Leistikow: Inside the hectic early NBA days for ex-Hawkeyes Joe Wieskamp, Luka Garza, and what's next

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

It didn’t take long for Joe Wieskamp and Luka Garza to understand that being an NBA player is pure business. And that it is a fast-paced and even cutthroat business.

For Wieskamp, that meant boarding a plane for his new home of San Antonio about 10 hours after he was drafted by the Spurs. The big next-night party in Muscatine, with a planned feast of catered Mexican food, would have to go on without him.

For Garza, that meant experiencing the joy of being an NBA draft pick and reunited with former Iowa Hawkeye teammate Tyler Cook, followed by heartache. Garza worked out with Cook on Saturday morning in Detroit as NBA teammates. By Saturday afternoon, Cook had been cut from the Pistons roster.

Pistons second-round draft pick Luka Garza holds his game jersey (adorning No. 55, as he wore at Iowa) with his girlfriend, Maggie Mynderse, a day after he was drafted in Detroit.

Recent Hawkeye stars Wieskamp and Garza joined me on this week’s Hawk Central radio show on 1460 KXnO in Des Moines and shared more about their early days as NBA players.

Wieskamp: Loves the Spurs fit, has a good chance to stick

Second-round NBA Draft picks don’t have any guarantees. As such, Wieskamp wasn't ready to talk about what type of contract or roster situation he might have next season. That said, the three-year Hawkeye had such a strong pre-draft process that he’s well-positioned with the Spurs.

They were one of the teams that Wieskamp and his agency, Priority Sports, had circled even before individual workouts based on the roster, team culture and coaching staff. So, it was a huge rush of excitement when Wieskamp’s agent called him around pick No. 39 of last Thursday's draft and told him: San Antonio is going to take you at No. 41.

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Time to exhale. Time to hug. Not time for much more. The Spurs scheduled him a 6 a.m. flight the next morning; it eventually got pushed back to 9:30, but it was a breakneck turnaround nonetheless. 

"It was probably one of the longest days of my life honestly," Wieskamp said. "Just leading up to it, lots of nerves. But a lot of excitement, too."

The Spurs had one more draft-night request, asking: What number do you want to wear?

That query actually went to the phone of his fiancée, former Iowa women’s basketball player Makenzie Meyer. She was asked to solicit Joe’s number choice. He gave three answers: 10 (his number at Iowa), 20 and 21 (his high school number at Muscatine).

"Obviously, Tim Duncan’s No. 21. That’s not going to be an option. The third number I sent was 20, which was Manu Ginobili," Wieskamp said, laughing, as he quickly realized both those jerseys are retired by the Spurs. "So I wasn’t even thinking about those types of things."

Wieskamp wanted a low number, and the only available numbers under 21 were 0 and 15. Wieskamp chose 15, which he’s worn in two summer-league games in Salt Lake City thus far. He scored five points with six rebounds in Wednesday’s game.

His team plays Memphis on Friday, then heads to Las Vegas for four games next week.

"It’s been a crazy couple of days, just getting thrown right into it," Wieskamp said. "But it’s going to make me learn faster. I’m excited to be playing. It’s going to be a fun two weeks."

A 6-foot-7 wing with excellent marksmanship from the 3-point line, Wieskamp’s game is a great fit for the NBA. It remains to be seen how the rebuilding Spurs handle him. They recently traded stud wing DeMar DeRozan to the Chicago Bulls but also signed 29-year-old Doug McDermott, the Iowa native and former Creighton star who is a 41% career NBA shooter from 3-point range.

Initially, Wieskamp will be able to learn from McDermott. Eventually, if all goes well, he’ll be poised to succeed him.

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The summer league creates a strange dynamic. The rosters are comprised of mostly first- and second-year players trying to outshine one another and impress their employer. Most of them won’t make the 15-man NBA roster.

"That’s kind of how it is at the professional level. At the end of the day, it’s a business. Everyone’s fighting for their lives, fighting for a job," Wieskamp said. "Thankfully, I’m in a position where obviously I was drafted so they’re committed to me, for however long, in the near future."

Joe Wieskamp, right, tested very well at the NBA Combine and exhibited his pure 3-point stroke there and in a dozen team workouts leading up to the July 29 draft.

Garza: Impressing early with 3-point accuracy

It was a crushing moment for Garza to hear that Cook had been released. Cook would have been guaranteed $1.7 million for the 2021-22 season if he was on the Pistons' 15-man roster as of Aug. 11.

Yet since his release, Cook has still been helping Garza understand the Pistons system. (On Wednesday, it was revealed that Cook will still be on Detroit's summer-league team; another audition for the thunderous dunker.)

"He’s doing that all the while, while that’s happening to him. That just speaks volumes to him as a person," Garza said of Cook, a two-year teammate at Iowa. 

Luka Garza comes to Detroit as a high-profile player, as the consensus national player of the year. Of course, the Pistons also have No. 1 overall draft pick Cade Cunningham, too.

Garza has impressed his new employer, according to early media reports. Detroit coach Dwane Casey remarked that he was both surprised and impressed at the 6-11 Garza’s 3-point accuracy. While Garza earned consensus national player of the year honors for his prolific post-scoring ability, it is easily forgotten that he splashed home 44% of his 100 3-point attempts last winter. He can bury 3s in high-arching bunches.

"I feel like people still don’t understand how good of a shooter I can be," Garza said. "I can make that the majority of my game. I can be a stretch 5. I don’t have to be in the post to score the ball.

"In the NBA, that’s something that’s always going to be valued: a big guy that can stretch the floor."

Garza knows, as a second-round pick, he’s got more to prove to Pistons brass. The franchise recently signed big man Kelly Olynyk, presumably swiping one precious roster spot. Olynyk is known as a quality stretch 5. Garza is guaranteed nothing, and he knows it.

The Pistons’ summer-league schedule in Vegas starts with a Sunday game against Oklahoma City. Meantime, Garza is grinding in the Motor City — not far from Ann Arbor, where he scored a career-high 44 points in a December 2019 game for the Hawkeyes.

"I’m approaching every practice like a game. It’s an opportunity. These guys are watching every second. There are a thousand coaches on the sideline," Garza said. "… Every day, I can show different things I can do."

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.