Luka Garza will take final bow at Iowa's Carver-Hawkeye Arena, where his jersey will someday hang

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Luka Garza took a liking to Carver-Hawkeye Arena from the moment he started playing basketball there.

In the first game of the Hawkeye center’s freshman season, he made a layup just 112 seconds in, off an Ahmad Wagner feed, against Chicago State. Garza made his next five shots for good measure, to finish with 16 points.

The 6-foot-11 kid out of Washington, D.C., with the big, sweaty smile that he has flashed a thousand times since, was on his way to becoming a favorite of Iowa fans.

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Luka Garza strikes a triumphant pose after making the basket that put him atop the leaderboard for Iowa men's basketball scorers last month against Penn State. Garza has scored 1,172 points in 62 games at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The senior has one remaining, Sunday against Wisconsin. In future years, you'll likely see his No. 55 jersey swaying in the rafters there.

Garza has played 61 games at CHA since, hustling and dunking and drawing a pretend bow-and-arrow all the while, and never lost his obvious love for his home arena or the game of basketball.

A once-in-a-generation era ends Sunday at 11:30 a.m. Garza will lead his No. 8 Hawkeyes (19-7, 13-6 Big Ten Conference) into a regular-season finale showdown with rival Wisconsin (16-10, 10-9) to be broadcast nationally on Fox.

Iowa basketball won't be the same after Luka Garza

Iowa is looking for a season sweep of the Badgers. Garza is looking to go out a winner on the court he has made his own.

The senior will be honored before the game, along with star point guard Jordan Bohannon and walk-ons Austin Ash and Michael Baer. There will be no fans, just family members who must remain at a safe distance due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For Garza, that means father Frank, mother Sejla and sister Tesa will be on hand to cheer him on. He hasn’t been able to hug any of them since the Iowa team went into isolation mode at the outset of the season last fall.

Senior Day won’t be the same. Neither will Hawkeye basketball after Garza.

Iowa center Luka Garza makes a layup during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Michigan, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021, in Ann Arbor, Mich. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Garza became the Iowa men’s team’s all-time leading scorer last month at CHA in a win over Penn State. He has put up 1,172 points in the building, with 471 rebounds. He can probably remember every one of them.

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If Sunday’s ceremony is somewhat subdued, have no fear, Hawkeye fans. Garza will be back someday to watch his No. 55 jersey raised to the rafters while a capacity crowd rises to its feet.

Luka Garza's jersey retirement a 'question of when'

Iowa’s Fran McCaffery, who was the first major-college coach to offer Garza a scholarship six years ago and watched him develop into a unanimous all-American, is sure of it.

“I think that's a no-brainer, that will happen. It's a question of when,” McCaffery said of a Garza jersey retirement, which would link him with all-time women’s leading scorer Megan Gustafson in recent Hawkeye history.

“I'll look forward to that moment. So will he and his family.”

Iowa center Luka Garza (55) makes a basket as Penn State forward Seth Lundy (1) defends during a NCAA Big Ten Conference men's basketball game, Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa. The basket set the new Iowa Hawkeyes all-time scoring record.

Garza, who has averaged 18.9 points per game on 56.8% shooting at CHA, was humbled by the thought of his place in Iowa history. He had never spent time in the Midwest before coming here, and never could have foreseen the impact he would have.

“That’s a dream come true,” he said of the thought of his jersey hanging from the ceiling at CHA.

“This place has given me so much, and I just hope I’ve given half as much back."

Yes, he really said that.

The Hawkeyes have gone 48-14 in games Garza has played at CHA. There are plenty of memorable moments, but imagine how loud the building would have been in December when Garza scored 21 points in a five-minute span to single-handedly obliterate rival Iowa State.

Iowa center Luka Garza (55) makes a free throw during a NCAA Big Ten Conference men's basketball game against Nebraska, Thursday, March 4, 2021, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa.

That postgame interview featured a Garza-esque quote: “When we find the hot hand, we keep going to it. A lot of guys were great. Our guards were so great at finding me in my spots to keep me going.”

Garza never wants to take credit for anything he does, but the 1,172 points speak for themselves. Iowa fans are unlikely to see a four-year player of his caliber anytime soon.

On Sunday, they’ll have to watch him play for the last time at home on television. That’s unfortunate.

But you know Garza will do something to make it a moment to cherish, and no one will remember it more vividly than him.

LUKA GARZA’S CAREER AT CARVER-HAWKEYE ARENA

                                   FGM-A    FG%      PPG      RPG

2017-18                       77-123       62.6       14.8       6.9

2018-19                        76-135       56.3      12.3        3.8

2019-20                        143-265      54         23.8        10.8

2020-21                        137-239      57.3       24.9       8.9

Totals (62 games)        433-762       56.8       18.9       7.6

Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at memmert@registermedia.com or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.