IOWA CITY, Ia. — Cordell Pemsl is feeling so comfortable these days that he sauntered into a room full of reporters Thursday with his dog, Lucy, in tow.
Iowa teammate Ryan Kriener paused in the middle of his interview and laughed at the sight. Pemsl has always marched to the beat of his own drum. He didn’t want to leave the dog he’s owned for five years home alone, he explained. Lucy was on her best behavior, later wandering over to lay down by CJ Fredrick’s feet during his interview.
As for Pemsl, the Hawkeye forward has been cleared to fully participate in summer workouts after having a third knee surgery last winter. He’s added 15 pounds to get back to 245 on his 6-foot-8 frame and reports no more pain in his leg.
“I feel comfortable moving at this weight. I feel good moving my feet on the perimeter,” Pemsl said after sitting out almost all of last season to rehabilitate. He’ll have two years of eligibility left.
Pemsl’s latest surgery was to remove some hardware left behind from the one that preceded it. He noticed consistent nagging pain and just wanted to be done with it.
“I think that was probably one of the best decisions I’ve made,” Pemsl said, even though it meant he missed out on a season that saw the Hawkeyes reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time in three years.
Pemsl could only watch as his teammates beat Cincinnati in their opening game before falling in overtime to second-seeded Tennessee in the second round. Watching was motivation for the Dubuque native, however.
“Especially in that Tennessee game, I just felt like I could have just brought something that could have put us over the edge, and it’s hard when you’re in a suit and tie,” Pemsl said. “But I just knew that my time would come — and it’s still not here, but we’re still working.”
And Pemsl is finally working pain-free.
“I’m confident that I can still go out there and continue to be a player that can make a huge impact at this level,” he said. “As long as you tell yourself that and you work for that, then it will happen.”
Fredrick adds weight and facets to his game
Fredrick sat out last year as well, but not for medical reasons. The rookie shooting guard didn’t feel he was ready to play at the Big Ten Conference level with a mere 170 pounds on his 6-foot-3 frame.
Fredrick’s at 195 now, and the native of Cincinnati is eager to show he’s a well-rounded player.
“I consider myself a really good shooter, but I would say, through this past season, I’m definitely more than that now,” Fredrick said.
The redshirt freshman has a simple but lofty goal: to replace the departed Isaiah Moss as Iowa’s starting shooting guard. Moss transferred to Kansas after three years of starting. But point guard Jordan Bohannon also may miss this season after hip surgery.
So Fredrick, who admits to feeling more comfortable on the wing, has been working to play both spots. There are minutes available, and he is eager to prove himself worthy of earning them.
Fredrick said he’s become a much better ball-handler, passer and defender in his year away from the competition. He’s worked on adding double-moves, jab-steps and floaters to his offensive arsenal, knowing he needs to be more than just a standstill shooter.
As for the added weight: “It helps with playmaking a lot more than people think,” Fredrick said. “Just know when you have that first step and you’re getting by somebody, he’s on your hip, and you have the strength to shield him off and make sure you’re not pushing off.”
Billy Taylor can't say no to Fran McCaffery
Billy Taylor has run his own college basketball programs for 14 seasons. But whenever Fran McCaffery comes calling, Taylor can’t stay away.
That’s why Taylor is back in Iowa City for a third stint on a McCaffery-coached team.
“That just tells you what kind of recruiter he is,” Taylor said of the 10-year Hawkeye head coach. “You want to be around the right kind of people.”
Taylor played at Notre Dame when McCaffery was an assistant there. He later was an assistant at North Carolina-Greensboro under McCaffery. At age 28, McCaffery helped Taylor land his first head coaching job, at Lehigh. He was there for five years. He coached Ball State for six years.
Taylor was Iowa’s director of basketball operations for three years before taking the top job at Division II Belmont Abbey. And now, he’s back with his friend after longtime assistant Andrew Francis left the Hawkeyes for California this offseason.
Among the players Taylor will help coach this season: his godson, Patrick McCaffery, Fran’s middle son and a freshman forward.
“I love being a head coach,” Taylor said when asked why he made the move.
“Fran obviously values guys that have been head coaches, guys that understand the pressures and the expectations of the job and won’t flinch in that environment. He gives a tremendous amount of autonomy. He’s not a micro-manager.”
Mark Emmert covers University of Iowa athletics for the Des Moines Register and Iowa City Press-Citizen.