Luka Garza is slated to announce his decision on returning to Iowa for a senior season or entering the NBA Draft on Sunday, August 2nd. That’s far later than we had all expected to hear an announcement, but still seems far too soon given all the uncertainty around both the NBA and a potential NCAA season.
Therein lies the problem for Hawkeye fans. Since the 2019-2020 season was cut short and Garza was robbed of his chance to help Iowa on a Big Ten or NCAA Tournament run, the smart money was on the DC big man returning to college. He wasn’t showing up on draft boards, let alone getting the promise of a contract he’d said he would be looking for. Thus, the conventional wisdom was that Garza would be back for a senior season.
Even before season was over, we saw that line of thinking start to take shape. It clearly played a role in Garza not being named the Naismith Player of the Year. Despite being clearly better in every measurable way last season, Luka Garza came in second to Dayton’s Obi Toppin. Toppin was a dynamic player in his own right who had a great year on a very good team. But he was destined for the NBA following the end of the year while Garza was not. So why not give the award to Toppin when you could surely give it to Garza in 2021?
Sadly, we’re likely to see why you shouldn’t use that sort of reasoning play out before our eyes in the coming weeks.
The Hawkeyes sit here in mid-July with the highest preseason expectations we’ve seen in a generation. By all accounts, Iowa enters the 2020-2021 season as a clear top-10 team and a borderline top-5 team. The expectation is for conference title contention and an Elite Eight run with the potential for so much more.
Those expectations run on the assumption Luka Garza, the best player in college basketball a year ago, returns for a senior season where he is again the best player in the nation. The supporting cast around Garza is expected to be every bit as good as a year ago despite key losses with the departures of Bakari Evelyn, Ryan Kriener, Cordell Pemsl and Riley Till. With Garza, all five of Iowa’s season finale starters would be back. They would be joined by 5th year senior Jordan Bohannon, a candidate to leave as the Big Ten’s all-time leader in 3-pointers, as well as 4th year big man Jack Nunge, who will have three more years of eligibility after suffering an ACL tear last year in a season he was rumored to be Iowa’s second best player all summer. They’ll also get former top-75 recruit Pat McCaffery back in the lineup and add in five (FIVE) freshmen recruits with some big time potential.
It’s easy to see why Iowa is projected so highly in the preseason. If Garza were to come back.
Beyond all that potential, Garza has a slew of unfinished business to attend to at Iowa. Despite being Iowa’s first consensus first team all-American in nearly 70 years, breaking the Hawkeyes’ all-time single season scoring record and having one of the single greatest seasons in Big Ten history, Garza wasn’t the AP or Naismith player of the year. He didn’t win a Big Ten title. He didn’t get to make a run in the NCAA Tournament. He has accolades left to collect, records to shatter and championships to win.
When combined with the draft board seemingly stacked against him, it’s easy to see why the expectation has long been for him to return to college.
That would be the wrong decision given what we now see in front of us.
With more and more universities announcing decisions to hold online classes only this fall, the Big Ten and PAC-12 won’t be facing opponents from outside their respective conferences. With each passing day, confirmed cases around the country increase. Regardless of personal beliefs about how to best handle the growing spread, it’s becoming abundantly clear that the only we know for certain is that we know nothing for certain. States that had reopened are closing. Schools that opted for online schooling are being told to hold in person classes. Things are ever evolving.
With that evolution comes the potential for a vastly different NCAA basketball season. That may mean no non-conference games. It may mean a shortened season. It could mean another year without a postseason. It’s still possible we simply get no season at all. We just don’t know.
And thus, all the uncertainty Luka Garza was looking to avoid in a potential NBA Draft to instead come back to what was certain to be an historic senior season at Iowa has been totally flipped on its head. A return to Iowa City now is the path filled with uncertainty whereas the road leading to the NBA, while not guaranteeing a roster spot, certainly has much more clarity on the potential to play basketball in 2020.
It’s a very difficult situation to be in and a daunting task for a college student. Choosing your fate before college administrators can even make their own choices is absurd. But that’s what Garza and dozens of other pro prospects will be forced to do in the coming weeks. Like the loss of last year’s Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments, it’s another unfortunate reality. As is the situation the Hawkeyes would be facing without Garza to anchor the middle this season. Jack Nunge is more of a power forward than center and incoming freshman Josh Ogundele is both raw and stuck on the other side of the Atlantic.
Regardless, the choice for Garza is clear: he should be declaring for the NBA Draft and avoiding the potential for a lost college basketball year in 2020-2021.