Leistikow: As he mulls NBA decision, Luka Garza's grueling offseason routine is underway

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

Luka Garza doesn’t yet know whether he’ll be wearing a professional jersey this fall or one that says "IOWA."

But he knows the hard work it took for him to reach this position, one that's already secured him a substantial overseas contract offer. And, according to his father, Garza is diving into a similarly extreme offseason training program that last year helped transform him into a college basketball superstar.

With his NBA decision perhaps not coming until July, Garza is back in the Washington, D.C., metro area, immersed in intense three-a-day workouts designed to sharpen his weak spots.

“You’re going to see the greatest increase in his game, besides his footwork and rebounding,” Frank Garza tells the Register, “is being a lock-down stopper on defense.”

Frank Garza oversees his son’s daily workouts and bases many of them off what he learned from his late college coach at Idaho, William Trumbo.

Garza had been in Iowa City but returned to his hometown May 25.

Here was his Saturday.

Up at 6:15 a.m., and a 90-minute basketball workout starting at 7. This one’s the most fun of the grueling day ahead, because it’s focused on offense. That's his strength.

Garza has been working out in D.C. with former Maryland star Jalen Smith, a projected first-round pick — whenever the 2020 NBA Draft is held. In one of the recent workouts, Garza (6-foot-11) made 24 of 25 from NBA 3-point range.

At noon, it’s time to lift weights. Garza’s increased strength was obvious as a college junior, when he averaged 23.9 points and 9.8 rebounds and was Iowa's first consensus first-team all-American since 1952. There’s also time for yoga and meditation (and naps) built into the day.

Then from 9 to 11 p.m. comes the workout that's so taxing that Frank says his wife can’t even watch. Luka’s well-documented previous offseason — in which he jaunted from Iowa to California to Bosnia, long before COVID-19 restricted travel — had stories of him carrying bricks in a defensive stance until he vomited.

These late-nighters have a similar feel, and they're almost all about defense. Frank believes it's important that Luka go to sleep thinking about his final workout of the day.

"Look at it this way: 85 to 90% of the game is played without the ball," Frank says. "It beckons the question: Are you practicing 85% of the time without the ball? I tell you what. We are."

Frank has brought in a quick point guard to run full-court drills, and Luka must try to move his feet to stay in front of him for 94 feet with little to no rest in between reps. In another drill, Luka must try to maintain a moving defensive stance for 3½ grueling minutes without allowing himself to stand upright.

“What you’re going to see is (improved) defense and an ability to be a general on the floor, talking. That’s some of the feedback we’ve gotten (from the NBA),” Frank says. “Not just (improving) defense, but directing defense.”

But will we see Garza's game next in the pros or in Iowa City?

Luka Garza is the reigning Big Ten Player of the Year and knows he could be the catalyst for bigger things for the Hawkeyes in 2020-21.

That’s the big question, and it's one that may require more patience. Because of COVID-19, the NBA hasn’t set a draft date, nor has the NCAA given clarity on when underclassmen must pull their name to retain college eligibility. Originally, that date was June 3, but it has been extended indefinitely. Garza is hearing that NBA teams could begin to host workouts with prospects by July.

“He’s right there on the (stay-or-go) line,” Frank says. “He needs to be in a workout to get (NBA) folks over the hump.”

When he declared for the draft in early April, Garza said he would not leave Iowa without a guaranteed NBA roster spot. To this point, he’s been true to his word. Frank Garza confirmed that his son has turned down a “significant” contract offer to play immediately in Europe.

So, it's the NBA or Iowa for Luka.

While Frank says professional basketball is the ultimate goal, Luka knows he could be the centerpiece of a veteran roster that has gotten all kinds of good offseason news — the declared returns of program stars Joe Wieskamp and Jordan Bohannon included.

That's a medicine ball in Luka Garza's left hand, a step stool in front of him and an attached sled behind him while working out this past week in the Washington, D.C., area. His father's workouts are designed to improve footwork, strength, endurance and defense.

By returning, Garza would be well-positioned to blow past the late Roy Marble (2,116 points) as the program’s leading scorer. Garza scored 740 points without a postseason as a junior; he needs 557 to tie Marble's total from the late-1980s.

Garza is already an all-time Hawkeye — but carrying Iowa to team success could make him the all-time Hawkeye.

There's a lot of enticement for Garza to give Iowa one last year.

“The love of his coach (Fran McCaffery), that’s marrow deep. The love of his mates," Frank Garza says. "The love to make it to a Final Four and win it all. That’s why we came to Iowa, to be quite candid."

Frank confirmed his son will return to Iowa City to participate in voluntary team workouts when they are permitted, starting June 15. That seems like a good sign for Hawkeye backers. Still, the plan is to leave the door ajar for NBA in-person workouts, if those are approved. 

One lingering worry is whether there will be a college season at all; that has become a factor, as well.

Frank says the decision is all Luka's.

“I have no doubt it’ll be one of the toughest decisions he has to make," Frank says. "In fact, every NBA team we’ve talked to has said you’re going to have a very, very tough decision because of what’s going on."

So, we will wait. Meantime, Luka Garza will work.

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 25 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.