Iowa Hawkeyes' Cordell Pemsl on cycle of surgeries: 'I'm hoping this is where it ends'

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Another summer. another surgery. Another stream of tiresome questions for Cordell Pemsl.

“This summer has been really hard on me, just because I’ve done it every year and I want that cycle to end. I’m hoping this is where it ends,” the Iowa forward told reporters Wednesday after yet another offseason spent rehabbing.

Pemsl had two knee surgeries while starring at Dubuque Wahlert. He recovered from the second just in time for his Hawkeye debut last fall, wearing a knee brace merely as a precaution. Soon after, he felt a twinge in his groin, and the pain never really went away.

Pemsl played his entire freshman season with the discomfort, and still averaged 8.9 points and 5.0 rebounds. He was one of the surprise revelations on a young Iowa team.

Iowa's Cordell Pemsl (left) jokes with assistant coach Sherman Dillard during practice at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Wednesday. Pemsl returned to practice this week after offseason hernia surgery.

But Pemsl had paid a price, and by the springtime he had to undergo a sports hernia surgery. Another eight weeks of agonizing inactivity followed, as he watched his teammates get better.

“It’s hard mentally to keep locked in and to really understand that there’s a reason behind everything. I knew there was going to be a long process,” Pemsl said. “Being able to actually fine-tune your game in the summer, that’s when you’re supposed to do it. It puts you a little behind.”

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Pemsl returned to practice Monday, as the Hawkeyes prepare for a four-game, three-nation European trip. He said he was able to do everything he wanted to on the court, but reported soreness in his legs and planned to take it a little easier in Wednesday’s practice.

As for playing against the European professional teams, Pemsl said he’s going to be cautious.

“I’m just going to see where this takes me,” he said. “If I play in Europe, I do. If not, then I’m there to support the guys, support the freshmen who are allowed to play and give them an opportunity.”

Pemsl acknowledged he wasn’t sure who would make the ultimate decision about whether he’s a spectator or participant in the four games, scheduled for Aug. 8 in Germany, Aug. 10 in Switzerland, and Aug. 12 and 14 in Italy.

“When he's been on the floor, he's been spectacular, explosive,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said of Pemsl, a 6-foot-8 sophomore. “But we just said, 'Hey, you've got to slow it down. There is no rush here.' If he plays on this trip, it's great. If he doesn't, I don't think anybody cares. He's coming. But based on how he's done the last few days, he'll play, and he'll play well.”

Hawkeyes forward Tyler Cook, a fellow sophomore and Pemsl’s roommate, said he’s been amazed at how well his friend has handled his forced basketball hiatus.

“He’s been through it before. I just think his mind is in the right place. His mindset has been awesome,” Cook said. “He’s handling it like a pro.”

Cook said he became aware late last season that Pemsl was playing through a nagging groin problem. He kept telling Pemsl: “Imagine what you can do when you’re healthy.”

“I cannot not play, if that makes sense,” Pemsl explained. “I could feel it all the time, but I wanted to play so bad and I wasn’t doing bad either. So I was just like, I’ve got to tough it out.”

Pemsl said he gets his perpetually upbeat attitude from his mother, Katy. But he also acknowledged that he sometimes wonders if his injury problems are chronic. He noted his knee hasn’t bothered him since his last surgery, so that gives him hope that a turning point is possible.

His proof of that may come this month — if he is cleared to play.

“I’ll be disappointed (if he doesn’t play) just because I love basketball and I want to get out and play as much as I can,” Pemsl said.

“I’d rather be ready in November than play in four games in Europe.”


The Iowa men's basketball team leaves Sunday for an 11-day trip to Germany, Switzerland and Italy. The Hawkeyes will play four exhibition games interspersed with sightseeing trips. The opponents will consist of all-star teams of local professionals, using European rules. The games won't be broadcast, but results will be posted at The schedule of games:

Aug. 8 — vs. German All-Stars in Heidelberg, 1 p.m. CDT

Aug. 10 — vs. Swiss All-Stars in Baden, 1 p.m. CDT

Aug. 12 — vs. Milan All-Stars in Vedano, Italy, 1 p.m. CDT

Aug. 14 — vs. Vicenza All-Stars in Vicenza, Italy, 12:30 p.m. CDT