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February 19, 2013When Iowa takes the court against Nebraska this week - Thursday night or whenever it may be depending on the weather - a familiar face for many Husker fans will be suited up in black and gold.
Those fans will also likely be left with a sick feeling over thoughts of what could have been had former in-state high school standout Mike Gesell stayed home to play at NU.
The South Sioux City (Neb.) star was one of the most coveted Nebraska hoops prospects in years two summers ago, but he opted to sign with the Hawkeyes over the Huskers just before the start of his senior year. Missing out on the Rivals150 point guard was definitely a tough pill to swallow for NU, and it arguably played a big role in the eventual firing of then-head coach Doc Sadler.
While new head coach Tim Miles took over well after Gesell made his way to Iowa City, he too couldn't help but wonder how much the 2011-12 Gatorade Nebraska Player of Year could have helped the Huskers this season and beyond.
"I think he's a heck of a player," Miles said. "He's really impressive. I think he's a heady player. The first thing you notice is he makes good decisions, I think. He finds guys in the window off screen and roll, he delivers the ball, he can make shots. I think he's an excellent player and he's going to be a really good player in the Big Ten. I think (Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery) and his staff did an excellent job recruiting him, and he's a great fit for their program."
As many expected, Gesell has made an immediate impact for Iowa as a true freshman. He's started all 26 games this season and ranks third on the team with 9.1 points per game along with a team-high 1.2 steals per game. While running the point, Gesell ranks 15th in the Big Ten Conference with 2.8 assists per contest to help the Hawkeyes average 72.2 points per game, third most in the league.
Gesell's numbers were already impressive for a true freshman, but even more so when factoring in that he's done it while playing two different positions. After starting the year at point guard, McCaffery temporarily moved Gesell over to shooting guard to try and give the Hawkeyes a little more offensive firepower.
He's since moved back to point guard, but McCaffery said Gesell gained noticeable confidence as a scorer during his stint at the two spot.
"He's had a tremendous impact, which is what I thought he would," McCaffery said. "It's been an interesting year for him because he was our starting point guard and I moved him to the off guard and then moved him back to the point. While I think it's not an easy thing to do for a freshman, he's done it incredibly well. I think what it did, it made him more aggressive as a point guard in terms of scoring by moving him to the two. He wasn't shooting enough, quite frankly, early in the season. He was playing great point guard, but I moved him to the two because I needed some pop over there.
"When Mike came back to the point, he was shooting the ball well and he was shooting the ball well again. You look at his turnover numbers (in Sunday's double-overtime loss to Wisconsin) in particular, I don't think he had any. So he's really, really coming into his own at that position, and he's scoring. We need that."