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IOWA CITY, Iowa At first blush, Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemmons have little in common other than their 6-foot-1 height.
Gesell hails from South Sioux City, Neb., a small town on the Missouri River's west side. Clemmons comes from Lansing, Mich. Gesell has a sleek build and sprinter speed. Clemmons is physical with running back quickness.
"We definitely bring different things to the table," Gesell said.
But the freshmen point guards have the most important common trait, and that's winning. Both earned state titles with their high schools. Both have confidence that they can provide leadership and a valuable skill set to Iowa this season despite their youth.
Clemmons averaged 14.7 points and 4.5 assists a game as a senior while leading Lansing Sexton to the Michigan Class B state title. He was an all-stater last year and a three-year starter.
He's also tough-minded. He played strong safety on his high school football team and likes contact.
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Mike Gesell, (left), hustles to get the shot off before Anthony Clemmons blocks his shot during their game at the REC Center in North Liberty, Iowa, on Sunday, July 15, 2012. (Nikole Hanna/The Gazette-KCRG)
"The defensive aspects, the physicality, I can bang and take a couple of shots when I go into the paint," Clemmons said. "I think it actually helps me when I'm elevating, being able to take a punch and actually finish. I think that football helped me a lot."
Football also gave the 18-year-old Clemmons his lifelong nickname. He played defensive tackle as a 7-year-old in a tackle football league and was unstoppable. He wore No. 99 and his future high school coach gave him the nickname "Baby Sapp."
"I was actually a chubby, stocky kid and I'd say I was almost unstoppable because I was quick and could get through the line real fast," Clemmons said. "Once I grew, they just started calling me 'Sapp.'"
Clemmons transitioned that football toughness into basketball wins in high school. In workouts he's earned respect from his new teammates, including Gesell, who faces him every day.
"He's definitely a great defender," Gesell said. "That's helped me in practice. I feel like I'm maybe a little bit better shooter. He's great at getting to the basket. We're definitely going to complement each other very well."
Gesell, 18, was a four-star, top-100 Rivals recruit and twice was named the Gatorade Player of the Year in Nebraska. He averaged 25.1 points, 7.4 assists, 6.0 rebounds and 2.9 steals a game and is the all-time points leader in Sioux City-area history with 2,112.
Gesell also ranked first in his graduating class and finished with a 4.0 GPA. He followed up with A's in summer school.
"If you know him, and if you're around him at all and this is a very strong statement there have been very few, if any more focused athletes I've ever been around," Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said. "Very similar to Matt Gatens in that respect, and I could name some of the great players that I've had over the years. Talk about having the ability to focus and keep your day in order.
"Also, and I use this term about him a lot, he's got the greatest case of amnesia I've ever seen. If he does turn it over or misses a shot, it's like it never happened. He's on to the next play and on to the next challenge. That is truly something that we often times try to encourage our guys to be like that."
The freshmen compete against one another in workouts and practice. Gesell surprised Clemmons with his athletic ability and mental toughness.
"Mike, he's a fabulous scorer," Clemmons said. "He can score in a variety of ways. He can take you off the dribble, pull-ups, step back, actually dunk it on you. He's unbelievable. He's better than I thought when I first came in."
Clemmons and Gesell will share minutes, and shooting guard Devyn Marble could slide over to the point in a pinch. Marble, a junior, started 13 games at point guard last year but he's focused on scoring without directing the offense.
Marble likes what he sees out of the freshman tandem and appreciates their differences.
"I think Mike is more of an offensive-minded point guard," Marble said. "Sapp is more of a defensive-minded point guard. That's what makes them such good point guards in their own way, how they can co-exist and bring something different to the table.
"You never know what kind of game you might be in at the time. At the end, we might be in more of a defensive standpoint, so Sapp might be in the game. If we're trying to get back in a game, four or eight points down, we probably will have Mike, who at this point is a little bit better scorer than Sapp. I think there's a lot of versatility between the two guys. They both handle the ball well."
While the tandem will compete for minutes, both this year and throughout their careers, they both are focused on the team success. After all, that's what history judges from a point guard.
"We know what makes a team successful," Gesell said. "We know that we can't worry about minutes, we can't worry about any of that. If I'm playing more or if he's playing more, we've just got to encourage each other and compete against each other."
"I just want to come in and win," Clemmons said. "As a point guard, you're really distributing, being a leader on the floor. Whatever my role is, I'm going to take that role and do what it takes to win."