NBA Combine: Down 30 pounds after 'flexitarian' diet, Luka Garza happy with improved quickness

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

A groin injury that is keeping Luka Garza out of five-on-five action this week at the NBA Draft Combine didn’t stop the national player of the year from showing scouts what he wanted them to see. 

While adhering to what is known as a “flexitarian” diet, Garza has shed nearly 30 pounds over about two months. The 6-foot-11 center from Iowa officially checked in at 242.8 pounds at the Combine in Chicago, a drop from the 271 that he weighed two weeks after the Hawkeyes’ NCAA Tournament elimination against Oregon.

Garza hired a personal chef and cut out breads and sugars while eating a plant-based diet, occasionally allowing himself chicken and fish as proteins.

“It changes your diet a lot when you don't have to depend on yourself to go get stuff,” Garza said Thursday afternoon from Chicago. “You open the fridge, and you have what you’re eating for the day.

“It’s been tough. I’ve been tough on myself to get myself in shape for this, but it’s been worth it.”

The payoff, in Garza’s mind, occurred during the first few days of the Combine, as he was able to show teams his trimmed-down body and improved movement. Though it ranked 48th out of 55 players who tested in the lane agility drill, Garza was happy with his time of 11.9 seconds that was quicker than five other forwards, one center and one guard. Iowa teammate Joe Wieskamp (who will speak to media Friday) was fourth-fasted overall in lane agility, at 10.7 seconds.

More:NBA Combine: See how Luka Garza, Joe Wieskamp worked out before 2021 draft

“The biggest thing I'm happy about is just showing that I've kind of transformed my body a little bit,” Garza said. “I’m different, I’m moving better.”

Garza is the No. 7 scorer in Big Ten Conference history and No. 1 at Iowa with 2,306 points in four years. Scoring has never been a question for Garza, who was known during his college offseasons to post videos of deep-shooting range where he would swish 25 straight 3-pointers. Still, he was able to show scouts his mid-range and deep-range game during his time in Chicago.

More:Leistikow: An interview with Iowa's Luka Garza on postseason awards and extending his range to 30 feet

“I think I shot it well enough and showed that I’m, in my opinion, the best big-man shooter in the draft,” said Garza, who made 120 3-pointers at Iowa and shot 44% from deep as a senior. “I definitely showed I have no problem shooting it from that range.”

Iowa's Luka Garza participates in the NBA Draft Combine Wednesday, June 23, 2021, at the Wintrust Arena in Chicago.

But he came to Chicago understanding where his weaknesses are on defense. In a sleeker build, Garza wanted to show he wouldn't be a liability when switching off ball screens — a big part of today's NBA game.

“I know the criticisms about me. For me, I welcome it,” Garza said. “It’s a to-do list for me, things for me to work on.”

He tweaked his groin in some drills Wednesday and didn’t want to play in a game at less than 100%. He said he would take a few days off, meaning he would miss Friday’s action as well.

Up next: Individual workouts with teams leading up to the July 29 NBA Draft. Garza is projected as a second-rounder by ESPN and Bleacher Report. He said it wasn’t the end-all, be-all if he isn’t chosen in the two-round draft — no Hawkeye has been selected since Aaron White in 2015 — but that a career in Europe is not the plan, even though he is half-Bosnian. Former Hawkeye teammate Tyler Cook proved he could make an NBA roster as an undrafted player.

On that front, Garza felt he had a productive week in Chicago.

“I’m confident in my ability to play in the NBA and make my dreams come true,” Garza said. “… There’s nothing else but Plan A."

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.