Gesell’s play improves despite injury


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Limited. Restricted. Incomplete. These are words we should be using to describe Iowa guard Mike Gesell’s play after he hyperextended his right elbow in a practice nearly two weeks ago.

Instead, words and phrases such as rising, efficient, and perhaps the best basketball of his career are more accurate in describing the last three games for Gesell, who now dons a black sleeve to protect his arm from further injury.

An injury is supposed to lower one’s level of play, but with Gesell, it’s raised it to a level perhaps not reached since he donned the black and gold two-and-a-half years ago.

“Sometimes, basketball is funny. When you want to score and when you’re trying to score, you don’t score,” forward Aaron White said. “And vice versa, when you don’t try to score, you move the ball, all of a sudden you look up, and you’ve got 12, you’ve got 14.

“… It sounds crazy, but I think [the injury] has brought the best out of him. I think he’s really using his mind more.”

White’s assessment isn’t crazy, or at least it doesn’t look like it, judging from the numbers.

In the three games since injuring his shooting elbow, Gesell has averaged 10 points and 4.6 assists per game, while shooting 57.6 percent from the field.

The biggest difference in his game has come from his limitations. With his injury, shooting from distance is more difficult, and it has shown. He has attempted just two 3s in the past three games, and one of them was in desperation late against Wisconsin.

In comparison, he averaged 2.4 3-point attempts per game before the injury.

“I’m just trying to be extremely aggressive out there,” Gesell said. “I feel like, when I’m being aggressive at the point-guard position, it opens so much up for the other guys.”

His recent upward trend in his numbers is not merely a result of his injury; the junior guard’s play has gradually gotten better since the conference season started.

After struggling in nonconference play, he is averaging 8.5 points, 3.5 assists, and 2.1 rebounds per game in Iowa’s 10 Big Ten contests.

More importantly, he’s shooting 51.4 percent from the floor and 61.1 percent on 2-point field-goal attempts, which is the best clip on the team during the Big Ten slate.

White said Gesell’s early troubles might have had something to do with pressing and feeling the need to replace the scoring absence of Devyn Marble, noting that it was purely speculative.

However, Gesell’s recent play has displayed the difference between aggressiveness — which he’s showcasing now — and pressing — which may have crept in early in the season.

“Well, he’s attacking the basket, whether it be for himself or for someone else,” head coach Fran McCaffery said after Gesell finished with a career-high 9 assists against Maryland on Sunday. “And I think that’s critical for any offense.”

Gesell said that the injury hasn’t limited him too much. However, it has changed his mindset of getting back to what he does best, which in his mind is his mid-range jumper.

“I feel like that’s always been the bread-and-butter of my game,” he said. “I’ve been looking for that shot a lot more. It’s allowed me to play to my strengths more.”

For White, one play stood out that characterized Gesell’s play recently.

Midway through the first half of Iowa’s second loss to Wisconsin, Gesell drove right to the hoop but was quickly met by arguably the best player in college basketball, Frank Kaminsky.

Reacting to the presence of a 7-footer in the lane, Gesell circled around from under the basket, came out the other end, pumped faked Kaminsky into the air, and scooped a left-handed lay-up underneath him for 2 points.

White later joked with Gesell, saying that he didn’t think he would have made that move with a healthy elbow. Instead, White believed Gesell would have opted to drive hard and try to finish over Kaminsky with his right hand.

“Just stuff like that,” White said. “He’s a junior; he’s a mature player. But he’s getting a lot craftier with his game, and it’s helping all of us.”

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

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