Junior Peter Jok says attention has grown as the No. 3 Hawkeyes keep winning.
The Iowa junior scored 22 points in the first 9:22 of the second half. Chad Leistikow/HawkCentral.com
The junior talks about the Under Armour ball used by Maryland. Chad Leistikow/HawkCentral.com
The Iowa junior spoke after scoring 14 of his 16 points vs. Michigan in the second half of Sunday's 82-71 win over Michigan. Chad Leistikow | Hawkcentral.com
The Hawkeye junior and WDM Valley product is keeping it private. Chad Leistikow | Hawkcentral.com
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Just how good is Peter Jok at basketball?
We’re going to find out.
As he goes in 2016-17, so will the Iowa Hawkeyes. Or should we say, the Jok-eyes.
Fran McCaffery didn’t shield his ambitious Jok plans Friday, shortly after the former West Des Moines Valley star revealed that he would return to Iowa for his senior season.
Jok will take most of the shots, McCaffery said.
He’ll play about 36 minutes a game.
As for the concerns about Iowa graduating both point guards? No worries. Jok, whose entire career has been on the wing, can help there, too.
“He’s going to have the ball,” McCaffery said, “a lot.”
Not many people will predict Iowa to make a fourth straight NCAA Tournament next season. But the chances sure are a lot better with Jok.
In a bunch of Iowa’s 33 games a year ago — when the Hawkeyes started four seniors, including consensus all-American Jarrod Uthoff — I thought Jok was easily the best player on the floor. Against Florida State, against Michigan State, against Rutgers, against Penn State.
Even as Iowa’s secondary option a year ago, he scored 20 or more points 11 times.
When wondering what things will be like for next year’s Hawkeyes, my mind reverted to the Big Ten Conference Tournament. In the first round against Illinois, Iowa’s supporting cast stunk.
But Jok was electric. He gave Iowa a chance. He scored within the offense. He scored in transition. He got to the foul line.
He probably would have finished with 35 points if he hadn’t lost his cool and gave Kendrick Nunn a retaliation shove with 4 minutes left. He got T'd up, his fifth foul.
To the bench he went. Iowa helplessly lost the game.
“They chased him around. They face-guarded him. They mugged him. They switched on him to take away his ability to catch the ball,” McCaffery said. “They did all that stuff, and he still got 29 (points).”
In other words, opponents were already focusing a slew of energy into stopping Jok. He's used to it.
So Iowa's fortunes next season will be guided by Jok, but determined by its supporting cast. And there are plenty of openings.
The departed seniors combined for more than 116 minutes a game as Iowa reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament and finished with a No. 25 national ranking.
McCaffery is committed to showcasing Jok’s 6-foot-6 frame and skill set. With five incoming freshmen joining another five sophomores, that's a sensible choice.
“Any time you have a guy like that coming back, it’s going to help your team,” McCaffery said. “It will particularly help a young team. I think we’ve put a team together that has the kind of versatility and weapons that he needs around him.”
McCaffery thinks the 2016-17 Hawkeyes will be more accurate from 3-point range than last year’s 37.4 percent. He also thinks they'll be stronger inside behind bullish young forwards such as Ahmad Wagner and Tyler Cook.
Maybe that’s a coach being overly optimistic.
Or maybe he’s justifiably excited. After all, he just learned his franchise star is returning.
That’s good for the program, short- and long-term.
Without Jok, Iowa might have cratered for a year. With him, who knows?
And there’s this: It won’t be Mike Gesell dribbling around trying to create something as the shot clock winds to zero.
It’ll be Jok. (Of course.)
“Give him the ball at the top of the key, give him space,” McCaffery said. “And let him go.”
Even at point guard? Yep.
In McCaffery’s motion offense, it doesn’t really matter who brings the ball up the floor as long as he can dribble. Ball-handling in traffic is a high priority for Jok this summer. He'll help take pressure off sophomore Christian Williams and freshman Jordan Bohannon, though both still need to be Big Ten-ready at the point.
I mean, Jok can’t do it all, though we'll see if he can.
"Jok could be to Iowa next year what Buddy Hield was this year to Oklahoma — a pure scorer who is counted on to carry his team."
But that sure sounds like the plan to me.
This is his team.
“We might not have a lot of experience, but … everybody can jump, shoot, dribble,” Jok said. “I’m just excited to come back and play with the young guys and lead them.”
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 22 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.