Iowa’s Garza will re­turn

Chicago Sun-Times - - SPORTS - BY MARK EMMERT

IOWA CITY — Luka Garza is hold­ing on to the hope that his Iowa bas­ket­ball team can com­pete for a na­tional cham­pi­onship this win­ter. He an­nounced Sun­day that he is for­go­ing a pro­fes­sional ca­reer in or­der to re­main a Hawk­eye.

Garza, an All-Amer­ica cen­ter, will open as a fron­trun­ner for na­tional player of the year and make Iowa a top-10 team en­ter­ing the sea­son.

But that sea­son is in doubt of be­ing com­pleted be­cause of the on­go­ing COVID-19 pan­demic, a point that was ham­mered home last week for Garza when two of his team­mates tested pos­i­tive for the res­pi­ra­tory disease caused by the coron­avirus. Garza had to make his an­nounce­ment while be­ing quar­an­tined for that rea­son. In do­ing so, Garza passes up a lucrative of­fer to play in Europe and the chance to be se­lected in the next NBA Draft.

“COVID went up to him and slapped him twice in the face: ‘Pay at­ten­tion to me,’ ” Garza’s fa­ther, Frank, told the Reg­is­ter last week.

“There’s a mes­sage there. How can this not im­pact you when it’s right on your doorstep?”

On March 12, the col­lege bas­ket­ball sea­son came to an abrupt halt when post­sea­son play was can­celed as COVID-19 was be­gin­ning its spread in the United States. The Hawkeyes heard the news just be­fore they were about to leave their ho­tel in In­di­anapo­lis for their open­ing game in the Big Ten tour­na­ment.

That put an end to one of the most re­mark­able sea­sons in Iowa bas­ket­ball his­tory. Garza av­er­aged 23.9 points and 9.8 re­bounds to lead the Hawkeyes to a 20-11 record, be­com­ing the pro­gram’s first con­sen­sus All-Amer­i­can since 1952 in the process. The ju­nior was named Big Ten player of the year.

Frank Garza said there was one pri­mary mo­ti­va­tion for his son to play his se­nior sea­son at Iowa.

“He wants to win it all, to ac­com­plish some­thing that has never been done [at Iowa], to for­ever be part of folk­lore,” he said.

Luka Garza

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