IOWA CITY, Iowa – Peter Jok made the right decision to return to Iowa for his senior season.
The 6-foot-6 shooting guard isn’t ready to play in the NBA and he might never be ready for that enormous challenge.
Jok is close to earning a college degree, though, and that should matter more than anything else.
And besides, the NBA isn’t going anywhere.
If Jok is good enough to play at the highest level, he will get his chance a year from now, assuming he stays healthy.
The risk of being seriously injured is probably the only downside to returning to college.
Jok could’ve played professionally overseas next season, but he would’ve faced so much uncertainty and the risk of being injured in a place far from his home in West Des Moines.
By returning to Iowa, Jok will be in his comfort zone, surrounded by people who have his best interest, on and off the court.
He will have another year to polish his skills, to have fun as a college student and to prepare for life after basketball.
“I was coming back regardless, but I learned a lot from the process, working out with the coaches and getting feedback from other teams,” Jok said Friday on a teleconference. “I know what I need to do now to play at the next level.
“I’m looking for a big summer for myself and for the team to get ready for next year.”
I never believed that Jok would sacrifice his senior season to play professionally if he couldn’t play in the NBA. It just didn’t make any sense.
I felt even stronger about him returning to Iowa after being a guest speaker for one of his classes in April. Jok arrived early for the afternoon class and participated during the discussion when he very easily could’ve just tuned me out if he wasn’t interested in school anymore.
By returning, Jok will be in position to finish his degree in sports and recreation management. To graduate from college would be an incredible milestone, considering Jok’s life story.
He fled from war-ravaged Sudan in 2003 after his father, who was a general in the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, was murdered. His family settled in Des Moines, where Jok blossomed into a talented basketball player.
His older brother, Dau, also set a strong example by playing basketball at Pennsylvania, which is an Ivy League school.
So it wasn’t a situation where Peter Jok was being pressured to start earning money in order to support others.
Jok was a long-shot to get drafted when he decided to take advantage of a new rule that allows a prospect who doesn’t sign with an agent to explore his options for 10 days after the NBA Combine without losing eligibility.
It still made sense for Jok to test the NBA waters, considering how much he improved from his sophomore to junior seasons.
Jok was told by NBA personnel that he has to work on his defense. That should come as no surprise because Jok has being hearing that since he became a Hawkeye.
It didn’t help that Jok injured his thumb during an early workout because that kept him from being evaluated by other NBA teams.
“After that, I really couldn’t work out for anybody or it would’ve gotten worse,” Jok said.
Even with a healthy thumb, it probably wouldn’t have made much difference because Jok isn’t ready for the NBA.
The league said as much when Jok didn’t get invited to participate in the NBA Combine earlier this month.
“From the beginning, he wanted to see what it was like,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said of Jok, who made second-team all-Big Ten this past season. “He wanted to go through a workout. He wanted to have conversations with the NBA folks. And I think all that stuff was incredibly favorable.
“But at the same time, you don’t know exactly where you stand in terms of am I going to get drafted? Am I not going to get drafted? There is no guarantee and Pete’s made a decision based on I think a very good feeling about himself. I think he looks and says, `you know what, I’m going to come back next year and have the kind of year that will put me in a position to be a first-round pick for sure.”’
Jok already has NBA range as a shooter and has shown a knack for making big shots. He is the kind of player who could miss five shots in a row and still believe that No. 6 will be a swish.
Next season figured to be a challenge for Iowa, even with Jok leading the way because he is the only returning starter.
If Jok thought defenses were designed to stop him this past season, just wait until next season when he tries to get open without all-Big Ten forward Jarrod Uthoff helping to space the floor.
Jok told reporters on Friday that he wants to expand his game to where he could be an option at point guard next season.
McCaffery told reporters that he wants to help Jok become one of the premier players in the country next season.
“I’m going to use him in a way that will showcase him,” McCaffery said. “We’ve done that already to a degree. But I’m going to do it even more.”
Assuming he can withstand the double-and-triple teams, and perhaps even some box-and-one defenses, Jok could become the first Hawkeye to average at least 20 points per game since Adam Haluska scored at a 20.5 clip in 2007.
Jok will definitely be a marked man next season as a senior.
But he won’t be a forgotten man, which often happens to players who aren’t ready for the NBA.