NORTH LIBERTY — No incoming Iowa freshman will face the pressure to perform effectively from day one quite like point guard Mike Gesell. Yet the South Sioux City, Neb., feels none of it.
“It’s not pressure at all,” Gesell said. “I have high expectations for myself, too, in every aspect of my life. It’s just fun knowing that my hard work is starting to pay off a little bit. I’ve got to keep working hard and I can’t be complacent.”
Gesell, who stands 6-foot-2, expects to start from day one, a sentiment expressed by Coach Fran McCaffery to The Gazette back in March. Gesell is talented, friendly and a winner. In short, he’s every parent’s dream.
Gesell, who will major in either business or engineering, earned co-valedictorian honors at his high school with a 4.0 grade-point-average. He was a member of the National Honor Society and Fellowship of Christian Athletes. He volunteered for his church’s youth group and participated in a holiday gift-giving campaign.
But don’t let Gesell’s personal side deter you from interpreting his on-court competitiveness. He led South Sioux City to three straight Nebraska state title games, including two championships. He’s the all-time leading scorer in metro Sioux City history with 2,112, points and finished his career as the all-time leading scorer in Nebraska Class A or B history.
“Mike has a chance to be really special,” McCaffery said. “Very determined, mature, everything he does. He’s got a complete skill set. He can pretty much do everything. Defend, he shoots it, shoots it with range, he drives it, he can run the break. He can play in the pick and roll, he can play against zone, he can play against the press.”
In the spring Gesell was named Nebraska’s Gatorade Player of the Year for the second straight season. He averaged 24.8 points, 7.4 assists, five rebounds and 2.9 steals last year after scoring 25.2 points and dishing 8.2 assists as a junior. Gesell was ranked among the nation’s top 100 players by Rivals, Scout and ESPN in the class of 2012 and the 15th-best point guard by Rivals. However, the four-star recruit prefers to leave those accolades in the past as he embarks on his college career.
“All that rankings and high school stuff is thrown out the window once you get to college,” Gesell said. “It’s a fresh new start. They definitely want me to continue improving on my ball handling and improve my shot consistency, all that stuff. Finishing at the rim.
“That jump from high school to college can be a lot different at first. They say you hit the freshman wall sometimes. My goal is to just keep working hard and not worry about that and work on my game. In my mindset you have to know that you can play at this level and have the confidence in yourself. I think I have that.”
The Hawkeyes have five incoming freshmen so camaraderie is crucial for Iowa’s development. Gesell understands he needs to earn respect to become an on-court leader. So far, he has.
“I love Gesell’s game,” said Iowa junior Devyn Marble, who started 13 games at point guard last year. “He’s a really good point guard to only be a freshman coming in. I think he’s going to surprise a lot of people. I know a lot of people think that he’s already good, but I think he’s going to surprise some people even more with how talented he is and how smart he really is.”
Several coaches pursued Gesell in high school, but no coach worked harder than McCaffery to land Gesell. McCaffery attended every one of Gesell’s AAU games for two years and made the point guard a priority, along with AAU teammate and fellow Iowa freshman Adam Woodbury.
“I love Fran, he’s another reason why I came here,” Gesell said. “Just the way he handles himself on and off the court. Off the court he’s like our best friend. On the court, he really gets after us and pushes us to take our game to the next level. That’s something you need in a coach and it’s going to be a lot of fun playing for him.
McCaffery sold Gesell on Iowa’s up-tempo style of offense as well.“There’s so much freedom in it,” Gesell said. “It kind of caters to all of our games. There’s just freedom to make the plays that are there. It’s just tremendous offense, and I think it will be great down the road.”