BY JOHN BOHNENKAMP
DONNELLSON – Mike Gesell remembers wanting to be a basketball player.
It’s why the former Iowa point guard likes making appearances like the one he made on Wednesday at Central Lee High School’s boys basketball camp.
“When I was growing up I wanted to play at the next level,” said Gesell, who played at Iowa from 2012-16. “Every chance I got to learn from someone or play with someone who had done it, I just tried to soak it in. Now I try to give back some of my experiences, help these kids as much as I can.”
“Anyone can make it with hard work,” Gesell said. “I’m from a small town, this is a small town. It doesn’t matter where you come from, it doesn’t matter your background, if you put in the work, you’re going to have the chance to be great. Whether it’s basketball or something else, just those habits of hard work can transfer over to any area of life.”
Gesell, fifth all-time on Iowa’s assist list with 557, works as a financial adviser in the Quad Cities. He played one season of professional basketball in Denmark after his career, but decided to return home.“
I’m kind of a homebody, a Midwest guy,” he said. “Once the NBA dream wasn’t there, I was ready to move on.“
I miss (playing) a lot. I tell people all of the time, I don’t necessarily miss pro basketball — I only played one year overseas, and I decided that was enough for me. I really miss my Iowa days. Coach (Fran) McCaffery, when he was recruiting me, told me and my parents in my first meeting, he said, “These four years at Iowa, they are going to be the best four years of your life.’ He wasn’t wrong. I miss those days, for sure.”
Gesell also spoke with members of the Central Lee boys basketball team.“I said, ‘Every successful team I’ve been on has been a really close-knit group,’” he said. “To this day, I’m still friends with all of my teammates. Your four years at Iowa, you spend literally every waking moment with your teammates. You get to be really close with them.”
Gesell tries to get to as many Iowa basketball home games as possible, but didn’t get that chance this season because of the restrictions placed on attendance due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Gesell did get to see the team play at the Big Ten tournament, but that was it. The Hawkeyes won 22 games and were a 2 seed in the NCAA tournament, falling to Oregon in the second round.
“It was so much fun watching them,” he said. “They had so much talent. It was such a hard year. A normal Big Ten season is so tough, so mentally demanding. To go in a year where you’re isolated most of the year, you can’t get away and go see family, and get a break at any point, that’s hard, and the average person doesn’t realize that. My hat’s off to those guys, how professional they were all year. They played their butts off all year.”
There were times, Gesell said, when he wondered what it was like to play in a season like this.
“Every year we would do a closed scrimmage before the season, and there wouldn’t be fans there, and it would feel so weird,” he said. “I can’t imagine the real games. It’s really different.”