Leistikow: The latest on former Hawkeye Peter Jok's continuing climb toward the NBA
Peter Jok looks like an NBA player now. And he hopes to be one soon.
The former basketball star at West Des Moines Valley High School has a much more chiseled physique than he did four years ago, and even more so than as a senior at Iowa — when he was the Big Ten Conference’s leading scorer and a first-team all-conference shooting guard.
It’s that peak fitness level — combined with a 3-point shot that he said is better than ever — that Jok sees as the key to (someday) unlocking his NBA dream.
He spent his first professional season mostly off the court. A groin injury was slow to heal and, as a result, he played sparingly for the Northern Arizona Suns — the G League affiliate of the NBA’s Phoenix franchise.
In the G League, injured players don’t take road trips. That meant Jok spent lots of time training in isolation, rather than getting game action with scouts watching.
“I never really got an opportunity to play a lot. It was a tough season,” Jok said this week in an interview with the Register while back home in West Des Moines. “I worked mentally (on) being a professional. … I took it for what it is. I’m not going to say it was a wasted year.”
In 2017, Jok became the fourth straight Iowa senior to be named first-team all-Big Ten.
All four have charted different career paths and reflected how difficult it is to navigate a path to a stable NBA lifestyle.
Devyn Marble played in 44 games in his first two seasons with the Orlando Magic, but has battled injuries and is now is headed to Italy for his fifth professional year.
Aaron White has enjoyed a very successful overseas career (where his dunking ability has generated the nickname “Highlight White” — why didn’t any of us in Iowa think of that first?), and he will return to a team in Lithuania in the prestigious EuroLeague.
Jarrod Uthoff got a cup of coffee with the Dallas Mavericks as a rookie (nine games), then had a strong Year Two in the G League and is now headed to play in Russia.
Jok is choosing to stick with the G League for his second season — and hopefully turn heads along the way. He has a good relationship with the new Northern Arizona coach and expects to get ample playing time after averaging 4.9 points while playing in just 27 of his team’s 50 games because of the injury.
“I feel really comfortable, and that’s one of the main reasons I’m going back this year,” Jok said. “He knew how close I was to making the roster last year with the Suns.”
Jok has since gotten more serious about his diet, more intense about his offseason program, even more refined in his shot. He adjusted something in his footwork, and one of the purest deep shooters in Iowa history recently made 84 of 100 tries from NBA 3-point range in a workout.
While preparing for his second pro season (G League players typically make five-figure salaries), he’s also trying to maintain a presence back home. Jok is returning to Iowa later this month to run a camp in his name, Aug. 25-26 at Kingdom Hoops in Des Moines, designed for boys and girls from ages 7 to 16.
It’s a basketball camp, yes; but also about more than hoops.
“Life lessons, leadership, teamwork, work ethic,” said Jok, who fled what’s now known as South Sudan with his family at age 9. Here, he learned the game of basketball and built his life around it. “That’s the stuff that got me to where I am today.”
Jok has recently been practicing with players at his alma mater.
He said Hawkeye forward Tyler Cook, who returned to school instead of going to the NBA, is “on a mission.” He’s talked to guard Isaiah Moss about playing better defense. Center Luka Garza has impressed him the most.
“He’s been killing it in workouts (and) open gym,” Jok said. “He’s going to have a big year.”
As for Jok? He needs one, too.
In pro basketball, stocks can fade quickly. Jok has to become a player on the rise to stay relevant. He's certainly got a unique skill — that amazing, smooth shot — to help NBA teams to take notice.
“I know when I get on the court,” he said, “I’m going to do what I do — and show teams I’ve still got it.”
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 23 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.
JokCity Academy information
What: Basketball camp headlined by former Iowa basketball star Peter Jok
Who: Boys and girls ages 7-16 are eligible to participate
When, where: Aug. 25-26, Kingdom Hoops, 6095 NE Industry Dr, Des Moines; camp runs from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. each day
Cost, details: $100; register at www.jokcity.com or on site. T-shirt and lunch is included.