INDIANAPOLIS — Luca Garza knew what everyone was waiting for before he returned for his final game as Iowa’s undisputed star.
The pressure? Garza sensed this, enough to know that his mental health needed as much attention as his game.
I needed a meditation to lean on to go out and be myself without worrying about anything else, Garza said.
That best explains why the 6-foot-11, 265-pound senior is a nationally ranked college basketball player by The Associated Press after his sophomore season last year. He is the winner of the contest announced Thursday, with 50 of 63 AP Top 25 votes.
Ayo Dosunmu, who led Illinois to the Big Ten Tournament and a first-place finish in the NCAA, finished second with six votes, followed by Oklahoma State junior Cade Cunningham with three. Gonzaga’s Corey Kispert and Baylor’s Jared Butler each received two votes.
|Luca Garza, Iowa.
|Ayo Dosunmu, Illinois.
|Cade Cunningham, st. Oklahoma.
|Jared Butler, Baylor.
|Cory Kispert, Gonzaga.
Garza was second in the country averaging 24.1 points and 8.7 rebounds. He improved his shooting percentages on all teams, including from 36% three-pointers last year to 44%, and also improved his assist-turnover ratio after working to stay ahead of double and triple teams he knew would be coming all season.
Garza led the Hawkeyes to second place in the NCAA Tournament and then accounted for nearly half of the points (36 of 80) in the second round against Oregon. The Washington, D.C., native ended his career as Iowa’s top scorer (2,306) by retiring his No. 55 jersey.
We may never see anyone like him again, coach Fran McCaffery said.
Sure, he put up big numbers and helped the Hawks be in the top 10 in the country for most of the season. But Garza performs a daily ritual to reset his mind and focus on something so simple that his breath led to everything – especially in a season changed by the KOVID-19 pandemic.
You need to quarantine in your house, go to the gym, go home, Garza said. Stay focused. When you play a bad game, that’s all you think about. So you have to be in a healthy mental state, otherwise you will be eaten up – especially someone like me, who thinks as much as I do.
I needed it every day because I faced that fear every day. It definitely helped me to be there and in the moment every game, every day.
Garza finished second to Obi Toppin at Daytona last year. During that season, he began meditating on game days at the recommendation of his father, a former Idaho player.
Like Frank Garza said: It pays to put your mind into the gym.
All players struggle with anxiety and overthinking the game, so they are not immune, Elder Garza said. But what happened when the stakes got higher and the performance requirements higher, the pressure became the same. And if you don’t deal with it, it will eat you up. It will eat you alive.
As a high school student, Garza began meditating daily, usually 20 to 25 minutes, with his father and Frank Garza’s business partner, Guru-Ganesha Khalsa. Some teammates sometimes participated in pre-game activities.
I got to the point where I was getting up and meditating every day for a season because it was something I was dealing with on a daily basis, he said. When I turned on the TV, they were talking about my name. I just had to focus on what I wanted to accomplish with the team.
Some of that experience was also taken to games, where Garza did breathing exercises before free throws or during timeouts.
He also sticks to meditation while pursuing a career in the NBA. He has all the evidence that this could work.
There are a lot of things in life that you wish would happen or go better than they are going, and things like that, he said. So at some point, it’s going to hit somebody, and it’s just a very useful tool for a real person.
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