Iowa basketball: Luka Garza declares for NBA Draft, keeps door open for a Hawkeyes return

Dargan Southard
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — It’s clear Luka Garza is handling this massive life decision with a clear and grounded approach.

As college basketball players left and right jump to leave school early and latch onto even the faintest of NBA hopes, Garza is comfortable waiting for his professional opportunity if the perfect scenario doesn’t materialize.

The Iowa junior standout — who on Friday declared for the 2020 NBA Draft, but left the door open for a senior-year return by not hiring and agent — isn’t going to force himself into a situation that doesn’t feel right.

"I'm not going to go in without 100% confidence of being able to make a roster," Garza said on a Friday teleconference, a few hours after publicly releasing his decision via Twitter. "I don't see any interest in ending up in the G-League without any deal or anything like that. That's something I'll be able to get after my senior year.

"Like I said, it's all about fit. I don't know if there's an exact cutoff with the number (of where he would be pick in the draft). I just kind of want to hear where teams see me.”

Iowa center Luka Garza (55) reacts after making a 3-point basket during a NCAA college Big Ten Conference men's basketball game, Friday, Jan. 10, 2020, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa.

That’s why there’s little risk in Garza's move.

Following a historic season in which the 6-foot-11 center averaged 23.9 points and 9.8 rebounds a game while earning consensus first-team all-American honors, Garza will get honest, in-depth evaluations from NBA personnel on where his game stands and what needs improvement.

"Him testing the waters makes complete sense after the year he had, even if he doesn’t have intention of staying in the draft," one NBA team scout told the Register. "It gets him on the radar, people will do a deeper dive on film, check on background. All those things help to set him up for being a pro now or in the future.

"If he stayed in the draft, I think he gets drafted. Somewhere in the second round. I think he’s a guy that teams will look at super productive, high character and a little bit of upside. If he goes back to college, I don’t think he hurts himself." 

As for now, declared players have until June 3 to withdraw from the draft — which is scheduled for June 25 — and return to college.

However, reports Friday indicated that NBA teams want the draft pushed back to no sooner than Aug. 1 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Coronavirus concerns have already eliminated in-person workouts or interviews with draft-eligible players until further notice, according to an NBA memo obtained by ESPN. Teams will be allowed to conduct virtual interviews with draft prospects but are limited to four hours total for any single player.

Those factors, combined with Garza's seesawing draft stock, are why the Iowa superstar said it would take "a real opportunity" for him to move on to the next level and not return to school. 

NBA Draft prognosticators offer similar assessments. 

"Whatever his draft stock is, it doesn’t take away from the tremendous work he’s put in with his game. He’s a tremendous offensive player in college who can knock down shots from distance and obviously create shots on the block. Having said that, there isn’t a ton of NBA interest on him right now," said The Athletic's NBA Draft expert, Sam Vecenie, who ranks Garza 90th on his latest top-100 big board.

"NBA teams care more about defense than offense, and Garza was a big part of why Iowa’s defense was a nightmare this year. ... And the less we say about Garza’s defense on the perimeter, the better, because the Hawkeyes constantly tried to cover for him with same-side help that led to lockouts. When they played zone, their players were over-aggressive in the corners, and it led to a ton of corner closeouts where we got to see Garza’s movement in full.

"It wasn’t great."

Vecenie added that Garza's most translatable NBA skill is his outside shooting, which grew tremendously this past season. Although uncertain if Garza's profile will attract numerous NBA suitors, Vecenie knows Garza has a strong pro future ahead somewhere.   

"NBA teams don’t post up enough for them to get enough value out of that skill set," Vecenie said. "Still, Garza will have a remarkable amount of value in Europe, as his skill set fits better there and he’ll be able to get a European passport with ease due to his family. He’s going to have an incredibly successful professional career. It’s just that NBA scouts and I are skeptical it happens in the NBA.” 

Should Garza return, the Hawkeyes would be among the favorites to win the Big Ten in 2020-21. That fact is not lost on Garza. He hinted Friday that it may even play a role in his ultimate decision.

"That’s honestly something I’ve been thinking about every day since the season ended," he said. "That’s why I chose to make it very clear in my statement that I’m keeping my eligibility and that I’m excited for the possibility for coming back. I’m not closing the door on either option at this point.

"There’s something special in this group at Iowa that I’m really excited about. I came to play for coach McCaffery, and I would love to give him the opportunity to make a run and win a Big Ten championship. It would take a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to turn that down."

The Register's Cody Goodwin and Ames Tribune’s Travis Hines contributed to this report.

Dargan Southard covers Iowa and UNI athletics, recruiting and preps for the Des Moines Register, and the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Email him at or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.