NORTH LIBERTY, Iowa | When evaluating Iowa's next point guard Mike Gesell, Randy Larson doesn’t mince words.
“Gesell is the Hawkeyes’ best player,” the commissioner of the Prime Time League said. “Not only Iowa’s best starter, but the best player on the team -- period.”
Gesell made a believer out of Larson during the summertime PTL, which wrapped up Tuesday when “Culver’s/Iowa City Ready Mix” won the league title with a 115-102 victory over Gesell's team, “Jill Armstrong of Skogman Realty."
The champions featured current Hawkeyes Eric May and Aaron White, who was named MVP after leading the league in scoring (27.3 ppg) and rebounding (13.3 rpg).
But Larson, who has been running the PTL for 26 years, said the MVP isn't actually the league's top honor. Instead, he pointed to the “Chris Street Award,” named after the former Iowa basketball player who died in a 1993 automobile accident during his junior year.
“It goes to someone who best exemplifies the same attributes Chris Street did,” Larson said. “Someone who does everything the right way, plays with great intensity and is fundamentally sound.”
It comes as no surprise, then, that Gesell won the Chris Street Award this year, along with teammate Jarryd Cole, a former Iowa forward and a current professional in France.
“(Gesell) is a coach’s dream ,” said Larson, who also went up against Gesell twice as the head coach of "Vinton Merchants/Mike Gatens Real Estate," one of four PTL teams.
And he couldn't find a way to stop the point guard from South Sioux City, who averaged 21.7 points, 4.4 rebounds and 8.6 assists during seven PTL games. Gesell rarely subbed out.
“He wants to kill you on every play," Larson said. "He’s just a great competitor that plays full speed, all the time.”
Gesell had his hands full on Tuesday night against Anthony Clemmons, a fellow incoming Iowa point guard out of Lansing, Mich. Clemmons scored 25 of his 30 points in the second half for Culver’s, which lost every game during the first five weeks of the PTL but found a way to win when it mattered most.
But as talented as Clemmons might be, Larson said there's no question Gesell will be running the show at Iowa next season. He figured the South Sioux City recruit had the starting job from the moment he said “yes” to third-year head coach Fran McCaffery.
Now, after six weeks of Prime Time League action, he’s sure of it.
“No one’s going to beat Mike Gesell out, that’s for sure,” he said. “But I don’t think you can pencil anybody else in as a starter.”
There are just too many talented young guns coming in, he said, including 7-foot-1 East High recruit Adam Woodbury -- who averaged 11.3 points and 8.3 rebounds for Larson’s on his PTL team.
“I’m a huge fan,” Larson said, referring to Woodbury. “You almost never see a big guy that is equally adept offensively and defensively -- that’s what he is.”
The talent influx has ramped up the buzz surrounding Iowa’s program, as evidenced by the lack of breathing room every time the PTL tipped off this summer at the North Liberty Community Center.
Still, Larson stops short of describing the hype as at an all-time high.
“I would say it’s resurgent, but I would hesitate to say interest is at the highest level ever,” he said.
Larson holds up 1987 as an example, the year Iowa went 30-5 and reached the Elite 8 under Tom Davis.
“Back then, the arena sold out on season ticket basis every single year,” he said.
He recalls it vividly, because it was also the same year he launched the Prime Time League.
And Larson, also an Iowa City attorney and the head coach of the Regina Catholic boys basketball team, has had himself a summer job ever since.
Said Larson: “Who else would be dumb enough to do this?”