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Friendships end on the hardwood

BY JACOB SHEYKO | DECEMBER 03, 2014 5:00 AM

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Mike Gesell compared it with a competition with a brother.

In most aspects of life, brothers are close. They get along, hang out, and talk about life with each other.

But once they lace the sneakers up and go head-to-head on the basketball court, they’ll do anything to ensure that the other doesn’t sniff victory.

That’s the relationship that Gesell, Adam Woodbury, and North Carolina guard Marcus Paige have with each other. For five years, the three Midwest-natives played together on the AAU Martin Brothers team.

But today, when Iowa faces No. 12 North Carolina in the Big Ten/ACC challenge, they’ll be opponents, trying to get the upper hand on each other as brothers often do.

“You love each other, but then once you get in that competition, you hate each other, and you’re going to do anything you can to beat them,” Gesell said. “And then after the game, you’re going to be best friends again.”

When Gesell, Paige, and Woodbury started playing together, the chemistry was immediate.

Hank Huddleson, the coach of the Martin Brothers, and of Gesell, Paige, and Woodbury for around three and a half seasons, said it was rarity if the Martin Brothers weren’t one of the best teams at a given tournament while the trio was there.

“They may be the most-winningest team that we had,” Huddleson said. “… It’s not the norm for kids who are stars at their own high schools to come together and accomplish what those guys were able to accomplish over the years, because there is only one ball and there are a lot of talented players.”

All three of the players still keep in touch, as do their families.

When news first broke that Iowa would play North Carolina, Gesell sent a text Paige’s way asking if he had heard the news. It was a matchup they had talked about after committing to their respective schools but were never sure if it would happen.

That communication has continued in college. Paige told members of the North Carolina media he talked to Gesell and Woodbury three or four times this week. Nothing basketball-related.

“You’re with each other in AAU more than you’re with your families almost,” Gesell said. “I basically spent every summer with him for about six years. Naturally, you grow a friendship there.”

The three grew close enough that they would even travel to watch the others’ high-school games when they got the chance. And last season, on a trip home to Iowa, Paige swung by Carver-Hawkeye Arena to watch Iowa’s win over Arkansas-Pine Bluff.

“There were a lot of games, a lot of travel, a lot of miles,” Woodbury said. “We’ve known each other for quite some time.”

Before committing, they talked extensively about playing together in college. Iowa recruited all three of them, and both Paige and Woodbury received offers from North Carolina.

But Paige couldn’t pass what Woodbury called Paige’s “dream school” and went to North Carolina.

“I think he was starting to buy in,” Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery said. “But at the same time, he had Carolina calling, and that was, I think in his mind, an opportunity he couldn’t pass up at that time.”

Neither Gesell nor Woodbury is worried about emotions boiling up when they play their former teammate. They both realize the threat of what Paige — a 2014 preseason All-American — can do on the floor outweighs any past ties the three have.

“I saw something special in him when I laced up for our first game together,” Woodbury said. “You could tell right away that he was going to be really good.”

The number of past matchups in today’s game is abnormal. During his days at Linn Mar high school, Paige played Jarrod Uthoff, Josh Oglesby, and Gesell on numerous occasions.

More often than not, Paige won, including the last time Gesell and Paige played each other.

In an 81-62 defeat, Paige’s Linn Mar team defeated Gesell’s South Sioux City (Nebraska), ending his high-school basketball career.

Wednesday’s game will be the first matchup between the two since then.

“He got the better of me last time,” Gesell said. “It’ll be fun to get that matchup again.”

Follow @JacobSheyko on Twitter for updates, news, and analysis about the Iowa basketball team.


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