NORTH LIBERTY, Iowa — Iowa’s Cordell Pemsl literally gutted out a season very few people could endure.
Pemsl, a sophomore on the men’s basketball team, suffered a lower abdominal strain, a torn left groin muscle and a partially-torn right groin muscle last November at the Emerald Coast Classic in Destin, Fla. At the time Pemsl thought it was just a strain. Then in the offseason he discovered the extent of the damage.
“I first noticed it before the Virginia game in November,” Pemsl said Sunday. “It was right after that game we played less than 24 hours later against Memphis. I could barely do layups in the layup line in the Memphis game. It hurt so bad. We came back to Iowa City, I rehabbed a little bit. I tried to get it figured out. We thought I just strained something, so I just continued playing on it. From there on out, I felt it every practice, in the game.
“Once I started getting loose and warmed up it would go away a little. But I always had that pain in the back of my mind. Then after the season I found out I tore both of my groins. I guess I was playing on torn groins the whole season.”
Pemsl, a 6-foot-8, 250-pound forward, had surgery in Oklahoma last month. Three incisions were made in his lower abdominal area and a piece of mesh was inserted to bring the muscles back together. He will miss the summer Prime Time League as he heals.
Throughout the season, Pemsl’s pain in workouts — especially abdominal work — was excruciating, but he kept it hidden. He compensated for the discomfort with extra stretching just so he could participate in layup drills with little hindrance. Considering his limitations, it’s surprising Pemsl competed at the level of which he did.
Pemsl started 14 of Iowa’s 34 games and ranked fourth in points (8.9) and rebounds (5.0). He shot 61.7 percent (116 of 188) from the field to rank first in the Big Ten. Pemsl broke Iowa’s single-season field-goal percentage record of 60.9 percent set by Russ Millard in 1996. Pemsl averaged 19.3 minutes, scored in double figures 15 times and hit 25 of his last 38 shot attempts. All of this was done with his three injuries.
The procedure was less daunting to Pemsl, especially when compared to two others when he was at Dubuque Wahlert (Iowa) High School. Twice he had knee surgeries to repair a torn meniscus, the second of which his right leg was realigned and he was out six months. Pemsl has learned patience with medical issues, which is why he’s not rushing back after this surgery.
“When you go through something like that, you actually learn that it’s a grind and you’ve got to trust the process,” Pemsl said. “This one, once you go through something like that, it makes this a whole lot easier. I wasn’t stressed out or anything about it, and I’m just enjoying the ride. I’m still doing a lot of things. I’m lifting with the team. I’m doing a lot of things the guys are doing other than running, which I hope to get back [to doing] in mid-July.”
Pemsl still can’t run, but he’s walking 3-4 miles a day. He can lift weights, but he can’t strengthen his core. He participates in some team workouts, but mostly shoots with a rebounder. His goal right now is to compete on the team’s trip to Europe in August and then, of course, the season.
“If I can’t play in Europe, it’s no big deal,” Pemsl said. “I’ll go and support the team. But my focus is to be ready for October and November.”