Joe Wieskamp in doubt for Iowa's Big Ten Tournament opener; Garza talks league honors

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Winning one Big Ten player of the year award was challenging enough for Luka Garza.

But climbing that mountain again?

Iowa’s senior center said Tuesday it was a steeper obstacle in a deeper Big Ten Conference.

Garza became the first Hawkeye men’s basketball player to be voted the best in the league twice earlier in the day. He credited his teammates and coaches first, then spoke of the extra attention he felt in every game as Iowa went 14-6 in the conference.

More:Luka Garza on verge of entering Hawkeye record book: 'I got really lucky to be in this program'

“Last year, going into the season, they didn’t really know that I was going to play at the level that I did,” Garza said of his junior year, when he averaged 23.9 points in a breakout campaign that saw him become Iowa’s first unanimous all-American since 1948. “But this year I had all the expectations, so I was already a marked guy in the league. Coaches already knew what they were going to try to do to stop me. So it was definitely more of a challenge, but my whole focus the whole year was winning games.”

Iowa center Luka Garza (right, blocking a shot against Wisconsin on Sunday), said he faced more talented and determined Big Ten Conference opponents this season en route to a second consecutive player of the year award. No Hawkeye had ever been named the league's best player twice.

Garza is averaging 23.8 points per game as No. 6 Iowa sits at 20-7 overall heading into this week's Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis. The team is packing four a four-week stay in the Circle City, since the NCAA Tournament will also be contested there.

Iowa coach Fran McCaffery is happy that he’ll have Garza there for the duration before his pro career begins.

“He's the focal point of every defense every time we take the floor. The more tape that's on him, the tougher that gets for him,” McCaffery said.

“I just have been really impressed with his relentlessness to continue to improve and to handle anything that comes his way from a defensive scheme perspective or physicality perspective. He just keeps coming. When you think he's maxed out, he just amazes you again and proves that there's more there. That's a credit to him and his character.

“He's not going to be satisfied 'till he's an NBA player. That's what he's going to be next year.”

Garza returned to Iowa, he said, in order to win two championships — the Big Ten and the NCAA. That’s his focus this month. But, he, too is convinced that his hard work will get him to the highest level of the sport once this is over, even though his defense is questioned and the pro game is moving away from traditional low-post scorers.

“I’m just going to work as hard as I can and do whatever I can and whatever a team needs to be successful,” said Garza, a 6-foot-11 native of Washington, D.C.

“I think I’m a good enough 3-point threat to be able to score from the outside as well.”

Joe Wieskamp's ankle improving, but status for Friday remains in doubt

Iowa junior Joe Wieskamp was named second team all-Big Ten on Tuesday but wasn’t able to discuss that accolade with reporters in the afternoon. That’s because the Muscatine native, averaging 15 points per game, suffered a right ankle sprain in Sunday’s win over Wisconsin and is trying to work through the pain in order to play this week. Wieskamp had made all five of his shots, for 12 points in 12 minutes, before the injury occurred.

Previously:Person to Watch in 2019: Joe Wieskamp, Hawkeye men's basketball star freshman

His status for the two tournaments to come is the biggest question mark surrounding the Hawkeyes, who are a 3 seed in the Big Ten and a likely 2 seed in the NCAAs.

McCaffery said Wieskamp was feeling better Tuesday, but still wouldn’t practice. He will be evaluated every day this week before a final decision is made Friday about whether he can play in Iowa’s 8 p.m. tournament opener against either Wisconsin, Penn State or Nebraska.

“It is strictly the trainer and the doctor. Can he go? Sometimes you deal with is he 100 percent, is he 90, is he 80, is he 75? How does he feel? What does he want to do? So we'll wait and see,” McCaffery said.

“If he feels really good, my anticipation will be to play him on Friday. We'll see how he does. If he's not at or near 100 percent, then we might hold him. We're going to do what's in the best interest of the student-athlete, bottom line.”

Replacing Wieskamp’s minutes, if it comes to that, will be “an all-hands-on-deck thing,” McCaffery said, mentioning true freshmen Tony Perkins, Ahron Ulis and Kris Murray as players who could be called on. It certainly would mean more time for second-year players Patrick McCaffery and Joe Toussaint, who are already a part of the rotation.

Wieskamp has been durable, starting in all 93 games of his college career.

Iowa forward Keegan Murray makes a free throw against Wisconsin on Sunday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa.

All-freshman honoree Keegan Murray tunes in to NBA greats for motivation

Hawkeye forward Keegan Murray would get his fifth start of the season if Wieskamp is out. Murray was named one of the top five freshmen in the Big Ten earlier Tuesday, an award he said he would take time to appreciate once the season ends.

“Right now, I’m just focused on winning games in March. That’s what our whole team’s about,” Murray said, sounding like a veteran already.

Murray said Tuesday that he has spent the season listening to messages from the likes of LeBron James before games.

Before the Wisconsin game, for example, Murray found a YouTube clip of the late Kobe Bryant talking about how he used to outwork opponents. Hard work has become Murray’s mantra, since little was expected of him heading into his rookie season.

“That helps me before games calm down, have a good mindset heading into games,” Murray said.

“Every game’s a grind.”

Murray is averaging 7.2 points and 5.1 rebounds. He’s conquered the grind.

Gary Barta assures Roy Marble family that his legacy will be honored

Iowa athletic director Gary Barta took the unprecedented step of addressing reporters before Tuesday’s Hawkeye basketball interviews began. Barta wanted to apologize to the family of the late Iowa basketball star Roy Marble over any hard feelings regarding his decision to retire Garza’s No. 55 after the season.

Marble’s family and supporters have argued for years that his No. 23 should have been permanently taken out of commission once he set the school record with 2,116 points from 1985-89. Barta has declined to do that, saying Marble doesn’t meet the school’s criteria for that honor.

Garza passed Marble this season and sits at 2,201 career points.

Marble’s son, Devyn, was a star at Iowa from 2010-14, scoring 1,694 points on McCaffery’s initial teams here. He went on Twitter on Monday to say he would never watch another Iowa game because of “the amount of disrespect that school has shown me and my family.”

That was an apparent reference to a promise Barta made in 2015 that he would set aside an area in the Carver-Hawkeye Arena concourse to honor past basketball stars Marble, Murray Wier and Chuck Darling. There is a temporary tribute to those players, but Barta said plans to renovate the concourse got placed on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic. He still wants to do that, he said Tuesday.

Barta said he would convene a group of former Hawkeye players, along with longtime sports department staffers and “historians” to discuss a way to honor those three stars from different eras, along with anyone else who should be included. But he wants to wait until after this season. His appearance Tuesday was clearly meant as a way to move past any distraction the Marble debate was having with the current Hawkeyes preparing for March tournaments.

Barta said McCaffery and he both reached out to the Marble family privately to issue an apology and get their thoughts. McCaffery said he had not yet heard back from Devyn.

“I know that Dev knows I love him and I loved his dad,” McCaffery said.

McCaffery believes Roy Marble’s legacy needs to be honored, and said he is confident that it will be.

“There's only two players that ever played here that scored 2,000 points or more, and he's one of them. He was also on a team that won 30 games, which is the most any team has ever won here,” McCaffery said.

“I don't think you have to stretch that far to understand what his performance and his accomplishments meant to our program and its history, in particular with his son coming here and having the spectacular career he had.”

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.