IOWA CITY — It was three years ago now and some may have forgotten, but Cordell Pemsl was an important part of the Iowa men’s basketball team in the first game of his first season.
Fresh out of Dubuque Wahlert, Pemsl had 10 points and six rebounds in his college debut against Kennesaw State, then had 18 and nine against Savannah State. He followed that with three more early-season games of at least 18 points, one against Notre Dame.
The 6-9, 245-pound forward averaged 8.9 points and 5.0 rebounds, good stuff for a freshman big guy. He had 14 points in each of Iowa’s last two Big Ten games that season.
“I’d honestly say that latter portion of my freshman year is kind of like the beast I want to get back to, where I was just dominant, I was confident,” Pemsl said Wednesday, “I felt like I wasn’t going to back down to anybody.
“That’s got to be the big thing I want to get back to, just having that swagger and getting that confidence back.”
He dropped to 5.7 points and 4.5 rebounds per game his sophomore year when Iowa went 14-19. “We struggled individually and as a team,” Pemsl said.
Then came a double-whammy, half of it self-inflicted. Pemsl needed knee surgery late in 2018, and had to take a medical redshirt after appearing in just two games. Then two months ago, he was arrested on a charge of operating while intoxicated, and was suspended from team activities for a while and also was kept out of his team’s exhibition game and regular-season opener.
So he has played a total of 23 minutes over two games this season and still is seeking his first basket. His team could use the freshman Pemsl, especially starting next week when a string of seven straight challenging games starts with a Thanksgiving Day game against Texas Tech in Las Vegas.
“I just feel still, I guess, clunky,” Pemsl said. “Just kind of not into my normal rhythm. I’m trying to get back to the old Cordell with my flow and my smoothness, going out on the floor and just playing my style and my game.
“I feel like I’m closer to that with every game I play in, but I just want to get back to how I can play and get back that rhythm.”
Pemsl didn’t flinch when discussing his OWI, saying “I’m a grown-up. I’m 22 years old. I know what’s right and wrong and I chose to do wrong that night.
“It wasn’t an easy time for myself or our team or even the program itself. I know what I did wrong and I learned from that mistake.”
Pemsl doesn’t talk about X number of points or Y number or rebounds. He has always played with passion and been an enthusiastic teammate.
“I pride myself as a guy that kind of wears their emotion on their sleeves. There’s not a lot of guys on our team that do that. Sometimes you just need that little extra. You see someone dive for that loose ball or get up and start yelling, stuff like that. It’s contagious. That’s just something I want to do.”
Pemsl gets an opportunity to provide rhythm, flow and emotion Thursday when the 2-1 Hawkeyes host North Florida (4-1) at 6 p.m.
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