Cordell Pemsl already making big impact for Iowa basketball

Mark Emmert

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Cordell Pemsl has worked his way into Iowa’s starting lineup and will find out Saturday what it’s like to be featured prominently in an opposing team’s scouting report.

The freshman forward is coming off an 18-point game in which he made eight out of nine shots. That effort puts Pemsl atop the Big Ten Conference with 74.2 percent accuracy from the floor. Heady stuff for a kid from Dubuque who has played in only seven Division I games.

But Pemsl’s success certainly won’t be lost on the coaching staff at Nebraska-Omaha (3-4), which faces Iowa (3-4) at 1 p.m. Saturday. The next step will be to deal with a defensive scheme intent on limiting his touches in the paint.

Iowa forward Cordell Pemsl makes one of his eight baskets, over Notre Dame's V.J. Beachem, on Tuesday. The Dubuque native is leading the Big Ten Conference in field-goal percentage at 74.2.

“I might see doubles. I might see a lot of fronting and stuff like that that are going to try to take me out of my comfort zone,” Pemsl said Friday. “But I think I’m capable of getting the ball and producing for my teammates as well.”

Pemsl has scored 18 points in two games this season — against Savannah State and at Notre Dame in Tuesday’s 92-78 loss. Those are also the only games in which Pemsl has recorded an assist. He had three each time. The surprisingly nimble 6-foot-8, 249-pounder has shown he can be a deft passer.

“Even if he's not scoring, you can still run your offense through him because he's such a good passer, and I think he'll start doing that a lot more when he starts seeing more attention,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery predicted Friday.

Pemsl will remain in the starting lineup, along with longtime friend and fellow freshman Jordan Bohannon at point guard. Pemsl’s ascension was the result of a broken finger suffered by Tyler Cook, who is expected to miss three weeks after having surgery on the digit. Cook was averaging 13.7 points and 5.3 rebounds per game, both second on the team. Pemsl said he doesn’t feel extra pressure to fill that statistical void.

“I hate to see him go down, but this is an opportunity that God gave me to go out there and show not only the coaches and my teammates, but everyone, what I’m capable of doing,” Pemsl said.

Bohannon, who scored a career-high 23 points while also making his first career start at Notre Dame, has known all along what Pemsl can do. Pemsl’s shooting percentage is even more remarkable when you consider that it’s not inflated by a bunch of dunks. Rather, it’s been good old-fashioned positioning and working the angles that have led to success.

“He hasn’t changed much,” said Bohannon, who played with Pemsl for four years on the AAU circuit. “As you can tell from the Notre Dame game, he has pretty high energy, really gets into it, and that’s what I really like about him. It helps knowing where he is on the court. I can get him the ball. I know he’s going to catch it.”

Bohannon assisted on three of Pemsl’s baskets at Notre Dame. Pemsl returned the favor on Bohannon’s opening 3-pointer of the second half. The chemistry was evident.

“There was a few times in that last game where I was going down the floor and a pass that he would have made to someone else might have resulted in a turnover or something,” Pemsl said of Bohannon, who played at Linn-Mar. “But I knew where the ball was going to be and he knew that I would be there for the catch.”

No one is expecting Pemsl to shoot 74 percent for an entire season. “That would probably be a record,” McCaffery acknowledged with a sly understatement.

But the rookie already seems poised beyond his years. It’s doubtful that he’s going to get out of control, either.

“I know what shots I need to take and what shots are smart shots and what I’m capable of doing. I just know I’m not going to get out of my comfort zone and try to take shots that I think are too complicated when I can give it up and find a better shot for my teammate,” Pemsl said. “That’s the goal is to keep it up there at 74, 75. At the end of the day, I’m just going to take the shot I know I’m capable of making.”