery said. “But it was really the conversation today with his teammates that really finalized everything. And I think that speaks to who Luka is. It wasn’t about him, and he said very eloquently about what our relationship is like. It’s been amazing from the first time I saw him.”
Garza’s decision came a day after Illinois teammates Kofi Cockburn and Ayo Dosumnu both announced that they had withdrawn from the NBA Draft and will return for their sophomore and junior seasons, respectively.
Their decisions instantly makes Illinois a top Big Ten contender for next season, and the same with Garza’s impact on Iowa.
One or two players certainly doesn’t make a basketball team, but they can make a huge difference in terms of potential.
Without Garza, Iowa still looks pretty good on paper.
But with him, Iowa shows potential for greatness as a team.
Despite his dominance last season, Garza still doesn’t project as a first-round NBA pick, and is questionable as a second-round pick in the two-round draft.
Another year of college will give Garza a chance to work on what he apparently lacks as NBA prospect, and to lead an Iowa team that is loaded with potential, with senior guard Jordan Bohannon healthy after having surgeries on both hips.
It seemed obvious, a least to me, heading into Sunday’s announcement that Garza would say that he is returning to Iowa for his senior season.
He made the announcement in conjunction with the Iowa Sports Information Department, and with fans being encouraged to watch the zoom call on You Tube.
Fran McCaffery was also on the zoom call, and his participation seemed like more proof that Garza would return.
Garza then announced that he was returning on Instagram, and just minutes before his zoom call on Sunday.
He sort of scooped himself, but who could blame him for being excited and eager to share the good news with a fan base that needs some good news after a rough couple of months with football?
“Luka’s decision is incredibly unselfish,” Fran McCaffery said. “Luka has an opportunity to advance himself professionally, but instead, he is thinking about the program and his teammates. His goals are team-oriented. Luka has an incredible bond with his brothers in the locker room and believes in this group.”
Some fans were concerned when Iowa guard Connor McCaffery, who is Fran McCaffery’s son, posted this on Twitter prior to Garza’s announcement:
“Hawk nation please just respect his decision.”
Connor McCaffery told the media after the announcement that he was only joking, and that Garza encouraged him to do it.
Garza is basically keeping all of his options alive, and with Sunday’s announcement, his college eligibility is safe and secure.
It should also be noted that Garza’s relationship with Fran McCaffery played a huge factor in Garza’s decision to return. McCaffery is the biggest reason why Garza picked Iowa over an impressive list of Division I offers.
Garza is from Washington D.C. and had no connection or interest in Iowa until he met McCaffery.
There is something to be said for finishing what you started, and for being loyal.
Garza was named the Big Ten Player of the Year last season after having led the conference in scoring. He also was named the national player of the year by some news outlets.
So Garza already has solidified himself as one of the best players in program history. His main concern and motivation now is to help the team, and the head coach who means so much to him, do something special
“Coach McCaffery saw something in me that not a lot of other coaches saw and he took a chance on me, and I feel like he’s done so much for me and my career that I think it would be right to not finish it off and finish what I started here at the University of Iowa,” Garza said. “So I’m very excited for my teammates and look towards winning a national championship and winning a Big Ten championship.
“We have big goals in mind, and once we get back on the court we’re going to get back starting to work, and hopefully, we can make some history this year.”
The Iowa men’s basketball team hasn’t won a Big Ten regular-season title since 1979, or advanced beyond the second round of the NCAA Tournament since 1999.
So Garza is right about the chance to make history.
Iowa fans are starved for success in men’s basketball, and they also now have sky-high expectations, and deservedly so, thanks to Garza’s decision.