The Iowa coach said it's a legitimate question as his star deals with a nagging back injury.
IOWA CITY, Ia. – Sending Peter Jok to the bench for a week or two might help his back pain go away; then again, it might not.
That’s only part of the dilemma facing Iowa coach Fran McCaffery about whether to temporarily shut down his banged-up star senior.
“I think it's a legitimate consideration,” McCaffery said before Friday afternoon’s basketball practice. “I look at it like this, it can't hurt. If he is sore in certain areas, rest can only help you. Is it one of those things where the first time he gets banged, it's going to feel the same regardless of whether it takes two days or 10 days? I can't tell you that. Only he can tell you that, and only our doctors and medical personnel can tell you that.
“But he's obviously been struggling physically. I think we can all agree to that.”
Iowa guard says his back tightened up in loss at Illinois
Jok has been trying to power through back and shoulder pain in Iowa’s last three games, all losses. Despite being held to 28 points in that stretch (a 9.3 average), he remains the Big Ten Conference’s leading scorer at 21.0 per game.
It can be a no-win situation for both player and coach, as was evident in the football team’s Outback Bowl when coach Kirk Ferentz decided to keep quarterback C.J. Beathard in the game despite a pulled hamstring.
The player, in this case a senior leader, wants to play and help the team win.
The coach wants to do what’s best for the player and team.
Like Ferentz, McCaffery gives most credibility to what trainers and and doctors think. So far, they’ve deemed Jok healthy enough to play, so he’s expected to give it a go in Saturday’s 7 p.m. home game against Ohio State.
“For me, it's real simple. What does the player say, and what do the trainers and doctor say?” McCaffery said. “I don't get to make that decision. If they're declared fit for duty, and he wants to play, I'm going to play him. If he feels uncomfortable about that any time and the trainer is like, 'Hey, we've got to shut him down.' Then we're going to shut him down.”
Jok was in treatment Friday when media interviews were scheduled, thus unavailable to provide his latest vantage point.
But it’s a concern that after six days between games, Jok was still bothered by a stiff back in Wednesday’s 76-64 loss at Illinois. He’s 9-for-30 from the floor in Iowa's last three games.
“My balance has been off because my back will stiffen up so I really can’t stay low in shooting,” Jok said Wednesday after playing a team-high 32 minutes. “And then also defense a little bit. When I get low on defense, it’s kind of bothering me, too.”
Back injuries are a difficult beast to conquer, especially in basketball.
“It might be the hardest (injury). It's your center of gravity,” McCaffery said. “Everything you do from a cutting and explosion standpoint, right? It's always your core strength.”
McCaffery said the Hawkeyes are a better team with Jok, even while he’s injured, on the floor. Before this three-game struggle, Jok was playing like an all-American. He delivered a 29-point, six-rebound, eight-assist performance in a stirring home win against then-No. 17 Purdue on Jan. 12. Then, the back pain (he's called them spasms) struck.
Now, likely with a less-than-100-percent Jok, Iowa’s next four games provide a good measuring stick.
The Hawkeyes (11-10 overall, 3-5 Big Ten) face three opponents that they are in a six-way tie with for eighth place in the league – Ohio State (13-8, 3-5), Nebraska (home, Feb. 5) and Minnesota (road, Feb. 8) – and last-place Rutgers (road, Tuesday).
After this stretch, Iowa travels to Michigan State then gets its second (and final) bye of Big Ten play. If Jok isn’t better soon, McCaffery might have a good window then to shut him down for a while.
Lineup change? Maybe
McCaffery wasn’t ready to commit to any starting-lineup changes, even though the Hawkeyes have been falling behind quickly during their three-game slide.
“I think it’s possible. We'll see how practice goes (Friday),” McCaffery said. “But I think you have to understand – we can over-focus on that kind of stuff because the reality is we have had some inconsistencies that have to be addressed. Sometimes they're at the start. Sometimes they're at the end.”
The Hawkeyes trailed 8-0 in a road loss to Northwestern, 8-0 in a home loss to Maryland and 10-0 at Illinois.
“We just need to play with more enthusiasm,” freshman forward Cordell Pemsl said. “The start of the game is rough, and we continue to fight our way back. The Maryland game, we had the lead late. We were a couple shots away from Illinois.”
The Iowa freshman likes the way this team plays at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Bohannon feeling better
Jok wasn’t the only guard slowed against Illinois by health issues. Point guard Jordan Bohannon was barely able to play because of flu-like symptoms.
The freshman was limited to 21 minutes – well below his 31.1 average in Big Ten play – and three points on 1-for-9 shooting.
But Friday, he declared himself in better health, though he still sounded congested.
"It wasn’t a fun past three days," Bohannon said. "A lot of time in bed just trying to get some rest. But I’m feeling a lot better now."
The matchup: Ohio State (13-8, 3-5 Big Ten) at Iowa (11-10, 3-5)
Time, TV: 7:05 p.m., ESPN2 (Announcers: Dave Flemming, Dan Dakich)
Tickets: As of Friday afternoon, only about 300 were available
Of note: The all-time series is tied between Iowa and Ohio State, with each team having 78 wins. The last six meetings have been decided by 10 points or less.