IOWA CITY — Jordan Bohannon sort of cringes at the memory now.
He admits that there were times last season when he and a few of his Iowa teammates laughingly, lovingly called Cordell Pemsl “Fat Boy.’’
Bohannon feels bad about it now. But he loves the fact that the name no longer fits.
“I don’t know if he took that to heart,’’ Bohannon said of Pemsl, his good friend and former AAU teammate. “I hope we didn’t hurt his feelings too much and that’s why he lost his weight. I don’t really know.
“We were at his apartment early in the year and I saw a couple of Domino’s boxes by his bed. It was like ‘Cordell, what’s going on now? You eating pizza in bed?’ So I don’t know if that had something to do with it, him changing his diet.’’
Whatever it was, Pemsl did exactly that.
For years, he loved to munch on popcorn and other kinds of junk food. He really loved carbonated beverages, especially Sprite.
He hasn’t completely eliminated those things from his diet but just by greatly reducing his consumption of them, he trimmed about 20 pounds from his 6-foot-8 frame during the two months following off-season surgery for a sports hernia.
The result is a slimmer, trimmer Pemsl. He is playing this season at 235 pounds, down from 256 last season. He is in perhaps the best shape of his life. And coaches and teammates think he’s primed to play the best basketball of his life.
“I haven’t been getting tired as easily as I was last year,’’ said Pemsl, who is averaging 7.7 points and 4.0 rebounds going into a game against Louisiana today in the Cayman Island Classic. “I’m able to do more to help the team win.’’
Pemsl said it wasn’t the Fat Boy comments that made him do this.
“I knew there was more to my game that I could be bringing,’’ he said. “And it would be a displeasure to both me and my teammates if I wasn’t being the best version of myself.
“They were more worried about, 'Well, what you’re best at is being strong and battling down low. Are you still going to still be able to do that?’ I wanted to show them I still can do that but I can guard quicker guys now and they can trust me with the ball on the perimeter, stuff like that. That was kind of my biggest goal is just to help my team as much as I can.’’
Count head coach Fran McCaffery among those who approves of the change.
“A lot of times when guys trim down like that, they don't maintain the strength that they had or the physicality, and he's done both,’’ McCaffery said. “He still plays strong and tough and physical. He's able to hold his ground against guys that are heavier than him, but he's running better.’’
McCaffery said he had nothing to do with Pemsl’s decision to slim down. He didn’t request it or even recommend it.
“I didn't because I didn't think it was a problem,’’ McCaffery said. “He was very mobile. He was able to play at that weight, I thought, pretty well. He moved his feet. He positioned himself well. He didn't seem to labor from a conditioning standpoint. A lot of times guys are really good but they just can't keep up. They are quick enough and they are bouncy enough at a heavy weight, but really none of that stuff ever seemed to affect him.
“But he's clearly better, thinner. And I do think in the long haul, it will be much less taxing on his body.’’
Pemsl figures to see most of his action off the bench this season after starting 14 games and setting a school record for field goal percentage (61.7) a year ago as a freshman.
The arrival of 6-11 freshman center Luka Garza has pushed him to a reserve role. That means Pemsl’s days of playing center are over, but he never viewed himself that way anyway. He is backing up Tyler Cook at his natural position of power forward and even probably could play a little bit at small forward.
Whether Pemsl starts or not, Bohannon said the physical transformation is “huge’’ for his friend.
“You can tell he’s a lot stronger, he’s a lot more lean,’’ Bohannon said. “He’s going to be able to add a lot more dimensions to his game now just because of how well he can move side to side and up and down the court.
“He’s a lot quicker off the ground,’’ Bohannon added. “You probably didn’t see him get above the rim too much last year but that’s something I think he can really do this year because of how much lighter he’s gotten and how much stronger he’s gotten. That’ll add another dimension to his game and all of our games because teams will need to worry about him dunking on them this year.’’
While Pemsl, who scored a team-high 15 points in a victory over Alabama State last week, has a bounce and quickness he hasn’t had in years — maybe not ever — he warned not to look for him to be slamming the ball through the hoop on a regular basis, as Cook does.
He had a chance for an open dunk against Alabama State, but passed it up.
“That’s not me. I've come to realize that’s not me,’’ Pemsl said. “I’m too crafty for that. I like to be below the rim and use my craft and intelligence.’’