Covering Luka Garza has been a privilege
Iowa's All-America senior center is everything that's right about college athletics
By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Watching Iowa lose to Oregon in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Monday was hard for lots of reasons, but to see senior center Luka Garza hurting was perhaps the hardest part of the day.
I don’t get emotional after Iowa losses, but came close on Monday as Garza walked off the court for the last time as a Hawkeye and then buried his head on Fran McCaffery’s shoulder and cried.
That moment was about so much more than basketball because Luka Garza’s legacy is about so much more than basketball.
When I think of Luka Garza, I think of loyalty, commitment, humility, determination, friendship, work ethic and resolve.
Of course, I also think about all of the incredible statistics and awards that Garza has compiled and won as a Hawkeye.
But he’s about so much more than individual honors and trophies.
Luka Garza is class personified, and that combined with his work ethic and determination will take him a long way in life after basketball.
You feel for all of the Iowa players because basketball is a team sport, and because they’re all fully invested, and Garza would be the first to say that.
Senior point guard Jordan Bohannon, who is Iowa’s all-time leader in assists and 3-point field goals made, also played his final game as a Hawkeye on Monday, but unlike Garza, who scored 36 points, Bohannon was held scoreless.
So imagine how Bohannon feels right now.
He and Garza, who is Iowa’s all-time leading scorer and a two-time consensus first-team All-American, embraced as the final seconds ticked away on their careers, and it was sad to see them both hurting so much.
As much as it’s been about Garza over the past two seasons, and deservedly so, he rarely makes it about himself. Garza, sometimes, goes out of his way to praise his teammates and coaches because that’s just his personality.
His parents deserve credit for instilling the right values and work ethic in their son.
Luka Garza deserves credit for embracing those values on and off the court.
He took a leap in faith by coming to Iowa from Washington D.C., and did so mostly out of respect for Fran McCaffery, who was the first coach from a Power Five program to offer Garza a scholarship.
Their bond will last forever, and is a shining example of how college athletics should be.
Luka Garza and Fran McCaffery have both made each other better.
“The only thing I can say is I have been truly blessed to have had the opportunity to have Luka be on our basketball team for the last four years,” Fran McCaffery said after Monday’s 95-80 loss. “His leadership, his work ethic, his determination, and his example for the young players, his consistency in effort and performance, we may never see another one like him certainly. I just appreciate who he is more so that what he’s done. It’s been an honor.”
“We’ve had some great ones that have worn the black and gold. And he’s right there at the top. His production and like I said, his consistency, I think that’s the legacy that he will leave. And I think that’s why everybody in Hawkeye nation appreciates who he is. And I think that’s the message that I have.”
Garza said after Monday’s loss that his teammates and coaches helped to change his life. His words were so genuine and heartfelt.
“Obviously, I love the university of Iowa, I love my teammates, I love my coaches,” Garza said, his voice cracking with emotion. “These guys changed my life, and I worked as hard as I could. I played as hard as I could.
“And it just hurts that it’s over.”
It’s so easy to like, and to respect Luka Garza because he’s a good and decent person who also just happens to be a good basketball player.
My hope is that Garza has a long and distinguished career in the NBA because I know that’s what he wants, perhaps more than anything else right now.
But if that doesn’t happen, Luka Garza will be successful in something.
Maybe he could run for Mayor of Iowa City someday, or even Governor of Iowa, and I’m only half joking because he’d probably win.
Garza’s impact stretches far beyond Iowa City, and far beyond the Big Ten. That was apparent when Iowa State Athletic Director Jamie Pollard paid tribute to Garza on Twitter shortly after Monday’s loss.
“You’re hard work, dedication and attitude has been inspiring to watch,” Pollard said. “You are a great example of what you can accomplish when you put all those traits together. College basketball will miss you. This Cyclone is a huge fan of yours.”
And while Garza now ranks as one, if not the greatest player in program history, it hasn’t been easy.
From struggling through a 14-19 season as a freshman, to having a 9-pound benign cyst removed from his abdomen, to having last season’s NCAA Tournament canceled, and to playing during a global pandemic as a senior, Garza’s path to glory at Iowa has been filled with unusual obstacles and setbacks.
But he has just kept grinding and working and focusing on the task because Garza knows that there aren’t any short cuts in life that are worth taking.
Garza said that Monday’s loss will haunt him forever because he was so determined to lead this team, and the Iowa program to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1999.
It would have made for such a great story, Garza and his teammates basking in the spotlight for at least another week in the Big Dance.
But sadly, it didn’t happen and now Luka Garza is a former Hawkeye.
That’ll take some getting used to because for the past two years, Luka Garza has been the face of Iowa basketball, and its heart and soul.
It has been a privilege covering him.