Iowa freshman PG Clemmons emerges as starter
IOWA CITY (AP) — Freshman Mike Gesell was Iowa's future point guard long before he even joined theHawkeyes.
But just seven games into what many thought would be a four-year stint, Gesell has ceded his position to an unlikely classmate.
Coach Fran McCaffery hasn't lost faith in Gesell — not by a long shot. It's just that fellow freshman Anthony Clemmons has been a revelation as the primary ball handler for the Hawkeyes (8-2).
Clemmons was given a shot at point guard after Gesell strung together a pair of underwhelming performances against top-notch competition and he took advantage: Clemmons has 21 assists against just two turnovers in three starts, all wins. Clemmons will again start alongside Gesell, for now a shooting guard, when Iowa plays Northern Iowa (6-3) on Saturday in Des Moines in the inaugural Big 4 Classic.
"Any time you have a guy with those kinds of numbers, everybody around him settles down. There's no panic in anybody," McCaffery said of Clemmons.
Being overlooked is nothing new to Clemmons. The 6-foot-1 native of Lansing, Mich., wasn't heavily recruited in high school despite a well-deserved reputation as a winner. Sexton High won a pair of state title and finished as the runner-up in three seasons with Clemmons as the starter.
Clemmons had 14.7 points, 4.5 assists, 4 rebounds and 2.4 steals a game as a senior and was the first-team All-State point guard of a state championship team. But Michigan State's Tom Izzo barely looked his way — as did most Big Ten coaches — and instead gave a scholarship to his teammate, shooting guard Denzel Valentine.
McCaffery wasn't initially convinced either, as Clemmons tended to get a bit lost in the eyes of recruiters because Sexton was so loaded with talent.
McCaffery needed to see Clemmons play about half a dozen times before he began to see all the little things he could do to help his team win.
Clemmons's teammates have learned to appreciate what he can do for them.
"We basically battle it out every day. He's a great defender and he's helped my game personally just going against someone like that in practice," Gesell said. "I think we complement each other very well."
Gesell, out of South Sioux City, Neb., joined Sioux City, Iowa, freshman center Adam Woodbury as the headliners of this freshman class. Even though Gesell isn't currently the point guard, he's already proven too talented to sit.
Gesell had just two points, three turnovers and zero assists in Iowa's first loss of the year, 75-63 to Wichita State in Cancun last month. He was nearly as underwhelming the next time out as surprising Virginia Tech blew past the Hawkeyes 95-79 in Blacksburg.
But since moving over to allow Clemmons a starting spot, Gesell has started to find his scoring touch.
Gesell is averaging 11 points per game in his last three, and McCaffery made it a point to praise him after Friday night's 80-71 win over Iowa State.
Gesell had a terrible night from the floor, finishing just 2 of 10. But he buried all six of his free throws in scored all but two of his 11 points in the second half as Iowa rallied after blowing a 14-point lead.
"He can get his own shot. He can shoot off screens. He shoots the 3. He can shoot in transition, make plays in transition," McCaffery said of Gesell. "I think he knows he can play either position. I think he wants to help our team win and he's accepting of his role, regardless of what that is. He's been really good there."
The Hawkeyes still have a few weeks before their Big Ten season opens on New Year's Eve with a home showdown against No. 1 Indiana.
There will be plenty of time to figure out who does what the ball by then. For now, Iowa can simply move forward knowing it has two freshman guards who've already shown they can play.
"Me and Anthony play very well out there on the court," Gesell said. "I'm comfortable at either (point guard) or (shooting guard). Whatever is best for the team."