In Friday’s 105-77 victory over rival Iowa State, Iowa’s Luka Garza finished with 34 points and recorded a 6 for 7 clip from the 3-point line, magnifying the buzz about his national player of the year hopes. During one stretch, he scored 21 points in a row for the Hawkeyes.
“I think that just gives credit to our guys, my teammates around me,” he told ESPN Radio after the game. “If you decide to make a switch up and try to guard me, then we’ve got another guy that is going to shoot it and make it. I think our team just did such a great job moving the ball around, especially during that stretch, not just to be able to get me shots but to give everybody shots.”
After the win against the Cyclones, Garza became the first player from a major conference in the past decade to average 30.4 points per game through his first five contests, according to research by ESPN Stats & Information. Following last season’s battle with Obi Toppin, who won the Wooden Award over the Iowa star, Garza seems to already have a significant edge over the field thanks to one of the best starts in recent college basketball history.
Big men have not been favored in the Wooden Award conversation. Per ESPN Stats & Info, Garza has a chance to become just the eighth player 6-foot-11 or taller to take home the trophy.
Patrick Ewing, Shaquille O’Neal and Hakeem Olajuwon did not win the award during their best collegiate seasons. Then and now, bigs haven’t been viewed as the game’s sexiest players, which doesn’t help their collective cause.
After the Iowa State win, Luka Garza became the first player from a major conference in the past decade to average 30.4 points per game through his first five contests. Keith Gillett/Getty Images
Cole Aldrich, a third-team Associated Press All-American at Kansas during the 2009-2010 season, said big guys don’t get the same love for national awards because they’re not as flashy as some of the other players on the court.
“I look at it like the Heisman Trophy,” he told ESPN. “There are so many good running backs, but so many quarterbacks get the award. There have been a lot of really good big guys.”
Seven-footer Chris Mihm, a first-team Associated Press All-American at Texas during the 1999-2000 season, said players such as Garza are “rare” in a game that has watched big men evolve in recent years. But Mihm is hopeful the Iowa star can prove true big men can still compete with the best.
“I really like how he plays,” said Mihm, who averaged 17.7 points and 10.5 rebounds per game during his final season with the Longhorns. “I think he’s an incredible talent. I love seeing him represented. I hope he wins the award.”
Garza seems set to do just that at Iowa. He is an excellent player, and his game continues to expand. College basketball might be watching one of the great performances by a player his size.
“I think there have always been doubters around my game, just because I’m not the most athletic person there is, so I always just try to work hard and play as hard as I can every time I touch the floor,” Garza told ESPN Radio.
But Garza has some competition. A handful of big guys also have scorched the college basketball landscape with stellar performances on their way to winning the Wooden Award.
Here’s our ranking of the best Wooden Award-winning performances by a player 6-foot-11 or taller (list compiled by ESPN Stats & Info):
1. Danny Manning (6-foot-11, 1987-88): The “Manning and the Miracles” nickname followed the star’s epic run with sixth-seeded Kansas through the 1988 NCAA tournament, a journey that included victories over three top-5 seeds. Manning finished with 25 points, 10 rebounds, six blocks and four steals against Duke, a 2-seed, in the Final Four and 31 points, 18 rebounds, two blocks and five steals against Oklahoma, a top seed, in winning the national title game. He led the entire field by averaging 27.2 PPG throughout that tournament, before he secured the top spot in the 1988 NBA draft. Manning put together one of the most impressive runs in college basketball history that season.
2. David Robinson (7-foot-1, 1986-87): In a breathtaking effort, Robinson averaged 28.2 points, 11.8 rebounds and 4.5 blocks per game, the top mark in America that season. He finished with 30 points or more 30 times in his career, including a 50-point effort in a loss to Michigan in the first round of the NCAA tournament. ”He is the best basketball player that I have seen in seven years as a head basketball coach, and I’ve seen a lot of great players, including Patrick Ewing,” said then-Michigan head coach Bill Frieder of Robinson after that game. Robinson also finished with 29 points and nine rebounds in a loss to No. 1 UNLV that season. Navy’s opponents averaged a 41.5% clip, a top-5 mark.
3. Ralph Sampson (7-foot-3, 1982-83): Per reports, Sampson had the flu when he scored 23 points, grabbed 16 rebounds and recorded seven blocks in a 68-63 win over a top-5 Georgetown squad that season. That day, Sampson — the only player to win the Wooden Award twice — outplayed a young Patrick Ewing (16 points, eight rebounds, five blocks). Really, Sampson outplayed every player in the country that season. Averaging 19.0 PPG, 11.7 RPG and 3.1 BPG, while making 60% of his shot attempts, Sampson was unstoppable. Virginia also averaged 81.9 PPG, a top-10 mark, with the eventual No. 1 pick in the 1983 NBA draft anchoring the program.
4. Christian Laettner (6-foot-11, 1991-92): We all know “The Shot” — Laettner’s miracle bucket to beat Kentucky in the Elite Eight — as perhaps the defining moment of college basketball in the 1990s. But Laettner’s terrific 1991-92 season deserves its proper recognition. During that campaign, the Duke star led the Blue Devils to their second national title after connecting on 58% of his shots inside the arc and 56% of his 3-point attempts (averaging 2.8 per game). He also averaged 21.5 PPG and 7.9 RPG that season on a team with five players who averaged double figures — and that also featured six future NBA players. His Blue Devils averaged 88.0 PPG and beat their opponents by more than 15 points per game. They were dominant.
Ralph Sampson won the Wooden Award two times during his collegiate career. Collegiate Images via Getty Images
5. Ralph Sampson (7-foot-3, 1981-82): During his first of two Wooden Award-worthy seasons — both Sampson and Bill Walton won the Naismith Award three times during their collegiate careers — the Virginia star was tough on both ends of the floor. Sampson won the Wooden Award in 1981-82 despite recording comparable numbers the previous season. Sampson became the first non-senior to win the honor in 1981-82 after averaging 15.8 PPG, 11.4 RPG and 3.1 BPG. With Sampson in the paint, Virginia won 30 games and beat its opponents by an average of 13.5 PPG that season.
6. Marcus Camby (6-foot-11, 1995-96): Whenever you turned on a UMass game during the 1995-96 season, you saw Camby flying through the air for a big block or running down the floor for a rim-shaking dunk. He was fun watch, but he was a problem for opposing coaches. He averaged 20.5 PPG, 8.2 RPG and 3.9 BPG that season. He was also a 70% free throw shooter. In UMass’ 81-74 loss to Kentucky, the eventual national champion, in the Final Four, Camby was the best player on the court (25 points, 9-for-18 shooting, eight rebounds, six blocks, three assists), the last chapter of a run that was subsequently vacated due to NCAA violations.
7. Frank Kaminsky (7 feet, 2014-15): After guiding Wisconsin to its second consecutive Final Four, Kaminsky secured the most recent Wooden Award for a player 6-foot-11 or taller, per ESPN Stats & Info. He averaged 18.8 PPG, 8.2 RPG and 1.5 BPG. He also made 42% of his 3-point shots, making him an impossible matchup in college basketball. Just ask Kentucky, after he finished with 20 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks in a 71-64 win over the Wildcats in the 2015 Final Four. He also made 58% of his shots inside the arc and 78% of his free throw attempts that season. Kaminsky put together one of the most complete seasons we’ve witnessed in the past decade of college hoops.
8. Andrew Bogut (7 feet, 2004-05): He was a force for a Utah squad that won 18 games in row and made a run to the Sweet 16, before he secured the top spot in the 2005 NBA draft. Bogut averaged 20.4 PPG, 12.2 RPG and 1.9 BPG. He scored 25 points or more six times that season. In a 10-point loss to Rajon Rondo’s Kentucky team in the Sweet 16, Bogut finished with 20 points and 12 rebounds. Also, Utah made 51.4% of its shots that season — a top-5 mark — and Bogut connected on 64% of his shots inside the arc in a terrific season.
Bonus: Tim Duncan is listed at 82 inches (6-foot-10) in the ESPN Stats & Info database, but he is listed at 6-foot-11 elsewhere. We felt like we should include him.
Tim Duncan (1996-97): A year after a first-team All-American season, Duncan won the Wooden Award with an incredibly balanced stat line: 20.8 PPG, 14.7 RPG, 3.3 BPG and 3.2 assists per game. He also made 63% of his shots inside the arc. He led the nation in rebounding, and Wake Forest’s opponents connected on just 36.4% of their shots that season, the No. 2 mark in college basketball, per the ESPN College Basketball Encyclopedia. Although Wake Forest lost to Stanford in the second round of the NCAA tournament that campaign, Duncan made history as the first player to finish his collegiate career with 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds, 400 blocks and 200 assists.