Gesell works to prove a point

BY WILL MCDAVID | JULY 07, 2014 5:00 AM

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WATERLOO — Mike Gesell had a rough — to put it lightly — end of the 2013-14 campaign. After shooting a combined 0-of-14 in Iowa’s last two losses, the point guard had gained his share of doubters but also a source of motivation.

Since his team’s season-ending loss to Tennessee, Gesell has been hard at work, putting in the long hours that hone skills and silence skeptics.

“I’ve been working really hard in the off-season, trying to expand my game, finding different things I can work on,” Gesell said. “This league is the type where you can come out there, and you can work on that stuff in a game situation.”

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At 6-1, Gesell is no stranger to scrutiny, much of it stemming from the claim that he is undersized.

“My whole life I feel like I’ve been doubted a little bit,” the junior said. “I think, personally, I do a pretty good job of just staying within our team and not listening to the critics. When you’re doing well, people are going to tell you how great you are. When you’re doing bad, people are going to leave you.”

This attitude has hugely benefited Gesell this summer, this perhaps never more evident than in the July 3 showdown with Prime Time director and coach Randy Larson’s team.

At the half, Gesell had converted only 1-of-9 shots and seemed well on his way to validating his critics. For some players, the likelihood of transcending such a high-pressure scenario ranges from unlikely to impossible.

Luckily for Ray Swetalla’s team, Gesell didn’t perform like those players. After struggling early, he made the second-half into his personal showcase, scoring 20 points on both dead-eye shooting and frequent forays to the rim.

In the game’s closing minutes, Gesell gave fans a fitting finale, an emphatic reverse dunk that let everyone know just how “undersized” he is.

“He is much more athletic than he appears,” Swetalla said. “He has a strong upper body, an explosive step, and he can knock down the 3 ball.”

To those in attendance on July 3, these qualities alone easily outweighed the Iowa guard’s perceived lack of size. But to those more familiar with the South Sioux City, Nebraska, native, it is the intangible qualities that separate him — the ones that elude box scores and measuring tape.

“He’s a great team leader,” Swetalla said, “The biggest thing about him is his mental toughness.”

For Gesell, praise like this has become commonplace, as many have grown enamored with the junior guard’s character over the course of his college career.

In Prime Time play, Gesell has paired the leadership and toughness that have drawn such rave reviews with natural athletic talent, the resulting 20 points per game and nearly 5 assists making a strong case for his detractors to reconsider. 

While Gesell will never tower over the opposition, Larson believes Gesell possesses something far greater than size.

“Integrity,” Larson said. “He’s always going to play the right way. Always going to go 100-percent. Always going to make the extra pass. It’s his character that makes him.”

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