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NORTH LIBERTY — As a Dubuque Wahlert student, Cordell Pemsl wondered at times if his basketball career was at a crossroads.
In his sophomore year, Pemsl had surgery on a torn meniscus. Six months later, he tore it again. Instead of going through another medical procedure and waiting for the inevitable third tear, Pemsl sought the advice of University of Iowa doctors. He elected for a surgery that required a broken femur and leg realignment.
Doubt crept into Pemsl’s mind. Insecurity. Emotions already zip through teenagers’ minds at an astounding rate. With his basketball future at stake, the 6-foot-8, 249-pound Pemsl was fearful.
“When I found out I was going to have that surgery, I would second-guess myself,” said Pemsl, an incoming Iowa freshman power forward. “Every night I’d go to bed and I was like, ‘Is this the best I’m ever going to be? Am I going to be a good high school player and that’s it?’”
On May 14, 2015, UI head team physician Dr. Brian Wolf operated on Pemsl’s right knee.
“After that surgery, I was still feeling those things a couple of weeks into it,” Pemsl said. “But once I started getting up off the table with rehab, and I started doing real physical things, that’s when I knew everything went well.”
“Within six months, Pemsl was back on the basketball court for Wahlert. In the competitive Mississippi Valley Conference, Pemsl averaged 21.3 points and 10.5 rebounds in leading the Eagles to the Class 3A state finals. His leg wasn’t perfect, but it was improved.
This summer, Pemsl competes in every workout and plays in the summer Prime Time League, in which he led his team to the championship. Late in the first half, opponent Jeremy Morgan’s knee struck the metal in Pemsl’s knee. Pemsl, who didn’t wear his usual knee pad, appeared in pain and left the game but returned after two minutes on the bench,
“It was just more of a shock and scary,” Pemsl said. “Everything’s fine.”
Strengthening his knee is part of Pemsl’s focus as he vies for a spot in Iowa’s rotation.
“He’ll get more and more confident on that leg and you’re seeing it,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said. “He’s just playing the way that we knew that he could. He’s very impressive.”
Pemsl committed to Iowa as a high school sophomore, when he led Wahlert to the first of consecutive Class 3A state titles. He averages 17.3 points a game as a junior but missed the final seven games because of his knee injury. Pemsl ended his Wahlert career ranked first in scoring (1,611 points), second in rebounds (878) and seventh in assists (184).
With his early commitment, Pemsl spent significant time around the Hawkeyes. He’s now excited he can play for them.
“It was hard to come down six weekends during the football season and things like that but not get to go work out or get to go be with the team,” he said. “It’s been a long wait. Two years is a long time. Not a lot of kids commit when they’re sophomores.
“I used my time wisely, I had a lot of fun playing with my high school team, but I’m ready to be here now.”
With Iowa graduating four starters, playing time is available at every position. Pemsl figures to compete for minutes in the post.
“He’s got really good instincts,” McCaffery said. “His skill level is very good. You look at a guy that’s 6-8, 240, but he can really pass it he can put it on the deck, he can score, he’s got a low-post game, he can play facing the basket. He just knows how to play.”
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