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Luka Garza of Iowa is Sporting News’ first repeat winner since Michael Jordan

Iowa center Luca Garza knew, when he met on the telephone the other day, that the conversation would aim to discuss his selection as the Sporting News College Basketball Player of the Year for the 2020-21 season. So it was not a phone call that he was unable to make. This was good news.

Within moments of saying hello, he learned that he was better than he had ever been in a dream.

MORE: Sporting News’ 2020-21 Meet All Americans

We also had a winner as Garza Junior in 2019-20. Which means he has won for the second consecutive season. The last player to be selected as Sporting News Player of the Year in consecutive seasons was a fellow who is universally known in his early days: M.J.

“Oh, wow,” Garza said as she related this information.

Sporting News has presented the award uninterrupted since 1958, and it dates back to the 1943 season. Oscar Robertson (1958, 1959, 1960), Jerry Lucas (1961, 1962) were the only to win it in consecutive years since Bill Bradley (1964, 1965), Bill Walton (1972, 1973, 1974) and Michael Jordan. Karim Abdul-Jabbar won it twice in 1967 and 1969, but his reign was interrupted by Alvin Hayes’ tremendous 1968 season.

Did this discussion of basketball greats make anyone else dizzy, or is it just Luca?

“Honestly, just to hear what’s real,” Garza told Sporting News. “It’s not something I ever thought I could do, but I always worked as hard as I could. I never came to college expecting that kind of stuff. I just wanted to win. I wanted to work hard and make myself the best player.

It turns out, the player is better than the other 4,500 or so Division I ’s basketball, for the second year in a row. Garza stood above a strong field of candidates, leading all Hawkeyes to an average of 45.5 percent accuracy on 8.4 rebounds, 1.5 blocks, 55.1 percent field goal shooting and 3-pointers, outpacing all major-conference scorers with 24.3 points per game. Was. Illinois guard Ayo Dosanmu and boiler guard Jared Butler.

As a high school player at Merrett School in Washington, Garza was the 118th best prospect in the 2017 recruiting class. He was underestimated from the start, when he averaged 12.1 points and had a rebellion of 6.4 as a freshman for a rebuild. Squads that finished 13th in the Big Ten. He was good for 13.1 points a year later, but hinted at better things to come with 20 points over Cincinnati in the 2019 NCAA Tournament and 13 in an overtime second-round loss to heavily support Tennessee.

He became a player as a junior, with the stamina to finish the game with both hands, the final 32 minutes of the game, the stamina, to deal with the seemingly strenuous of elite college big in the Big Ten, in the middle of Minnesota . Daniel Oturu, Michigan State’s Xavier Tillman and Maryland’s Jalan Smith, now playing in the NBA. Garza averaged 23.9 points and 9.8 rebounds and went up 16 from 20 points a game.

He has failed to reach double digits only once in the last two seasons, requiring only 23 minutes and an eight-point contribution in a stormy win over Michigan State last month. It is a superior Hawkeyes team that Garza has played on and has designed challenging designs for the title and final performance of the Big Ten tournament.

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Apparently, he had already completed a ton in college basketball, reaching results last season by the time the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments were canceled due to the COVID-19 epidemic. Although he was unlikely to be an NBA draft pick, he could play professionally, as the pro teams at Sea were eager to sign him. Garza opted to play another year with the Hawkeyes.

“There’s not a of me that regrets my decision,” Garza said. “I love this place. I love my teammates. I love my coaches and I love every moment of being here. Obviously, this year is a little different in terms of being hyper-focused on basketball. , But the family atmosphere we have at the University of Iowa makes it a lot of fun. It’s really a blessing to be on this team and play with some of the people I’ve done. “

While Iowa ranked 25th in the AP poll last season and fifth in the Big Ten before March Madness, the team finished 5th in the nation and third in the conference. This is partly because shooter Jordan Bohonen returns to the team after recovering from hip surgery, with Connor McCaffrey’s passing ability providing 3.6 assists per 22 minutes per game, backup playmaker Joe Toussaint providing another 2.3 assists in 11 minutes Talented freshman Keegan Murray and Patrick McCaffery have deepened rotation and guards Joe Viscomp and CJ Frederick have become even more lethal as shooters. Iowa ranks third in the nation in 3-point shooting percentage.

The Hawkeyes have also become, after years of struggle, a more formidable defensive team. During Garza’s career, he ranked 242nd, 111th, and 97th in defensive efficiency according to kenpom.com. Also this season, after losing four out of five games, they dropped out of the Division I top 100 in that category.

With Garza as the team’s last in line, Iowa has moved up to 58th place. This is not an extraordinary efficiency, but it is a massive improvement. And with the No. 2 offense at his disposal, defending at this level gives Iowa the ability to win many of the biggest games.

“I think we are really committed to understand that if we want to win the game, we have to play a defense game, and we have to get stops and we have to play every possession.” “You can’t shut down anything – especially when you’re playing the teams you’re in the Big Ten, because they’re going to pay you. And that’s what happened to us.

“In the section where we dropped a doubles, the interesting thing was that our offense was scoring really well, and then we had a little dry, and that’s where the game got away from us as we stopped. Were not able to continue. During that drought. Once we realized that we were able to stop consistently throughout the game, our offense was going to come to a rough turn. We had a really high level of scores. Ability to do that. “

Garza believes he is “100 percent” better than the younger man who won the Sporting News Player of the Year honors last year. The decade of 2020 was different from that of the past because the affected all aspects of his life, just like everyone else, but it gave him an extraordinary amount of time and energy to enhance his strength, stamina and basketball skills. Did not stop investing.

“I worked very hard this summer, trying to improve myself as much as possible”, said Garza. “Because I knew that when I was back in college, I wanted to help this team win the championship, put themselves in position to score a run in March. I think we should have something this year Great wins, and we are not satisfied.

He said, ‘I am just thankful that I have teammates who make me good. Because I am a big person, and for me to be able to score, I need to have some great guards who can put me in position to be able to do that, and they did it countless times in my career is. “

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