Iowa senior Luka Garza was named the 2021 men’s Naismith Player of the Year, awarded annually to the best player in men’s college basketball.

Garza was a finalist last season and becomes the first Iowa men’s player to win the award.

“Winning an award in Naismith’s name is an honor my family and I will always treasure. Naismith changed my life, and so many others, by creating the game that so many love. In 2015, when my dad and I watched Frank Kaminsky accept the Naismith Trophy in Indianapolis, I never thought I would be in this position six years later,” Garza said. “I am forever thankful to the University of Iowa, Coach McCaffery, the rest of the coaching staff, my teammates, my family and the countless other people and coaches who have helped me along the way. This is not an individual honor but a team award, and I am so proud to be able to bring this award home to Iowa City. Thank you to the Atlanta Tipoff Club for this prestigious award and thank you to Naismith for changing my life and so many others with the game of basketball.”

UConn’s Paige Bueckers won on the women’s side.

“Luka just concluded a remarkable college career and had tremendous expectations to live up to all season long, and while Paige is just beginning her college run, she had similar acclaim given her incredible high school achievements,” said Eric Oberman, executive director of the Atlanta Tipoff Club. “The common denominator is that both displayed complete dominance on the court throughout the course of an incredibly challenging basketball season, and for that, we’re honored to recognize them as the 2021 Jersey Mike’s Naismith Trophy winners.”

After winning Big Ten Player of the Year last season, Garza opted to return to Iowa for his senior season instead of entering the NBA draft. He finished second nationally in scoring, averaging 24.1 points, and establishing himself as the best player in the country since the start of the season.

Garza won Big Ten Player of the Year honors again and became Iowa’s all-time leading scorer.

Following an early March win over Wisconsin — in which Garza finished with 21 points and 16 rebounds for his 12th double-double of the campaign — Garza was informed his No. 55 jersey was going to be retired after the season.

“I honestly didn’t expect that at all,” Garza said after the game. “I didn’t realize that was a plan or that was going to happen. I was just really happy we won the game. For Coach to tell me that, it was a surreal feeling. Time slowed down, as I heard those words.”

The men’s Naismith College Player of the Year award has been given out since 1969, when UCLA’s Lew Alcindor earned the honors. Dayton’s Obi Toppin won the award last year, with Duke’s Zion Williamson taking it home in 2019.

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