By Adam Hensley
It only took Luka Garza two regular-season games to earn Big Ten Freshman of the Week.
The first-year Hawkeye from Washington averages 13.5 points, 9 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks — all team-highs — through the first pair of games. He’s also shooting 57.1 percent from the floor.
“I didn’t really expect anything,” Garza said. “I’ve just been working hard, and I knew that I could play at this level and that I had the talent to put up some of the numbers I have been. I think there’s a lot of room to improve for me.”
Against Alabama State, the freshman thrived on the glass, snagging rebound after rebound.
“He’s got that uncanny ability to know exactly where the ball is coming off [the rim],” head coach Fran McCaffery said. “He’s always where the ball is. The ball seems to find him. Great instincts, long arms, physical, tough, relentless — all the qualities you want in an offensive rebounder.”
Garza’s work was evident on Sunday afternoon. The forward hauled in 5 offensive rebounds.
As a team, Iowa grabbed 22 offensive boards, leading to 27 second-chance points — almost half as many points as Alabama State had for the entire game.
“That’s one of the things I pride myself on is going for the offensive glass,” Garza said. “It’s all about effort, especially on the boards. I’ve been taught that my whole life, by every single coach and my family, and I just kind of am where the ball is.”
Numerous Hawkeyes know that if they miss a shot, they have a big body such as Garza in the paint to clean up the boards and fight for second-chance points.
“It’s a lot of fun having [him] down there helping us out,” Isaiah Moss said.
Garza’s double-double against the Hornets (11 points, 13 rebounds) came in only 19 minutes of play.
Against Chicago State on Nov. 10, Garza scored a season-high 16 points, grabbed 5 rebounds, and blocked 3 shots, all in 18 minutes of action.
Granted, Alabama State and Chicago State are no Big Ten powerhouses such as Wisconsin or Purdue, but Garza’s booming production in his time on the court is nothing to scoff at.
The Hawkeye coaches began to realize Garza’s potential when they saw him play in his first life-action
In the off-season, the Hawkeyes traveled overseas to Europe to play various all-star teams. Garza exploded to stuff the stat sheet in limited time on the court.
Against the Swiss All-Stars, Garza blew up in limited play time. He only played 11 minutes, yet scored 24 points and grabbed 6 rebounds — throw in an assist there for good measure, too.
Coaches and players raved about the European trip, because it gave the Hawkeyes another chance of coming together as a unit and getting some live action in before the season started.
Earlier, before the regular season tipped off, McCaffery said that even though the talent overseas wasn’t up to par with that of years past, it still remained valuable, especially for players such as Garza.
“I’m kind of used to it by now — the physicality, the speed,” he said.
Iowa’s only two games in season — it’s early — but Garza looks like he belongs in the Big Ten.
His weekly award would agree as well.