IOWA CITY — Ryan Kriener stared in amazement as Cordell Pemsl walked into the interview room at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Thursday.
He paused in the middle of answering a reporter’s question as his old friend strolled by accompanied by his unleashed 8-year-old poodle, Lucy.
"Did he? Oh my god, he did," Kriener said with a wondering smile.
Bringing his dog to a media session isn’t something Kriener — or most other players — would do. The free-spirited Pemsl didn’t see anything unusual about it.
"That’s my best friend," he said, pointing to Lucy. "She follows me everywhere."
It illustrates the difference between two players with very different personalities and on-court skill sets who figure to play major roles in Iowa’s basketball fortunes next season.
Pemsl and Kriener, along with redshirt sophomore Jack Nunge, will be charged with filling the void at power forward left by Tyler Cook’s departure for the pro ranks.
Cook led the Hawkeyes with an average of more than 14 points per game the past two seasons, and he did everything in spectacular fashion, coming up with highlight-reel dunks nearly every night.
The Pemsl-Kriener-Nunge committee isn’t going to be anywhere near as flashy, but it may be highly effective with all three players bringing different assets to the table.
Along with center Luka Garza, the team’s top returning scorer, they give the Hawkeyes exceptional depth at the two frontcourt positions.
Kriener and Pemsl do have one thing in common: They don’t really care who starts or who plays the most minutes.
"We’re going to battle it out, but at the end of the day we’re a team," Pemsl said. "It doesn’t matter who’s starting in that spot. All of us are able to contribute to the game in different ways. It might be a situation where it just depends on matchups. We don’t know, but all of us are going to work and do whatever we need to help us win."
Kriener admitted he would love to be the guy who starts alongside Garza, but he said the main thing is team success.
"I’ll be the first guy off the bench or the last guy off the bench. Whatever it takes to win," he said. "That’s what I’ve always been about since I came here from high school. If coach wants me to take 30 shots a game or never take a shot … whatever it takes to win."
Kriener is the only one of the three players who played much for the Hawkeyes last season as Pemsl and Nunge both took redshirt years.
The 6-foot-8 Pemsl played in only two games before undergoing surgery to have hardware removed from his knee from an operation that was done while he was in high school. Nunge sat out his second college season to try to bulk up and get stronger.
Kriener ended up sharing the team’s most improved player award, averaging 5.7 points and 3.0 rebounds per game as the primary reserve behind Garza and Cook.
The 6-9 senior further honed his skills earlier this month by playing for a U.S. All-Star team during a series of games in Greece.
"I think it will help me from a pace standpoint and rebounding because everyone over there hooks and holds arms …," Kriener said. "I think it will help me with box-outs."
Pemsl has played in 68 games in his three years on campus, including 14 starts as a freshman when he averaged 8.7 points per game and shot 61.7 percent from the field.
He has been playing in pickup games since the end of last season although he was just cleared to go full-bore on his surgically repaired knee a few weeks ago.
"I feel great," he said. "No pain or anything like that."
He said he thinks he finally has found his ideal playing weight at about 245. He was 255 in his first two seasons and got down to about 235 last season.
"I feel comfortable moving at this weight," he said. "I feel good moving my feet on the perimeter. I weigh more than I did during my redshirt year, but I feel better at this weight."
Nunge also started 14 games as a freshman in the 2017-18 season, averaging 5.7 points per game, but it was clear at times that he was overmatched physically.
That is no longer an issue. He now carries about 250 pounds on his 6-11 frame.
"His freshman year we joked around with him and called him Bambi because he was so skinny you could push him around a little bit," Kriener said. "There’s no more Bambi talk. He’s gotten really strong. You can’t really move him down low. You have to really work to get around him. He’s still got his really good shooting touch, he still runs well. He’s going to have a great year."
In addition to picking up the minutes vacated by Cook, that trio of Pemsl, Kriener and Nunge also figures to take on more of a leadership role this season.
The Hawkeyes’ primary leaders last season were departed senior Nicholas Baer, Cook and guard Jordan Bohannon.
With Bohannon possibly sitting out the season because of off-season hip surgery and all the other backcourt players being much less experienced, the frontcourt guys need to take charge.
"Obviously, we’re still hoping and praying that (Bohannon) recovers as fast as he can …," Pemsl said. "But Ryan, Jack, Luka and myself, we’ve all been here for at least two years, and so far this summer those guys have done a great job of just leading our team, whether it’s in workouts or in lifting.
"I think throughout the year it’s going to be a few of us who are going to have to keep the guys in line. It’s going to be a long season, a lot of obstacles, a lot of ups and downs, but as long as the older guys are helping to keep the younger guys in check and helping them understand how to grind, I think we’ll be OK."