Iowa's Luka Garza wins prestigious Wooden Award, becomes unanimous national player of the year

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

The John R. Wooden Award is to college basketball what the Heisman Memorial Trophy is to football.

And it’s time for Iowa’s Luka Garza to strike a Wooden pose.

The 6-foot-11 Hawkeyes center on Tuesday was named the recipient of the Wooden Award, considered the game’s preeminent player-of-the-year award, by the Los Angeles Athletic Club.

Garza joins a long line of all-time great players — including Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Tim Duncan, Kevin Durant — to have won the Wooden. Garza is the first Iowa Hawkeye to win the Wooden, which is named for the late, great UCLA coach (who played at Purdue) and has been presented annually since 1977. A national panel of basketball experts voted on the award, sorting the finalists from one through 10 — with first place getting 10 points, second place getting nine, etc. The votes were cast between March 15-22.

Luka Garza scored 36 points in his college finale, tying an Iowa NCAA Tournament record, in a 95-80 loss to Oregon. Garza finished his Iowa career with 2,306 points, seventh-best in Big Ten history.

Garza is just the sixth player from the Big Ten Conference to receive the Wooden, joining Indiana’s Calbert Cheaney (1993), Purdue’s Glenn Robinson (1994), Ohio State’s Evan Turner (2010), Michigan’s Trey Burke (2013) and Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky (2015).

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Additionally, Garza is now a unanimous national player of the year. There are six major national awards that count for consensus all-America status — and Garza went 6-for-6. The Sporting News, the Associated Press, the Oscar Robertson Trophy, the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) and the Naismith Trophy also went Garza’s way.

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In 2020, Garza won one of the six major awards (The Sporting News) — with Dayton’s Obi Toppin collecting the other five. Garza opted to return to Iowa for his senior season, and it was a memorable one. Although the Hawkeyes were eliminated in the round of 32 of the NCAA Tournament by Oregon, they were in the AP Top 10 for 15 of the poll’s 17 weeks. Garza averaged 24.1 points per game, became the No. 7 scorer in Big Ten history and (easily No. 1 at Iowa, with 2,306 points) and led Iowa to its highest NCAA seed (No. 2) since 1987.

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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.