Garza wants to be more than just Iowa's big man

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

NORTH LIBERTY, Ia. — Every college freshman faces a learning curve.

For Iowa center Luka Garza, that has involved being aware of his own feet. As in: Make sure those size 18 shoes are completely behind the 3-point line before launching a shot.

If you’re thinking a highly touted 6-foot-11 post player shouldn’t be concerned about such things, then you haven’t seen Garza in the Hawkeyes’ initial summer practice sessions.

“My 3-point shooting, I feel like that’s a little bit under the radar. I do a lot of it in practice. I definitely can stretch it out,” Garza said Sunday after helping his team win a Prime Time League playoff game at the North Liberty Community Center.

“I’d say I’m more of an ‘inside-out 5,’ just being able to do a little bit of everything.”

It remains to be seen where Garza fits into Iowa’s plans this winter. Certainly, his size would indicate that he can give the Hawkeyes a true under-the-basket option that they lacked last year after the graduation of 7-1 Adam Woodbury.

That’s where Iowa junior Ahmad Wagner envisions Garza offering the most initial benefit.

“I see him being a big presence around the hoop defensively,” Wagner said of Garza. “He’s not overly athletic. He can’t jump out of the gym. But he’s long-armed; he’s really tall; he’s a big body.”

Garza, in turn, says he’s trying to learn as much as he can from Wagner’s relentless energy on the defensive end. Garza’s strength is his footwork, not his foot speed. Wagner, at 6-7, is able to be effective in the post because of his refusal to give an inch to bigger players.

“I see him doing all he does, that’s what I want to be like,” Garza said.

Garza was slowed a bit recently when a teammate kneed him in the left thigh in practice. He missed a week of PTL games to let that heal, only to have Wagner bump in the thigh during Sunday’s game.

Garza scored 29 points anyway, without attempting a 3-pointer. He has shown this summer that he’s difficult to contend with at close range.

“I feel like I’m just stronger when I get around the rim. I’m getting more efficient with my moves,” Garza said. “When I first got here, if I tried to back someone down I might be bumped off of it. But now I’m starting to get more forceful so I can get closer to the rim and score where I want to.”

In Iowa’s offense, that could be anywhere, Garza said. He’s enjoying the freedom that all players get to create for themselves and each other.

“I feel at Iowa not one position is in one place. Everybody moves around,” Garza said.

“I’ve always played kind of a structured offense, not like that loose. At Iowa, it’s in your head. You’re kind of making decisions on the court and very quick thinking. I’ve always been like a smart IQ player, so it’s not that hard to adjust to. … You’ve just got to play and be in the flow and just make it look good. And that’s what we do. We get a lot of people open shots and I just try to set as good of screens as I can. If I set a better screen, I’ll get more open. I take pride in that.”

Iowa freshman Luka Garza can be a towering presence on the court, but he also likes the freedom the Hawkeyes' offense gives him to stretch the floor.

Garza, who grew up in Washington, D.C., is roommates with Iowa’s other 6-11 freshman, Jack Nunge of Indiana. Neither is sure who is taller, but both are hoping to reach the magical 7-foot mark.

“I’m hoping I’m still stretching,” Garza joked. “It depends on the shoes sometimes, too.”

What is clear, Garza said, is that when the Hawkeyes’ two tallest players are on the court together in pickup games, their team rarely loses.

“It’s pretty hard to handle both of us,” Garza said.

Garza isn’t worried about handling sitting on the bench this winter. He recognizes there’s a logjam in Iowa’s front court with the two rookies joining Tyler Cook, Cordell Pemsl, Ryan Kriener, Dom Uhl and Wagner.

“I feel like we’re almost like Kentucky in the past in terms of our bigs. It’s just like a platoon system,” Garza said optimistically. “We’ve got four or five guys that could all start. I feel like everybody’s going to be able to get some time and show what they can do.”