Iowa basketball takeaways: On Garza's large cyst, Wieskamp's impact and a dose of defense

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — More details emerged about Iowa center Luka Garza’s surgery Monday, and they weren’t for the faint of heart.

The cyst that was removed from Garza’s abdomen Sept. 7 weighed nine pounds and produced 4.3 liters of fluid. It was the size of a basketball, Garza told reporters at the Hawkeyes’ media day.

The non-cancerous cyst was connected to his spleen, meaning surgeons at UIHC had to work around that organ to be sure it didn’t burst during surgery. If that had happened, Garza’s life, not just his basketball season, would have been in jeopardy.

“But they did a great job, so there’s basically a blister on my spleen from the cyst and that will heal,” said Garza, a 6-foot-11 sophomore.

“It’s a little adversity and I’ve always been a person to work through adversity.”

Iowa forward Luka Garza poses for a photo during Hawkeye media day at Carver Hawkeye ArenaMonday, Oct. 8, 2018.

Nine pounds hardly seems little. But Garza was upbeat about his ordeal of the previous month. He lost 18 pounds after the surgery, but has regained 11 to sit at 238 now.

“But it’s not a strong 238,” Garza cautioned.

Garza started shooting the basketball last week and was able to run laps around the concourse at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Friday. He said he feels good.

And get this: Garza even said his doctors are confident he’ll be ready to play in Iowa’s season-opening game Nov. 8. That seems hard to believe, but Garza sure wants to.

“That’s my goal,” said Garza, who averaged 12.1 points as a freshman. “If it happens, I’ll be really happy with that. But if it doesn’t, either way, it’s early this year” that he’ll be able to play.

Garza said he first experienced pain in his abdomen in mid-August after one of his usual, strenuous workouts. He couldn’t stand up straight.

Iowa athletic trainer also noticed a protrusion in Garza’s stomach.

They decided to get an ultrasound and then a CT-scan when the ultrasound failed to pinpoint the cyst.

Garza was told the cyst might have been developing over time and finally grown large enough to be problematic.

“I never thought something like that could be going on,” Garza said. “But once I felt pain in that area, I had to get it checked out. I knew something wasn’t right. It was definitely a little scary because there was a big risk to the surgery, but it went as well as possible.”

Here comes the Joe Wieskamp era

It hasn’t taken long for freshman Joe Wieskamp to make an impression on his new teammates.

“He was as advertised, scoring wherever on the floor,” junior guard Maishe Dailey said of the first time he saw Wieskamp.

Wieskamp, wearing No. 10 and surrounded by media Monday in his first appearance in a Hawkeye uniform, was a prolific scorer at Muscatine High School and the kind of four-star recruit that figures to make a huge splash.

Iowa guard Joe Wieskamp (10) shoots over Iowa guard Jordan Bohannon (3) during men's basketball practice following media day on Monday, Oct. 8, 2018, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City.

He doesn’t like talking about himself, Wieskamp said.

But Iowa coach Fran McCaffery made it clear that his highly touted freshman is much more than just a shooter.

“He's a really good defender. He's a really good ball-handler,” McCaffery said.

“He can guard a number of different positions, so it gives us some flexibility there. … I think he kind of views himself as somebody who can really help our team, even if his shot is not falling on any particular day — and that's because he's got such a complete game.”

Wieskamp, at 6-6, 205 pounds, is impressively strong, Iowa junior forward Ryan Kriener said. That was the first thing he noticed.

Wieskamp even went up for a dunk over starting power forward Tyler Cook in a June open gym session. Cook is 6-9, 250 pounds.

“Ever since then, he’s been trying to stop everything at the rim,” Wieskamp said of Cook. “I don’t think he wants it to happen again.”

Wieskamp is almost assuredly going to start for Iowa in his debut season. He’s a wing player with rare gifts and a maturity born out of playing for years on an elite AAU circuit.

But he said he hasn’t been told that, and doesn’t really care.

“I’m just focusing on the team,” Wieskamp said.

“I know I’ve got to get my shot off a lot quicker. In high school, I could just rip and drive and finish at the lane very easy. But now I’ve got 6-11, 7-footers coming at you, so you’ve got to learn to finish in different ways — mix in a pullup every once in a while, a floater.”

Wieskamp has been primarily tangling with junior shooting guard Isaiah Moss in practices. Fighting through screens has been tiring, but beneficial, he said.

“Coach wants me to realize that defense is a main priority and then hopefully guard one of (the opposing team’s) best players and hopefully do a good job,” he said.

As for the dunking, Kriener, at 6-9, said he hasn’t been victimized.

“I haven’t been in the way yet,” Kriener joked.

After further review: Yes, the Iowa defense was that bad

Defense has been the focus of practices all summer, for obvious reasons, McCaffery and his players all said Monday.

The Hawkeyes finished 14-19 last winter, primarily because they surrendered 78.7 points per game.

Dailey spent his summer watching each game two or even three times to confirm that: Yes, the defensive breakdowns really were that numerous.

“It was hard to watch,” Dailey said. “It was a little bit of everything — just helping the helper, the second and third step of defense, instead of just on-the-ball. It was communication, anticipation.”

Iowa guard Maishe Dailey poses for a photo during Hawkeye media day at Carver Hawkeye ArenaMonday, Oct. 8, 2018.

Junior forward Cordell Pemsl concurred. Fans had every right to complain about the Hawkeye defense.

“I think it was pretty horrible, honestly. I don’t think we really affected change at all,” Pemsl said.

“We were out of rotations, not in the right spots, giving up second-chance points. It’s all a mindset. We just can’t outscore teams. If we want to make it as far as we want to make it, it’s going to have to be done on the defensive end.”

All of the Hawkeyes are saying the right things. In a month, we’ll start finding out if they’re doing the right things.

A new-look Jack Nunge is equipped to play in the post

Last season, freshman Jack Nunge was used on the wing and in the post, with mixed results. He started 14 games and averaged 5.7 points and 2.8 rebounds. But he often looked uncomfortable, hesitant to shoot and unsure of his exact role.

This summer, Nunge has been exclusively a front-court player, up 10 pounds to 235 on his 6-11 frame. He has worked on getting his jump shot off quicker. He said Monday his confidence is not an issue.

“At times, every shooter goes on a streak — you miss a few shots and then start doubting yourself,” said Nunge, who made 44.3 percent of his attempts a year ago.

Iowa forward Jack Nunge (2) dunks during men's basketball practice following media day on Monday, Oct. 8, 2018, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City.

“The quickness in the game in college ball is definitely different, and being able to get (your shot) off just, like, a quarter-second faster? That’s beneficial. Whenever guys are closing out, you can get it off faster and get a better look.”

Nunge said the extra bulk is helping him hold his position in the post defensively, too — not letting opponents back him under the basket.

“I think the thing that has also been impressive about him is his consistency,” McCaffery said of Nunge in early practice sessions. “We stat every day. He consistently has put up really good numbers, regardless whether he's on one team or another.”