How does Iowa basketball replace Luka Garza? Inside the three-man race to fill the big man void
Of the several voids that the Iowa men's basketball program must fill this season, the biggest is at the center of the team.
Four-year starter, two-time consensus All-American and last season's National Player of the Year Luka Garza is gone to the NBA. That's a lot to replace, and really, impossible to do.
Sophomore forward Josh Ogundele, who spent last season as Garza's teammate, said while he's gone, left an impression on him that he'll take into this season.
"I learned a lot from Luka," Ogundele said. "Whether it's sealing deep and playing hard and aggressive or not taking any possessions off. A mix of different things but this year I'm just to show everyone what I can do with what he's taught me and how I've prepared."
Ogundele is one of three big men on Iowa's roster vying for playing time, along with veteran transfer Filip Rebraca and true freshman Riley Mulvey. Ogundele is the only player with experience at Iowa, albeit very little time on the court.
"Josh has been a lot better. He's sustaining effort more," Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. "He lost a lot of weight. He's down to the 260s. But he has to get even better in that area and he knows it. He's really pushing himself. I've been proud of him."
Ogundele is officially listed at 6-foot-11 and 265 pounds. Last season he struggled to find a rhythm and needed to get his weight down. A London, England, native, Ogundele "let himself go" as he described it during the months of the COVID-forced shutdown when gyms were closed and he wasn't able to work out.
When he got to Iowa last summer post-shutdown, it was an uphill battle.
According to Ogundele, he's in his best shape since high school.
"I haven't felt this way since I was around 16, 17 (years old)," Ogundele said. "I'm jumping more, rebounding, dunking the ball and being more aggressive. With losing weight I gained more confidence."
Rebraca, however, has the most basketball experience. While at North Dakota, Rebraca was a two-time All-Summit League selection and has 74 career starts.
"He's been through it. He might be 24 (years old)," McCaffery said. "He's played internationally (Serbia), played in this country at the Division I level. And he wanted to challenge himself to play in the Big Ten. So we're thrilled to have him."
At 6-foot-9 and 230 pounds, he doesn't have the physically imposing frame that Ogundele has but his play-style fits perfectly with Iowa's up-tempo attack.
"It's a lot different that how we played at North Dakota," Rebraca said. "My game is kind of a jack-of-all trades: I can finish in the post, I can create offense in the mid-post and I know the three-point line. I know we use all of that here so it feels natural so to say."
The youngest, and maybe most intriguing of the trio, is true freshman Riley Mulvey. He was originally a member of Iowa's 2022 class but re-classified and joined the team a year early. Since his arrival this summer, his biggest challenge has been adjusting his body to the college game.
"I've changed so much," said Mulvey, who stands at 6-foot-11. "I've gained about 10 pounds (up to 244 pounds) and I feel like I'm getting a lot stronger. Playing against Ogundele, Rebraca and the Murray twins, they're so strong and that's helped me."
Where Mulvey will most likely impact Iowa most this year is as a rim protector. During his last two years of high school, he averaged five blocks per game. However, he may find minutes limited until his body catches up to the rigors of Big Ten basketball.
"Defensively he's ahead of where he is on offense," McCaffery said. "He's 240, but he's still getting pushed around a little bit. He still should be a senior in high school. We'll get him ready at some point."
All three of Iowa's big men bring something to the table: Ogudele's big frame and aggressiveness, Rebraca's experience and skill and Mulvey's defensive prowess.
It's fair to assume that Rebraca has the edge but don't be surprised to see all three get opportunities early in the season when rotations are still fluid.
How do they evaluate the competition among them?
"Every day, it's hard in practice," Ogundele said. "Whether it's Riley dunking and blocking shots, Filip opening up and shooting the ball and me aggressive inside. I think there's a lot of opportunity this year and it'll be interesting to see what happens with the bigs."
Kennington Smith is the Iowa Hawkeyes beat writer for the Des Moines Register. You can connect with Kennington on Twitter @SkinnyKenny_ or email him at email@example.com