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Iowa’s Luka Garza named AP men’s college player of the year

(AP Photo) Iowa center Luka Garza (55) drives to the basket against Michigan State forward Marcus Bingham Jr., right, during the second half of a game in Iowa City, Iowa, on Feb. 2, 2021.

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Luka Garza knew what everyone expected before returning for a final run as Iowa’s unquestioned star.

Pressure? Garza felt it, all right, enough to know his mental health required the same attention as his game.

“I needed meditation to lean on, to be able to mainly just go out there and be myself and not worry about anything else,” Garza said.

That best explains why the 6-foot-11, 265-pound senior is The Associated Press men’s college basketball national player of the year after finishing second last season. He was the runaway choice for the award announced Thursday, receiving 50 of 63 votes from AP Top 25 voters.

Ayo Dosunmu, who led Illinois to the Big Ten Tournament title and a No. 1 NCAA seed, was second with six votes, followed by Oklahoma State freshman Cade Cunningham with three. Gonzaga’s Corey Kispert and Baylor’s Jared Butler each earned two votes.

Garza ranked second nationally by averaging 24.1 points with 8.7 rebounds. He improved shooting percentages across the board – including going from 36% on 3-pointers last year to 44% – and his assist-to-turnover ratio after working on passing ahead of double- and triple-teams he knew would come all season long.

Garza led the Hawkeyes to a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, then accounted for nearly half their points (36 of 80) in a second-round upset loss to Oregon. The native of Washington, D.C., finished as the career scoring leader (2,306) at Iowa, which will retire his No. 55 jersey.

“We may never see another one like him,” coach Fran McCaffery said.

Sure, he had the big numbers and helped the Hawkeyes spend nearly the entire season in the top 10 nationally. But Garza figures the daily ritual of resetting his mind while focusing on something as simple as his breathing led to all of that — particularly in a season altered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“You had to be in your house quarantined, going to the gym, going home,” Garza said. “There’s no distraction. If you play a bad game, that’s all you’re thinking about. So you need to be in a healthy mental space or you would just let it eat at you – especially a person like me who thinks as much as I do.

Garza was second to Dayton’s Obi Toppin for last year’s award. It was during that season that he began gameday meditation at the suggestion of his father, a former player at Idaho.

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