NORTH LIBERTY — Every night last winter, Iowa freshmen Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemmons battled against some of the nation’s best point guards.
Sure they lost their share of matchups. So did everyone else. They faced the nation’s best point guard in Michigan’s Trey Burke and some of the Big Ten’s elite like Ohio State’s Aaron Craft, Michigan State’s Keith Appling and Minnesota’s Dre Hollins. But as Gesell and Clemmons approach their sophomore seasons, it’s not as much about what happened in the past. It’s about how they apply the past to the present and future.
“I learned a lot. Those are some of the best guards in the country,” Gesell said. “They proved it all year. Just learned little tricks of the trade. They’ve been around. You can take things from every guy.”
Both players took something from Burke, who received the Naismith Award as the nation’s top player. Burke, who was picked ninth overall in last month’s NBA draft, had a conversation with Clemmons after his Wolverines scorched Iowa by 28 points last year.
“He gave some good advice after the game,” Clemmons said. “He just said, ‘You’ve got to run the game. If you’re the starting point guard of the team, you just have to take control — no matter how the game is going. If you’re on a run, you’ve got to keep it going. If things are going bad, you’ve got to slow it down and take control.’”
Gesell said he first recognized Burke’s leadership in their game. Gesell since has watched video of Burke and other top point guards to give him pointers as he enters his second seasons at Iowa.
“(Burke’s) always looking for his shot,” Gesell said. “Those guys are always putting pressure on you. You’ve got to really guard them. I learned things on offense, I learned things on defense.”
Both Gesell (8.7 points, 89 total assists) and Clemmons (4.3 point, 105 total assists) had multiple starts at the point. Gesell started the first seven games, then 10 more late in the season before a foot injury limited his minutes. Clemmons started 13 games at point. Both will see time there this year, and Gesell is likely to start the off-guard. Incoming senior Devyn Marble, who took over for Gesell when he was injured, is slated to open at the point.
Clemmons and Gesell are self-aware of both their skills and deficiencies. Gesell learned the most from two non-conference games. He struggled in a physical match-up with Wichita State’s Malcolm Armstead last November. In April’s NIT final against Baylor, Gesell hobbled and failed to contain Pierre Jackson, a second-round NBA draft pick.
“The thing I’ve working on is my on-ball defense because guys like that, Pierre Jackson, he’s a lot quicker than I am,” Gesell said. “He’s probably the quickest guard in the country. You’ve got learn things, you’ve got to learn footwork, different things, beat him to the spot.”
Clemmons said sustained effort and focus are the keys to his future success.
“And confidence,” he adds. “I feel like if my confidence is there, I’m one heck of a player. I feel like no one can guard me. You can put anybody in front of me, and I can lock anybody up in front of me if my confidence is right. If I’m mentally tough, and telling myself I’m not tired, then I’m not going to be tired. I’m going to run the game. That’s how it’s going to go.”