IOWA CITY — For many Iowa basketball fans, the first glimpse comes tonight.
They’ve heard all about these two 6-foot-11 bookend freshmen that the Hawkeyes recruited.
They’ve heard how Jack Nunge earned most valuable player honors in leading his team to the championship of the Prime Time League during the summer. They’ve read that Luka Garza led the Hawkeyes in scoring in all four of their games on a tour of Europe in August.
Now they’ll get to actually see them when the Hawkeyes host William Jewell College in a 7 p.m. exhibition game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
If Iowa coach Fran McCaffery and his veteran players are making any attempt to tone down expectations for the two kids … well, they failed miserably.
Ask any of them about Garza and Nunge and they just sort of gush.
"They’ve been very impressive with their work ethic and how cerebral they are," junior forward Nicholas Baer said. "They’re two kids who are quick learners and pick things up pretty quickly. I’ve been really impressed with that but also their skill set. They both can be inside-out players, and both go to the glass really hard. For Iowa fans, there’s a lot of excitement around those two guys and deservedly so."
McCaffery admits his own expectations for both players are "very high." At various times over the past year, he has compared Garza to Kevin McHale and Nunge to Jarrod Uthoff.
"Both of them are tremendous players," McCaffery said. "They're incredibly versatile. They come ready. It's not like we have to develop them. They're both really good players. ... They can dribble, pass and shoot. When you have two 6-11 guys that can do all those things, then you have high expectations for them."
Many expect Garza to be the starting center and Nunge to be in the mix for playing time at any of the three front-court positions.
In addition to being 6-11 and being very skilled for their size, Nunge and Garza both have extensive basketball pedigrees.
Nunge’s parents both played college basketball, his father, Mark, at Rochester and his mother, Beth, at Central. His sister, Rebecca, plays volleyball at Notre Dame.
Garza’s grandfather, James Halm, played at Hawaii. His father, Frank, played at Idaho. His mother, Sejla, played professionally in Yugoslavia. His uncle Teo Alibegović, played at Oregon State and is the all-time leading scorer in Slovenian pro basketball. He also has assorted cousins playing at various places, including one at St. John’s.
Garza is an especially intriguing prospect because he once weighed as much as 265 pounds after undergoing surgery in his sophomore year at the Maret School in Washington, D.C. He now has slimmed down to a very sturdy 238.
He can step outside and shoot 3-pointers but by all accounts is a monster around the basket with extremely sure hands.
One thing he’s already shown in the summer league and in Europe: He doesn’t conceal his feelings on the court.
“I think playing with emotion is a strength of mine,’’ he said. “I think when you come into a game and you play with all your heart, you’re going to show just pure emotion. It can be sort of an energy boost to the team around you so I kind of take pride in that. It comes naturally to me, and I’ve been that way through my whole career.’’
Nunge, who lived in Iowa City until the sixth grade and moved with his family to Newburgh, Indiana, about the time McCaffery became Iowa’s coach, is more slender and reserved than Garza but possibly even more skilled. He handles the ball like a guard and is a threat from 3-point range.
There’s a chance he’ll see some action at small forward even though he’s not remotely small.
"It really just comes down to whatever coach needs me to play," Nunge said.
Both freshmen have settled in very quickly as members of the team.
"They weren’t bashful or shy whatsoever," sophomore forward Tyler Cook said. "They’re playing like they’ve been here for years."
You can see why the expectations are so high. As for their own expectations tonight and down the road, the kids say they don’t really have any.
"I’m just going to go in and play as hard as I can, and I know Jack is going to do the same," Garza said. "Whatever happens happens. Both of us over our careers have worked so hard for this moment, and I think both of us will take full advantage of it.
"I think we’re really talented coming in. We’ve shown that all summer playing together, and we’ve gotten a lot better since we got here June 12 so it’s going to be fun to see what we both can do on the court this year."