Luka Garza, a 6-foot-10 big man for the Iowa Hawkeyes, was the consensus pick for national collegiate player of the year this past season.
Garza averaged 24.1 points, 8.7 rebounds, 1.6 blocks and 1.4 three-pointers per game while shooting 44.0 percent from beyond the arc in 2020-21. He won Sporting News Player of the Year for the second year in a row, becoming the first repeat winner since Michael Jordan. The big man finished his NCAA career as the all-time leading scorer in Iowa program history.
He recently caught up with HoopsHype to discuss how he has changed his game since college, what he will bring to an NBA team and the advantages of his underdog mentality. You can stream the video with Garza via YouTube below.
Please note this interview was minorly edited in its transcript for clarity.
I would love to hear what you have been up to since your season ended in March.
— Matt Pennie (@matt_pennie) June 13, 2021
Luka Garza: Yeah, it’s been a lot of fun. After the year, I decided to sign with my agency, Imperative Sports. We decided it would be best that I slim down and lose some weight. My transition to the NBA would be a different game. I wouldn’t be playing as much post-up basketball as I was in college. It’s not the same game. I was posting up 47% of the time. That’s quite a bit. So we decided to make the transition. I was around 268 playing weight during the year. I took a couple of weeks off during the season, got up to 271, and then checked into the combine at 242. I’ve obviously lost a lot of weight, changing my diet, working with a dietician. I’m doing a lot of workouts to just get myself in shape, get myself ready.
Obviously, I felt good when I was playing at 268. But I know that going forward, there is no need for the extra weight in the more because I won’t be playing as much in the middle of the paint like I was in college. I’m continuing to work on the stuff that I do. I have a lot of confidence in my shot and my ability to stretch the floor as a big man. I feel as though I’m the best shooter as a big guy in the draft. I’ve just been showing that. Obviously, at the combine, I wasn’t able to play, unfortunately. But I got to do some drills and work at that and that was a lot of fun. Then I went to do my pro day, which went very well as well. Now, I’m going through the process, working out with different teams, interviewing with different teams. It’s been a lot of fun.
How do you study the game and analytics for yourself to come to those realizations?
Luka Garza — the glass cleaner, the rim protector, the stretch big, the post move technician, or whatever you want to call him — 𝗴𝗲𝘁𝘀 𝗯𝘂𝗰𝗸𝗲𝘁𝘀.
— Iowa Basketball (@IowaHoops) February 3, 2020
LG: Definitely. When I was in college, I was playing a different style. It was a style that was best for our team. It was the way we fit into our offense. I felt it was easier for me to score on the inside. My team depended on me to score the ball. I evaluated myself, like I always do, on things that I can improve on and things I can change. Obviously, I hear a lot of criticism of myself and my game. I feel the same way myself. I know that something I wanted to work on was being able to move better. The best way to do that was to lose weight. For me, I knew I didn’t need to be in the post as much. I had no reason to have that extra weight. That could help me move better to guard ball screens and be able to switch on to a guard. I have to have a team feel confident when I go out there that I’m not going to get burned on ball screens possession after possession.
Obviously, you know in the NBA, it’s a lot of pick and roll. It’s a lot of going at guys, trying to get good matchups for the guards. There are concerns about my game in that aspect. That’s why I made this change. I feel a lot more comfortable being able to do that. I think that going into the NBA, I’ll have a vastly different role than I had in college. That will also help, being able to guard and defend better than I did in college.
What has the reception been from NBA teams when you tell them about these changes?
— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 20, 2021
LG: I think they see my body of work and my work ethic and my desire to play in the NBA. I think that helps. I’ve shown I can adjust, I can mold my game to fit into the NBA. Just because I was obviously the best post scorer in college doesn’t mean I’m going to be stuck on having to do that in the NBA. I know that going in, it’s not the same. It’s not going to be as many post-ups. I have to be able to evolve my game in different ways. That’s what every basketball player is trying to do as they move up to different levels and you’re trying to fit in and excel.
I think that teams definitely like that I’ve made this change. I think it’s helping me out as they see me helping bring back some strength. That’s going to help me as well, just getting a little bit more. But that’s what happens when you lose a lot of weight, you lose a lot of strength as well. But I feel really good this way. I’ve been moving better than I ever have. It’s something important to me going forward. I think teams have seen me shoot the ball at a high level. I can continue to do that. I have a lot of confidence in my shot and my ability to stretch the floor. I feel like I can do that as my primary role.
How do you reflect on your experience at Iowa and how the program has changed?
— The Iowa Hawkeyes (@TheIowaHawkeyes) March 7, 2021
LG: It’s crazy. It was four years and a lot of different experiences. In those four years, I feel like I’ve been through so much. From being a team with 14 wins and 19 losses when I first got there to building and building and building and building into a top-five team in the country. There were a lot of things on the way, like me having a cyst and having to get that removed and not knowing my future with basketball in general. There were a lot of things that I’ve gone through to get to this moment. For me, it’s crazy to think back on it. Walking into college, I never expected myself to be in this position I’m at right now. I’m really blessed and excited and I’ve always believed in working hard and outworking people because I have to. I’m not the most athletic guy. I’m not a guy who is quick, fast, strong, jumps high or all of that.
But I outwork the person I am playing against. I play harder than them. I know what I can do offensively and defensively to be out there and help my team win. For me, going through and playing different roles, coming from being a third option to a first option, I’ve seen different roles. I’m comfortable playing any role. That experience that I have definitely will help me as I am going into the NBA. I’m obviously one of the older guys in this draft. I played four years of college. I played high-level in the Big Ten for a long time. I feel like I can impact a team in a positive way as soon as my team starts.
You may have been a lottery pick in a different era of the NBA but now you are more of an underdog. How does that fuel you?
LG: It’s not new to me. I’ve had it every level and every step of the way. It’s always followed me in terms of people doubting my ability to translate to the next level, whether it’s been high school or going to college. In high school, they asked, is he a high-major D-I player? Is he a top-100 player in the country? I was No. 100. I’ve always had some doubt following my game. People just don’t believe in me or what I can do. I’ve always been able to prove those people wrong because I work very hard. That’s just my solution. It’s just to put my head down and work and try to help the team in the best way I can and the best way that I know. I’m always continuing to evolve and work on my game and find different ways that I can get better and help a team.
I definitely always have motivation, just based on me wanting to reach my potential as a basketball player but also with all of the doubt that surrounds my game constantly throughout my career. It’s good. People who criticize me give me a to-do list of stuff to work on. It’s positive for me. I’m used to it. It definitely helps and adds fuel to the fire.
What are some of the ways you are able to explain yourself as a leader and teammate?
LG: Being a four-year starter and playing different roles, I’ve learned a lot about how to be a leader. I’ve done that since high school. The first step to me becoming a leader was after my freshman year. Our whole team, we were destined to make sure that the next year, we did not end up in the same position. Obviously, at 14-19, we had no tournament and no postseason. We had a lot of motivation. There had to be a change in terms of leadership and pushing guys so that is where it all started for me in college. I was able to do that. Then, obviously, stepping into a bigger role my junior and senior year of college. I was the top option and leader of the team. I had to lead. I learned from experience. I always garnered respect out of my teammates because they knew how hard I worked. It’s something they could always respect. I find different ways to lead my teammates and help my teammates in the locker room. It’s not always going after guys and bashing them. I do it in different ways. I’ve never been that guy. But I can help people, uplift them, motivate them to do different things.
I’ve been privileged to play with a lot of great teammates, Joe Wieskamp being one of them. He and I took a huge leadership jump this year in terms of our team having so much pressure that we needed to keep our guys calm. If we were in the moment but not playing as well as we needed to and we needed to pick it up, we’d find ways to give to our teammates. I’ve been able to do that. I think in any role that I have in a locker room, I can be beneficial, whether it’s as a leader or as one of the bench guys. Whatever role, I’ll be a positive addition because I’ve had so many different experiences. I just really want to make sure my teammates win and my organization wins.
There is tons of game film on you on the court but what are you telling teams about yourself off the court?
Men's basketball Player of the Year Luka Garza became the first college athlete to have his own NFT.
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) April 7, 2021
LG: Absolutely. I’m not a problem guy. When I am a part of your team and a part of your organization, it doesn’t come with problems or baggage. I’m just a guy who works hard. I love to play the game. I love my teammates. I love my family. I’m a family guy. There are a lot of things that go into me as a person. I’m not too difficult to deal with. That’s a selling point. When you have a guy that won’t create any problems and can only help, that’s a plus for any team. I see myself in that way. I’ve always continued to grow as a person as I get older. It’s something that helps me. I’m not a guy who’s going to make problems for your team. I’m going to come in and work hard and do whatever I can to help the team win.
Off the court, I’m very simple. I’m a very goofy guy. I love hanging with my family and with my friends. I’m also a guy who wants to give back and is helping. I’ve already started the process of doing that with the children’s hospital at the University of Iowa. I’m a very loyal person. That’s the main thing about me. No matter who it is or what it is, if you believe in me, you’re my family. The University of Iowa changed my life. They believed in me. I’m connected to that university in a lot of different ways because I’m so loyal. Even going back to high school, I wasn’t in the most notable high school league. When I got better, I was offered to transfer to different situations. The same thing happened in college. When they’re not the first or main guy as soon as they get to college, they want to leave. For me, I’m all about loyalty and making something happen wherever you go first.
What are some of the ways your family has helped you get to where you are today?
#Hawkeye Friends Iowans,
As we leave this great State, University, & its wonderful people, know that we do so with a heavy heart. You are our ‘Field of Dreams’ and we love you. As we move to the next chapter, remain confident in the knowledge that you are with us marrow deep.❤️🦚 pic.twitter.com/OV5NBNAxNB
— Frank Garza (@frankgarza57) May 2, 2021
LG: It’s been unbelievable. I have an amazing basketball family. We have so many college and pro basketball players. My mother was a pro and my dad was a college basketball player and all three of my cousins are playing pro right now. My uncle Teoman Alibegovic played at Oregon State with Gary Payton and he is the leading scorer in the history of the Slovenian national team and played overseas for a number of years. My grandpa was a college player and my other grandpa was a professional goalie. My whole family, growing up, that’s how I learned how to work hard — it’s who I was around. It’s been the same throughout my career. I’ve always had people to go to for advice who are directly in my family. With all the coaches that I’ve had over the years, I feel like those people are part of my family as well. I’m just extremely blessed to have the people that I do around me. It’s the biggest thing.
My dad and I are really close. Every time I get to the offseason, he is who I work out with and he is who helps me improve myself. He has helped a little bit during this pre-draft process, too, especially in the beginning. I have different people I work out with but my dad is always going to be someone that I’m going to work out with and I’m going to talk to about the game. He knows my game better than anybody and he can help me in a lot of different ways.
What are some of your goals both on and off the court during your career?
LG: On the court, I want to win. I want to be able to be a part of a championship team. I want to be a part of a championship organization at some point in my career. That’s something I’m really excited about. But I just really want to play in the NBA no matter what role that is in my career. I don’t care. I just want to play in the NBA and play at the highest level of basketball. That’s why you pick up a basketball when you’re young, to be able to accomplish that, so that’s my main goal. I’m never going to put a ceiling on myself and what I can achieve. Going into college, I had no expectations. I never put myself in a box where I wanted to be First-Team All-Big Ten. When you come in just wanting to work hard and not expect anything, that’s when the good stuff just comes your way. That’s what happened to me in college and I’m hoping the same thing happens to me in the NBA.
Off court, I want to be a role model that people look up to no matter where I end up playing. Anybody that follows me, I want to be somebody that kids want to be like. I want to share a story about hard work and making it when you don’t have all of the God-given abilities as other people do but you still make it as far as you want to because you work harder than everybody else. That’s the biggest thing. I just want to have a positive impact on my community or whatever community and just on the world in general.
That’s amazing! Is there anything else you think would be good to share for this story?
LG: I always find a way, somehow. That’s just my mentality. I’m going to find a way. I’m going to be able to do that with hard work. For me, I’m not coming in expecting to be the guy I was in college. But I’m not going to put any expectations on myself for my career. I feel like I’m a player that can help a team win in any role that they see fit. That’s what I’m going to do when I get there and I’m excited for the opportunity to achieve my dream because that’s what I’m doing right now. I’m working as hard as I can to be able to impress these teams and hopefully get somebody to believe in me like I did out of high school with coach Fran McCaffery. It’s the next step. I’m really excited. It’s going to be a lot of fun. For me, I’ve made it far with the game of basketball. I’m going to continue to do that because I always find a way somehow.