Leistikow: What ex-Hawkeyes Joe Wieskamp, Luka Garza are saying and hearing entering the 2021 NBA Draft

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

On their journey to potentially making history in Thursday night’s NBA Draft, recent former Iowa Hawkeyes Luka Garza and Joe Wieskamp — training in separate cities and lined up with different agencies — ran into each other unexpectedly in Detroit. 

They each happened to have a workout scheduled the following morning with the Pistons. The No. 1 scorer in Iowa basketball history in Garza and the No. 1 recruit of the Fran McCaffery era in Wieskamp found themselves temporarily guarding one another. Two Hawkeyes on the floor together again, in pursuit their dreams.

“It was funny,” Garza said. “… I had to go against him, which was tough. It’s been a lot of fun, and we’ve been talking to each other through this. But it’s going to be great for us and the University of Iowa when we both are picked."

Joe Wieskamp, left, played all 97 of his games in three years at Iowa alongside Luka Garza, right. Here, they are shown against Cincinnati in December 2019.

The two-round, 60-selection NBA Draft (coverage starts at 7 p.m. Thursday on ABC and ESPN) will mark the finish line of one journey for Garza and Wieskamp and serve as the starting line for another. One of them could become the first Hawkeye taken in the draft since Aaron White in 2015. There’s an outside chance that one could become Iowa’s first first-round pick since Ricky Davis in 1998, also the last time two Hawkeyes were drafted (Davis and second-rounder Ryan Bowen).

Garza and Wieskamp are generally viewed as second-round picks. It’s no wonder they have wound up working out for seven common NBA franchises in a travel-and-workout whirlwind since their late-June appearances at the NBA Combine in Chicago.

"We’re both projected in the second round in similar spots. We’ve been working out with similar teams,” Garza said. "It’s been great. That one (in Detroit), it was great to see him and share the court with him again."

In the buildup to Thursday’s life-changing moments, both ex-Hawkeyes spent a generous amount of time on the phone with the Des Moines Register. Here is the latest from their camps as we reach draft night.

Joe Wieskamp: Stock is rising entering the NBA Draft

Combine measurements: 6-7¼ (with shoes), 204.8 pounds.

Individual workouts (12): Atlanta, Boston, Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee, New Orleans, Oklahoma City, Philadelphia, Sacramento, San Antonio, Toronto and Utah. "There were definitely quite a few other teams that wanted me to come in,” Wieskamp said, “but you listen to your agent on which spots to go to.”  Wieskamp also participated in a pro day in Chicago, which had all 32 teams in attendance.

Draft projection, odds: Generally seen as an early- to mid-second-round pick. According to Bovada, Wieskamp’s over/under draft position is 35.5.

The latest: Wieskamp’s NBA Combine performance was a head-turner. While his 26 points (on 6-of-7 3-point shooting) and 10 rebounds in 26 minutes in one of the five-on-five games underscored his marksman ability from deep, his stock was elevated by the lift he got with a max-vertical jump of 42 inches.

Ever since? Phone calls only increased.

"There was quite a bit of interest before the Combine," Wieskamp said. "But it picked up even more after."

Wieskamp has zig-zagged the country from his home training base of Chicago with agency Priority Sports. Those trips are common in the draft process for prospects, but for a creature of training habit like Wieskamp they were an adjustment. Still, he said he performed very well (particularly with his shot) over the past month. The buzz he built at the Combine seems to have only grown.

“Shooting’s at a premium in the NBA,” Wieskamp said. “I have a skill that’s highly valued for a lot of these teams.”

In these individual workouts, which often have about a half-dozen players invited and include on-court time plus interviews, both sides have objectives. Teams want to evaluate prospects, of course; players and their agents are seeking the best roster and culture fit.

Joe Wieskamp said he felt in individual workouts that he was close to repeating his 42-inch max vertical jump that he achieved at the NBA Combine.

That is something that can’t be emphasized enough heading into draft night. Wieskamp’s agency has assembled a priority list of teams that would make sense for his future. While the 30 first-round picks are guaranteed contracts (players in the back end of the 2020 draft earned two-year deals worth around $4 million), the last 30 aren’t guaranteed anything from the drafting franchise. Sometimes, being undrafted with free-agent flexibility can be better than being drafted by the wrong team.

"Every kid’s dream is to hear their name called on draft night," Wieskamp said. "But what my agent keeps telling me (is) it’s about the fit. It’s about the team that has the right development plan in mind for you."

Still, a lot of second-round picks — particularly those from picks 31 through the early 40s — have successfully negotiated guaranteed two- or three-year contracts in the annual salary range of $1.5 million. That seems to be the most likely scenario for Wieskamp. A first-round spot can’t be totally ruled out, either, for the Muscatine native. The Athletic's Sam Vecenie projected Wieskamp to go No. 35 overall to New Orleans.

“Obviously there are a lot of trades (on draft night) … and a lot of unknowns,” Wieskamp said. “But we feel like we’re in a good spot right now.”

For the record, Wieskamp said there was never a doubt that he would leave Iowa after his third season. That’s the type of determination he said he needed to have throughout his junior campaign.

“My mindset the whole time was, 'I’m ready to do this thing,'" Wieskamp said.

Wieskamp’s ability to shoot, rebound and defend combined with the athleticism he showed at the Combine are great fits for today’s NBA style. If all goes well, he could make an NBA roster as a rookie without a G League stop.

Wieskamp will watch the draft in Muscatine with family and those close to him, including fiancée Makenzie Meyer — a former Iowa women’s basketball star. They’ve scheduled a July 2022 wedding, with most of Wieskamp’s time currently consumed by chasing his basketball dream … which is about to become a reality.

More:Leistikow: At NBA Combine, Iowa's Joe Wieskamp proves he's ready for the next level

Luka Garza: Confident about what happens in Thursday's NBA Draft

Combine measurements: 6-11¼ (with shoes), 242.8 pounds.

Individual workouts (11): Boston, Brooklyn, Charlotte, Detroit, Milwaukee, Minnesota, Los Angeles Clippers, New Orleans, Oklahoma City, Philadelphia, Sacramento and Toronto. Like Wieskamp, Garza also had a Chicago pro day. He also visited Minneapolis for an additional pro-day setting with 27 teams in attendance.

Draft projection, odds: The consensus 2021 national player of the year is viewed as a second-round pick. According to Bovada, Garza’s over/under draft position is 54.5.

The latest: Garza’s base of operation since the Combine has been his native Washington, D.C. He is represented by agent Mike Kneisley with Imperative Sports. The affable big man surely has been an ace interviewer during individual visits. The minor groin injury that kept him out of five-on-five games at the Combine is long gone, he said, and he feels “extremely” confident about Thursday night.

Luka Garza participated in individual drills at the NBA Combine but not the five-on-five games. His sleeker frame has been a plus for teams, he said.

"I feel like I’ve helped myself in every single workout I’ve been a part of,” Garza said. “Some more than others.”

Once a player gets to this stage of the NBA process, there’s a lot of nit-picking. While Wieskamp is a rangy and athletic wing player that the NBA covets, Garza’s total package leaves him with some more to prove about his ability to defend players of all sizes.

On that front, Garza thinks his significant reduction in weight that he demonstrated at the Combine (having dropped nearly 30 pounds from his early-April weight of 271) and team visits have eased some of those concerns.

Another thing that’s been important for NBA teams to see from Garza is his outside-shooting range. Garza connected on 44% of his 100 3-point attempts as an Iowa senior, and he thinks that plus his renowned work ethic have him positioned for a great shot to make an NBA roster.

"How hard I play. I feel like that translates anywhere," Garza said. "… But also showing my ability to stretch the floor, especially at the NBA (3-point) line."

Garza and his inner circle will watch the draft from D.C.; the party could grow if more assurances come his way as Thursday approaches. The NBA Draft can be a stressful and unpredictable night as jockeying for precious roster opportunity unfolds, but Garza feels comforted that he's put his best foot forward in four years at Iowa (while scoring 2,306 points, the most by any Big Ten player this century) and in the months since the Hawkeyes’ second-round NCAA Tournament exit.

"I feel extremely good going into draft night that I’m going to find a great situation. That’s all I’m looking for," Garza said. "I don’t care what number it is, one through 60, it’s all about finding the right organization that believes in you and who you are as a player, like Coach McCaffery did for me when I was a sophomore in high school."

Watch:See how Joe Wieskamp, Luka Garza looked before the 2021 NBA draft

There will come a point in Thursday’s draft where Hawkeye fans can realistically watch and wonder if Garza or Wieskamp is going to be picked next. Consider this: Of the final 36 scheduled picks in the draft (starting at No. 25 overall), Garza and/or Wieskamp had individual workouts with teams representing 27 of those slots.

"Once I’m picked Thursday, it’s going to start a whole new journey," Garza said in a quote that is equally accurate for Wieskamp, as Hawkeye basketball figures to have a pretty good night. "It’s just the beginning."

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 26 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.