Iowa forward Luka Garza poses for a portrait during men's basketball media day in Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Monday, Oct. 16, 2017. The Hawkeyes open up their season with an exhibition game against William Jewell College on Friday, Oct. 27. at 7 p.m. in Carver. (Joseph Cress/The Daily Iowan)

Freshmen come into Iowa men’s basketball season with big opportunity

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Freshmen Luka Garza and Jack Nunge have the potential to play huge roles for the Hawkeyes this season.

By Pete Ruden

peter-ruden@uiowa.edu

In August, the Iowa men’s basketball team took a trip to Europe, where it visited Germany, Italy, and Switzerland, and played four exhibition games.

While it was an opportunity to get back on the hardwood and get ready for the season, it was also a chance for the incoming freshmen on the team to build a relationship with their new teammates and experience the game at the next level.

That’s exactly what Luka Garza and Jack Nunge did.

“I think the biggest benefit was that we got our young guys together with our veterans,” coach Fran McCaffery said. “By the time we came back, I felt like we were a veteran club … We had a lot of players play really well individually.”

Garza, who won 2017 Gatorade D.C. Boys Basketball Player of the Year honors, was one of those young players who looked like a well-established veteran.

As a senior in high school, Garza averaged 24.6 points, 11.7 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks per game. 

Even though he was on a new team with new teammates in a new place, he stayed at that same level of play on the European trip. 

Garza grabbed national attention with his performances, shooting 70 percent from the field while averaging a double-double by leading the team with 22.5 points per game and 10.3 rebounds.

Jack Nunge, a fellow 6-11 freshman, was impressive as well.

One of four finalists for Mr. Basketball in Indiana, one of the most basketball-crazed states in the country, Nunge was a standout in high school who also averaged a double-double.

While his stats didn’t jump off the page as much as Garza’s, he was a productive member of the team in Europe, averaging 6.8 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 2.25 assists. 

He also made a significant impact on defense, snatching 1.5 steals and leading the team with 1.75 blocks a game.

Still, even with their youth and inexperience in the college game, their teammates aren’t surprised that they’re already contributing.

“Not surprised at all,” forward Wagner said. “After spending a couple days with them, you realize what kind of players they are, and after playing with them for as long as we’ve been, we realize they’re going to help us right away and there’s no reason to put them on the back burner or anything. They’re ready right now.”

RELATED: Highlights from men’s basketball media day

This year’s Iowa team is a deep squad that knows what it wants to do.

After not having a true center last season, the 6-11 freshmen will certainly be welcomed to the team with open arms.

While the Hawkeyes didn’t have any pure big men, they had freshmen who made a huge impact, and the same is expected for Garza and Nunge.

Tyler Cook and Jordan Bohannon both took lead roles on their way to cracking the Big Ten All-Freshman team, and the new freshmen have the potential to be just as special.

Nunge said he just wants to take advantage of his time on the court, while doing what McCaffery needs to ensure the team’s success.

“Just coming in and being optimistic about the season, I’m just going to take advantage of every opportunity I get,” Nunge said. “I’m trying to do whatever Coach needs. That’s the goal, be whatever player he needs.”

Not only are the two freshmen expected to play big roles together this season, but they’re also good friends off the court.

The duo has been roommates for a while now, and the friendship is helping sharpen both players when they get on the hardwood.

“It’s been awesome,” Garza said. “Having him right there, he was talented all through his high-school career. Living with him, he’s obviously been my roommate for a lot of months now, so it’s been fun to develop a friendship with him … Having him there with me when both of us are playing pretty well, it’s tough, and he’s pushing me every day. We’re competitive, but we’re also really good friends at the end of the day.”

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