IOWA CITY — Just nine days ago, Iowa announced in a release Cordell Pemsl would have season-ending surgery after final exams in mid-December.
But as Iowa came out for pregame warmups Thursday night, Pemsl was in uniform and went through the litany of drills.
Was this just gamesmanship against an in-state rival or was Pemsl truly going to play?
It is only the first week of December, but the Iowa men’s basketball team pulled out all the stops and played with a sense of urgency like this was a game it needed in the worst way after back-to-back losses to Wisconsin and Michigan State.
Pemsl, who hadn’t played since the season opener against Missouri-Kansas City, came off the bench to tally eight points, grab six rebounds, blocked a shot and took a charge in 15-plus minutes for the Hawkeyes in their 98-84 conquest of Iowa State at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
“The adrenaline was running a little bit tonight,” Pemsl said. “I’m sure I’ll be feeling it tomorrow morning.”
It is uncertain if the 6-foot-8 and 230-pound junior from Dubuque Wahlert will play the remainder of the season.
Pemsl was asked several different times after the game what this meant for him going forward. Each time, he responded: “I’m day-to-day.”
As long as Pemsl doesn’t play in more than 20 percent of the games or in the second half of the season, he could still apply for a medical redshirt and have two full years remaining.
Coach Fran McCaffery was asked if the plan was still for Pemsl to have surgery.
“Don’t know,” he said. “We’ll see.”
Much of it will hinge on Pemsl’s pain tolerance.
There is nothing structurally wrong with Pemsl’s knee. There is hardware near his knee from a previous surgery during his junior year of high school.
Pemsl said he was in considerable discomfort a week or two after the opener. He started to feel better around the Wisconsin contest last Friday. The pain was even less after the Michigan State tilt on Monday.
“I told our trainer I’m going to try practicing Tuesday,” Pemsl said. “I tried Tuesday and felt good, but thought it might just be a one-day thing. I practiced Wednesday and I felt good working again.
“So I told coach I wanted to give it a shot.”
There is no question Pemsl gives Iowa an added dimension.
He brings attitude, energy, toughness and a bruiser on the low block capable of scoring.
When a skirmish broke out in the first half, Pemsl was immediately there to come to the defense of teammate Connor McCaffery.
“He’s a very popular guy (in our locker room), friendly and talkative,” coach McCaffery said.
Pemsl entered the game with 12 minutes, 56 seconds left in the first half. McCaffery rode him until the 3:55 mark.
For a player who hadn’t seen game action in a month, he went nine straight minutes.
“He was phenomenal,” McCaffery said. “I’m surprised at what his conditioning was, quite frankly. He was tremendous. He ran, he didn’t seem to tire and gave us really good minutes.”
After one media timeout, Pemsl -- who had scored 21 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in the previous two Cy-Hawk meetings -- told his head coach he wanted to stay in the game.
“I was feeling good,” Pemsl said.
What happens now?
Iowa doesn’t play another game until Dec. 15 against Northern Iowa at the Big Four Classic in Des Moines. Pemsl could suit up and participate a couple more times.
At some point, before Iowa resumes conference play in early January, a decision has to be made.
It is a no-brainer Pemsl brings value. His physical presence was sorely missing in the loss at Michigan State where the Spartans had their way in the post.
“He brings that edge to our team,” senior Nicholas Baer said. “He has a great impact.”
Suddenly, with a struggling UNI and then Western Carolina, Savannah State and Bryant looming, Iowa has a strong possibility of going into the New Year with an 11-2 record.
And a much rosier outlook on the season.
“This was a game where we needed energy,” Pemsl said. “We couldn’t come out slow.”
Even if this was a one-game deal, Pemsl helped the Hawkeyes get the train back on the tracks.
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