IOWA CITY, Ia. – Mike Gesell has left the halls of South Sioux City High School, but is hardly forgotten.
The student body at his alma mater, located on the Nebraska side of the Missouri River, made T-shirts to honor the freshman guard on Iowa’s basketball team. The shirts read, “Nebraskans for Iowa Basketball,” and include Gesell’s name and his number, 10.
“I myself, a diehard Cornhusker, wear it proudly,” said Ed Akins, the principal. “This is what he means to our community and our student body.”
Gesell will make his 21st consecutive start at 7 p.m. Thursday when Iowa hosts Penn State at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. But his influence has deep roots in Big Red Country.
“Mike is a perfect role model for our students to follow,” Akins said.
Gesell left South Sioux City as a two-time Gatorade Nebraska player of the year. The Cardinals reached the state title game three straight seasons, winning twice. Gesell scored 2,112 career points.
Here’s another impressive number: 4.0. Gesell was a straight-A student, a co-valedictorian.
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery sold Gesell on his vision of having the top-100 recruit being the starting point guard his entire Hawkeye career.
That lasted eight games. McCaffery moved Gesell to second guard and inserted Anthony Clemmons at the point.
Ask Gesell now what he considers himself, and his answer may surprise you.
“I’d still say point guard,” Gesell said. “I’m comfortable playing either. In my opinion, my natural position will be the point. But I’ve grown up playing both positions, and I can play them equally well. I’ll contribute to the team any way I can.”
Gesell has experience at second guard. He moved there on his AAU team so Marcus Paige, now a freshman at North Carolina, could play the point. The switch in positions is one adjustment that Gesell, who averages 9.3 points and is coming off an 18-point game in Sunday’s overtime loss at Purdue, has made.
Adapting to the classroom has been easier, though Gesell is still trying to make sense of the A-minus he got in his Interpretation of Literature class the first semester.
“I was very disappointed in him,” McCaffery said, tongue in cheek.
Gesell, who had As in his other classes including physics and microeconomics, thought he’d rallied enough down the stretch to get an A.
“My last two papers, I got A’s on,” Gesell said. “But somehow I ended up with an A-minus. Lit is my least favorite class. I would rather take physics than a Lit class. I like math a lot better than reading.”
Gesell has never had a B on his report card.
He already has been accepted into the business college, but he’s unsure what he wants to specialize in. He is considering finance or management. He credits his parents, Tom and Vicki, for not letting him hang out with friends until h
is homework was done. He also calls his brother, Tim, and sister, Nicole, positive influences. And the late basketball star Pete Maravich gets an assist, too.
“He always said, “What’s the point of doing it if you’re not going to do it to the best of your ability?’ ” Gesell said. “So I try to carry that over to the court and in the classroom.”
Gesell plays the game with a studious approach. No theatrics, just competing.
“Growing up, I always liked watching Tim Duncan,” Gesell said. “He’s always just even keel…never too high or too low. There’s going to be a lot of highs and lows during the season. You’ve got to try and even those out. Don’t get too down on yourself. Just keep bringing it.”
Sunday’s game at Purdue was a high. His errant pass that gave Michigan State an easy basket and the lead in the final minute of a Jan. 10 game was a low.
“I was pretty upset about that one,” Gesell said.
Asked to grade himself on his play so far this season, Gesell classified it as an A-minus or B-plus.
“There are things I could have done better, but I think I did a decent job,” Gesell said.
There is a touch of irony to Gesell’s first-semester A-minus in a literature class. He took a literature class the second semester of his senior year at South Sioux City High.
“One of the hardest Lit classes we had,” Akins said. “From the hardest instructor. He wanted to make sure he prepared himself. Mike didn’t shy away from any of the classes he needed to prepare for the future. And to me, that’s a rarity. You don’t get many individuals to do that.”
WHO: Penn State (8-12, 0-8 Big Ten) at Iowa (13-7, 2-5).
WHERE: Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Iowa City.
TIPOFF: 7 p.m.
TICKETS: $22 adults, $10 youth (18-under); UI students admitted free.
RADIO: WHO-AM (1040) and Hawkeye Radio Network.
STAT LEADERS: For Penn State – D.J.Newbill 15.5 ppg; Ross Travis 6.8 rpg; Newbill 4.0 apg; for Iowa – Devyn Marble 14.4 ppg; Aaron White 6.1 rpg; Anthony Clemmons 3.8 apg.
ABOUT THE NITTANY LIONS: Guards Newbill, a 6-4 sophomore, and Jermaine Marshall, a 6-4 junior, account for 50 percent of Penn State’s scoring and 56 percent of its free throws.
ABOUT THE HAWKEYES: Iowa has won nine in a row against the Nittany Lions at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, by an average of 14.5 points. The Hawkeyes have a 14-3 edge against Penn State in Iowa City.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: Penn State is last in the Big Ten in scoring (conference games only) at 54.2 points a game. Iowa is 22-0 under coach Fran McCaffery when holding opponents under 60 points.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball