Hawkeye Gesell set to take the reins

BY TOM CLOS | OCTOBER 12, 2012 6:30 AM

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He’s drawn comparisons to a former Hawkeye great from his head coach.

He’s earned the praise of upperclassmen and been anointed the leader of a revitalized program aiming to achieve national relevance for the first time in over half of a decade.

He’s the new leader of the Iowa men’s basketball team.

He’s freshman point guard Mike Gesell.

The top-100 nationally ranked recruit, according to rivals.com, with fellow top-100 center Adam Woodbury headlined a recruiting class that was deemed the best Iowa City has seen since Jared Reiner and Glen Worley signed letters of intent more than a decade ago.

So far, the former South Sioux City standout’s early returns have been positive, according to his head coach.

“There have been very few, if any more focused athletes I’ve ever been around,” Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery said. “[Mike’s] very similar to Matt Gatens in that respect, and I could name some of the great players I’ve had over the years.”

The underclassman hasn’t yet experienced a practice in his college career, but Gesell has been handed the burden of becoming a prominent piece of a Big Ten program looking to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time in seven years.

He thinks he’s ready to take the reins.

“Being a point guard, you have to be a leader on the floor,” Gesell said. “Definitely one of my goals this year is to get the respect of the older guys and lose that freshman stigma.”

McCaffery was impressed with was Gesell’s ability to not let small failures get to his head. He said a strong mentality is what a good captain needs, and Gesell is fit for the job.

“[Mike] has got the greatest case of amnesia I’ve ever seen,” McCaffery said. “If he does turn it over or misses a shot, it’s like it never happened. He’s on to the next play and on to the next challenge.”

Gesell was happy his new boss had such praise for him, and explained how he has always tried to disallow small things from bringing him down.

“I was always taught when I was younger, if you miss a shot, you have to think the next one is going in,” Gesell said. “You can’t dwell on mistakes or bad plays, just move on.”

It didn’t take long for the rookie to earn the respect of the veterans, especially junior guard Devyn Marble.

The upperclassman was impressed with Gesell’s tenacity during off-season workouts. He noted that the rookie exuded confidence and showed no fear in reprimanding his older peers.

“Mike stepped onto campus being a leader, yelling at guys and telling them they have to step it up,” Marble said. “When you have a point guard who isn’t scared of getting on some older guys who may have been slacking, you’ve got to love it.”

While he’s got the confidence of his head coach, his older teammates, and most around the program, Gesell is reluctant to jump to any sort of conclusions about his career

He pointed out how he has a lot to prove before being anointed anything other than a true freshman fighting for a starting spot.

“I have to prove myself every day in practice and earn respect,” he said. “Nothing is guaranteed ever.”

Still, McCaferry couldn’t help himself in talking up the recruit, pointing out why he could one day be a Hawkeye great.

“[High-school] valedictorian. Gatorade Player of the Year, state champion,” the coach said. “Well, there is a reason he accomplished all of those things.”

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