By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – And they all lived happily ever after.
That popular sentence has been used to end many stories and fits perfectly when referring to the college basketball careers of seniors Peter Jok and Jeremy Morgan.
Circumstances wouldn’t allow for them to be college teammates, but each has found happiness and success at two different in-state schools.
The 6-foot-6 Jok is the star player for the Iowa men’s basketball team, while the 6-5 Morgan has the same role for Northern Iowa.
Their teams will meet on Saturday in the first of two games in the Big Four Classic at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines. Iowa State and Drake will play in the other game.
“I’m kind of close to his family and they’re real nice people,” Jok said of Morgan, whose father, Michael Morgan, is a former Iowa basketball player. “I’m really proud of the way he’s been having success at UNI. I always knew he was going to have good success. And I knew this year he was going to come out and be a great leader. And he’s doing a great job of leading that team.”
The same could be said about Jok’s performance so far this season.
He isn’t in the same class as Morgan as a defender, nor has Jok scored 38 points in one half like Morgan did in the second half against North Dakota last Saturday. But Jok has scored lots of points, enough to currently lead the Big Ten in scoring with a 23.8 per-game average.
Jok scored 238 points in the first 10 games, which are the most through 10 games by a Hawkeye in 46 years. Fred Brown scored 270 points in the first 10 games in 1970.
Jok also leads Iowa in rebounding with a 6.2 per-game average and has grabbed at least eight rebounds in four games this season.
It’s easy to see now why Iowa coach Fran McCaffery stuck with Jok throughout the recruiting process, while every other Power 5 school backed away from Jok after he had major knee surgery in high school.
A graduate of West Des Moines Valley, Jok was considered damaged goods to almost everybody except McCaffery, who ultimately decided to give Jok a scholarship over Morgan.
Both players were in the same high school graduating class. They both played shooting guard. And they both knew each other well from the AAU circuit.
McCaffery also knew Morgan’s family on a personal level with Jeremy having graduated from Iowa City West, which is where McCaffery’s two sons currently attend high school.
“Jeremy has always been a terrific player,” McCaffery said Wednesday at a press conference. “I saw him when he was a young kid and watched on the AAU circuit. I really wanted to have him badly, but we only had one scholarship. And we needed a shooter in the worst way in that class.
“Jeremy was always a great player and a great scorer. He’s become a terrific shooter, who was always a good shooter. We felt like Pete was the best fit at that time. If we would have had two scholarships or three scholarships, he would have been offered one without any hesitation.”
The neat thing about this situation is that both players have benefitted greatly from their choice of college.
Instead of following in his father’s footsteps at Iowa, Jeremy Morgan has blazed his own trail, while Jok has rewarded McCaffery for sticking with him.
Both players now are ranked among the best players in their respective conferences.
Their individual matchup will provide an intriguing subplot to Saturday’s game.
“I think there are going to be times when they’re guarding each other and times when they won’t be,” McCaffery said. “Both are having spectacular seasons in a number of different ways. You knew they’d both score, but they’re both doing so many other things in every other area to help their teams. And that’s kind of who they are.”
Jok and Morgan are stuffing the stat sheet partly out of necessity. Each is surrounded by youth, with two true freshmen and one redshirt freshman listed as starters for both teams on Saturday.
McCaffery had a difficult decision to make in choosing between Jok and Morgan. McCaffery trusted his judgement, and it’s hard to argue with the results.
Looking back on it now, McCaffery was in a no-lose situation, assuming Morgan would’ve also blossomed at Iowa.
McCaffery needed a specific need and Jok filled that need as a prolific outside shooter.
The decision to offer Jok a scholarship was made more out of respect for Jok than disrespect for Morgan.
McCaffery made the right choice for him.
And now it seems that everybody made the right choice.