116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
VINTON — On the list of places to run into a former Iowa men's basketball player, a dirt track in rural Eastern Iowa would not normally be high on the list.
But that's exactly where former Hawkeyes point guard Mike Gesell found himself on Sunday afternoon.
Gesell was at Benton County Speedway in Vinton to watch his brother-in-law Brunson Behning race his IMCA Late Model to a fourth-place finish at the Urbana 5 Memorial. It wasn't his first trip to the races, either. And while it's not his home turf, Gesell said he enjoys the world he married into.
'I kind of married into a racing family, so it's been a lot of fun to learn about the sport and get to see it up close,' Gesell said. 'It just amazes me.'
Gesell was at Benton County Speedway for the first time, but he's no longer a stranger to being at dirt tracks in general.
His wife, Kennedy, is from Bettendorf, and her sister, Katelynn, married Behning, who is from Davenport. The whole clan has spent many Friday nights at Davenport Speedway — Gesell included. Gesell said he's really enjoyed spending time there — Sunday night included toy car races in the pits with nephew Brantley between Behning's races — and he's endeared himself to the racing crowd.
He caught the attention of a few Hawkeye fans in Vinton, and has even appeared in a few Victory Lane photos in the past at Davenport with Cedar Rapids driver Tony Olson, who is dating Behning's sister Bryanna.
'I'd never been to a dirt track race before I met my wife, and I had always thought of racing as NASCAR,' Gesell said. 'This is honestly a lot cooler to me, the way they race these cars (on dirt).'
Gesell is back in Iowa for the summer after his first season of professional basketball in Denmark wrapped up.
The South Sioux City, Neb., native signed with the Bakken Bears in Aarhus, Denmark, last August after a four-year career at Iowa in which he finished with 8.0 points, 4.2 assists and 2.4 rebounds per game. Gesell vaulted into a starting role with Bakken in his first season, helping lead the Bears to the Danish Basketligaen championship with a 34-5 record. The Bears also played in the first-year Basketball Champions League, going 3-13 — including two losses to Aris BC from Greece, which pitted Gesell against former teammate Devyn Marble.
He finished the season with 10.4 points, 4.4 assists and 2.5 rebounds per game while shooting 52.5 percent from the field and 36.6 percent from 3-point range. Aside from what he called a 'tough transition' being so far from home and family, Gesell said he felt like he excelled in the European game.
'It was fun and it was interesting,' Gesell said. 'On the court, Iowa really prepared me to compete at a high level over there. The international game is a little different, but I enjoyed it a lot. It definitely did suit me. They play a lot of unselfish basketball; not a lot of one-on-one, and that's definitely my game. I think I fit in well over there.'
Gesell said he's excited about what's next for his career, even if he's not sure where or with whom it will be.
So for now, he said he'll stay in the gym — with trips to Eastern Iowa dirt tracks to support his brother-in-law tossed in — and try to stay in the best shape possible while his next move is to be determined.
'I'm just working out this summer and seeing what opportunities come; I don't have any plans yet,' Gesell said. 'I'll probably be in Europe for sure, but I don't know what country. I probably won't know until around mid-July or August. It's really up in the air. My agent is really working for me, trying to get me a good job. I just have to be patient and stay ready.'
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