IOWA CITY, Iowa – Continuing with the theme of me being wrong like I was about underestimating the Iowa football team, today’s subject is Peter Jok.
Or should say the new and improved Peter Jok, you know, the one who actually plays defense, can be trusted as a ball handler and who values more than just scoring points.
I wasn’t sure if we’d ever see a more-rounded version of Jok because it’s not easy going from being just a scorer and volume shooter in high school to a multi-dimensional player in college.
Jok was a liability on defense and a turnover waiting to happen when he joined the Iowa men’s basketball team as a freshman in 2013. He had missed parts of his high school career because of knee injuries and looked stiff and out of shape as a freshman, often struggling in practice.
The more I watched Jok play as a freshman, the more convinced I was that Fran McCaffery had made a mistake by offering Jok a scholarship over former Iowa City West all-state guard Jeremy Morgan, who now plays for Northern Iowa.
I’m still a big Morgan fan and think he would’ve helped the Hawkeyes.
But I also have a new respect for Jok, who is much more than just Iowa’s second leading scorer.
“I’m just continuing to be pleased with his development,” McCaffery said Wednesday of the 6-foot-6 Jok, who is averaging 13.4 points per game heading into Saturday’s matchup against Drake in Des Moines. “He’s a terrific kid. I enjoy coaching him.”
Jok deserves praise for persevering because his early days as a Hawkeye were a struggle. He played well on a foreign trip in the summer before his freshman season, but then a harsh reality set in when real practice started.
“He’s a guy that came in, obviously as you know, as Mr. Basketball, and struggled in the beginning, was our leading scorer on the foreign trip because nobody guarded him because they don’t know who he is and he’s making every shot,” McCaffery said. “Now all of a sudden people are guarding you, and then you’ve got to figure out how to guard people who are really good who are juniors and seniors, and he couldn’t do that. And he was getting outplayed in practice.
“And there’s two ways to handle that. You can run and hide and transfer, or you can battle and get better and work at it. And I’m just really impressed with his work ethic and the ability to get better in the weight room and get extra shots up and figure out what he needs to do defensively and cut down on his mistakes.”
Even with his expanded game, scoring still is what Jok does the best. He is a gifted shooter who believes his next shot is always going in the basket.
Jok’s shots mostly did go in the basket in the second half against Iowa State last Thursday in Ames. He scored 16 of his 18 points in the second half, but it still wasn’t enough as Iowa blew a 20-point lead before losing, 83-82.
"It hurt for a few days, but we had no choice but to focus on our next game," Jok said.
McCaffery used tough love as part of his approach with Jok in the early stages.
“I told him his game as a freshman, he had a sloppy game,” McCaffery said. “He would fumble and stumble and run around and just try to shoot jumpers and make that the cure for everything. He needed to become a really good basketball player. I’m really proud of him because you do that when you have character.”
I asked Jok before practice on Wednesday how much better he is now as a player compared to when he arrived at Iowa.
“I’m way better,” said the West Des Moines native. “It’s a process and I’m going to keep working. But I feel like I’m way better than when I first got here.”
Jok is right about it being a process. It can be a slow and humbling process, one in which adversity sometimes plays a role.
Jok caused his own adversity by twice being arrested in 2014, each time on a moped. He was charged with drunk driving on his moped in late April 2014 and had his license revoked. He pleaded guilty and completed a weekend drunk driving program, according to online court records.
Iowa City police arrested Jok again in July 2014 after initially stopping him for improper rear lights and the lack of a safety flag.
McCaffery suspended Jok after the second incident, although, the suspension came during the offseason.
"We support Peter, but we’re not happy with his recent pattern of behavior," McCaffery said in a release announcing Jok’s suspension.
McCaffery now beams with pride when he talks about Jok. He sees a young man who put aside his own selfish needs for the good of the team. He sees a young man who has worked his butt off to become a better basketball player. And he sees a young man who is now making the right decisions off the court.
“Ultimately he wants to be good,” McCaffery said. “So if you want to be good, you’ve got to work, and he worked.”
And I was wrong.