IOWA CITY — It hasn’t all been back rubs and chocolate cake for Mike Gesell in his first semester of college.
He did, after all, receive an A-minus in a class. That was his lowest grade like ever, mind you.
“I was very disappointed in him,” Iowa basketball coach Fran McCaffery said with a smile Tuesday. “He wasn’t happy with it at all. He’s not used to that.”
We’re not here to talk about Mike Gesell the promising young business major who graduated with a 4.0 GPA and as co-valedictorian of his class at South Sioux City (Neb.) High School.
You’re more interested in Mike Gesell the promising freshman guard for the Iowa Hawkeyes. Gesell pledged Tuesday his goal is to never get a “B” at Iowa. When asked to grade himself on the court, he said he’s right on that edge.
“We had a decent record, I’d give myself an A-minus or B-plus,” he said. “There are things I could do better, but I think I did a decent job with my first minutes in college.”
As you’d imagine, Gesell has juggled more transition than most freshman.
Gesell, 6-2, 185, played his AAU basketball with the All-Iowa Attack. McCaffery attended every one of Gesell’s AAU games for two years and made him a top priority as the point guard of the future.
In December, that plan started to shift. Fellow freshman point guard Anthony Clemmons started to turn it on, showing quickness, strength and defensive muscle. Gesell struggled in back-to-back losses to Wichita State and Virginia Tech. He made 2 of 10 shots and had just two assists to five turnovers.
“I think Wichita State is one that I really look back on,” said Gesell, who averages 9.3 points, 2.8 assists and 2.05 turnovers. “I got into some foul trouble early and couldn’t get it going all game. You’ve just got to forget about those and keep playing.”
Clemmons has started the last 13 games as Iowa’s point guard. He averages 3.85 assists and just 1.65 turnovers.
The fact that Iowa has ended up with Clemmons on point and Gesell as the off guard isn’t a huge surprise. When the Hawkeyes opened practice last fall, the two began knowing they were in competition. McCaffery also doesn’t consider it a setback for Gesell, who singlehandedly kept the Hawkeyes in last Sunday’s 65-62 overtime loss at Purdue with a game-high 18 points and 3 of 4 from the 3-point arc.
“When he was our starting point guard, one of the reasons I moved him was to get him to be more aggressive offensively,” McCaffery said. “He’s always been an aggressive offensive player, but he was trying to hard to run our offense. To see him be our point guard and play that way offensively . . .”
And that’s maybe the most interesting part of this for Gesell. The point McCaffery was trying to make was Gesell isn’t locked into an either/or at either guard position. He played some point and some off guard against Purdue and he was Iowa’s leader on the offensive end.
Iowa ran offense for him and, with a reminder from his coach, Gesell ran with it.
“It’s funny, because in the game Sunday, if you remember, he was turning down shots, early and we were setting him up,” McCaffery said, “and I challenged him during one time-out, I said, ‘Just shoot the ball.’
“The way that they were playing him, I said, ‘You know, you should get 40 tonight. That’s what you should get.’ He didn’t get 40; he got 18, but he just really started coming off ball screens and shooting a pull-up and we were doing a good job screening for him, and he was doing a good job coming into a shot.”
Gesell considers himself a point guard — “I still say point. I’m comfortable playing the 1 or 2, but in my opinion, my natural position is the point” – but he also said he’s buying into whatever it take for Iowa to win.
“I trust everything that coach McCaffery is doing,” Gesell said. “Whatever he’s doing with our team is for our best interests.
“I knew that once I moved over that I would have just a little bit different role, but I could still contribute and I could still do everything I can to make the team better. It wasn’t bad. I wasn’t mad or anything. I wasn’t upset. I was actually happy, I’m just happy to be out there playing this game. Anytime I’m on the floor, it’s just a lot of fun.”
Gesell is working on that “A” in basketball entrepreneurship.
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