IOWA CITY, Iowa – Something special happened at the Iowa men’s basketball team’s annual media day event earlier this month.
While star freshman forward Tyler Cook basked in the glare of the spotlight, Cordell Pemsl stood more in the background, content on just being a Hawkeye, but happy for his new teammate and friend.
Pemsl is living a dream by playing basketball for the University of Iowa.
He is also a freshman forward and similar in size to Cook, who is listed at 6-foot-9 and 253 pounds.
Some kids might resent the attention given to a new teammate and fellow recruit, but that doesn’t appear to be Pemsl’s style.
The Dubuque native raved about Cook’s potential at media day, almost as much as Iowa coach Fran McCaffery, who has a tendency to spread it on thick.
Pemsl didn’t seem bothered that Cook was being promoted as Iowa’s next star. Pemsl almost seem to embrace it.
And that’s a good sign.
“I think it’s even crazier that he’s not even at his full potential yet,” Pemsl said of Cook. “I mean honestly, he’s raw. He’s doing everything off talent right now. So once he gets the coaching that he needs and the practice at this high Big Ten level, the ceiling is very high for him.”
Pemsl sounds more like a coach promoting a player than a teammate and fellow classmate who might actually compete with Cook for playing time.
That says a lot about Pemsl’s maturity and unselfishness, but also about the chemistry on this year’s team and within the five-player freshmen class.
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery told reporters on Thursday at the Big Ten Media Day event in Washington D.C. that his team has great chemistry, and that his players respect each other and will hold each other accountable.
“They feel good about themselves and like who they are surrounded by," McCaffery said. "There is a respect factor."
Along with McCaffery, Iowa was represented at media day by all-Big Ten senior guard Peter Jok and senior forward Dale Jones, who only played in six games last season before suffering a season-ending knee injury.
The respect factor seems especially strong between Pemsl and Cook, who in addition to being teammates also live together on campus.
If Pemsl is jealous of Cook, he did an exceptional job at Iowa’s media day event earlier this month to hide it. Pemsl almost went out of his way to talk about Cook’s talent.
And it’s not as if Pemsl is some pushover.
He brings his own skill set and dreams to college.
Injuries were about the only thing to stop Pemsl at Dubuque Wahlert High School where he made first-team all-state three times and graduated as the school’s all-time leading scorer with 1,611 career points. But he is now healthy and eager to represent the team he has cheered for all his life.
Pemsl is big enough at 6-8 and 249 pounds to bang inside, but he also has some finesse to his game, including a soft jumper from about 15 feet.
He and Cook could easily play together, too, because of their size and versatility.
It is unlikely that all five of Iowa’s freshmen will make significant contributions this season. But there is opportunity for playing time with four senior starters gone from last season.
Iowa’s other three freshmen are 6-9 power forward Ryan Kriener, 6-6 shooting guard Maishe Dailey and 6-0 point guard Jordan Bohannon.
Pemsl and Cook will only be college teammates for fours year at the most, but will be friends forever. They represent the current and future of the Iowa basketball program.
The two of them learning to play together will be crucial to Iowa’s success this season and beyond.
It starts with a mutual respect and admiration, which was obvious at media day.
Performance and time ultimately will determine what kind of player Pemsl is for the Hawkeyes. As a teammate, though, he already seems top-notch.