The Hawkeye sophomore has been hampered by stamina issues since arriving on campus.
IOWA CITY, Ia. – No offense to the good people who serve up the cafeteria-style grub in the University of Iowa's residence halls, but there's a reason Peter Jok looks and feels leaner than he did a year ago.
"Last year I ate bad. I stayed in the dorm, and it's not good food over there," said Jok, a sophomore guard on Iowa's basketball team.
"This year, I've worked on my diet. Eating better and sleeping better."
Jok may be the ultimate wild card for the Hawkeyes, who open their regular season at 8:30 p.m. Friday night against Hampton at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
If Jok can even partially produce what he did in Iowa's lone exhibition contest Nov. 2 against Northwood (Fla.) — 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting with eight rebounds in 17 minutes — he could completely change the Hawkeyes' offense ... and how opponents defend it.
"He can be a guy that is a 15- to 20-point scorer in this league, which is really hard to do," Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. "The leaders in the league in scoring are 18, 17, 16 … because of how teams play you and because the other players are so talented.
"If Pete can be that kind of hard-to-guard player, he's got a really sweet stroke from three-point range, which gives you another dimension."
But getting minutes requires defense and conditioning — areas that hampered Jok a year ago. He didn't play more than 11 minutes in any Big Ten Conference game.
First, the defense.
"Defensively he's light years ahead of where he was last year," McCaffery said Wednesday. "So he can play significant minutes. He could end up being in the starting lineup at some point, without question."
And the conditioning?
This is the key to unlocking extended minutes. Jok suffers from asthma.
"It's hard to breathe," he said. "At the same time, you've got to get in better shape."
But he's been powering through. The former West Des Moines Valley scoring star has put in extra time running the unremitting concrete stairs at Carver-Hawkeye and working with strength and conditioning coach Bill Maxwell.
"The stamina part of it is something that he has to really work on," McCaffery said. "And it's not uncommon when you have scorers. He's always been a scorer. He goes and gets buckets, and can take a possession off here and there and rest on defense a little bit.
"You just don't have the luxury to do that at this level, because you're guarding somebody who expects to play in the NBA."
On top of injuring and re-injuring an ankle, which forced him to miss six practices, it's been a bumpy and very public offseason for Jok. He was arrested for OWI on a moped on April 26, then spent four days in Johnson County jail in September after another arrest for operating without a license.
McCaffery chose not to suspend Jok from game action.
So now the attention turns to what Jok can do on the court. At 6-foot-6, Jok can play either the 2 or 3 positions — again, depending on his defense.
Jarrod Uthoff, a close friend of Jok's and the starter at the 3, said the difference between freshman Peter and sophomore Peter is night and day.
"His conditioning is a lot better. His defense is a lot better," Uthoff said. "I think he can be a huge difference-maker on this team."
How huge? We'll begin to find out Friday.
"His improvement is what we hoped it would be," McCaffery said. "Now he's got to do it in the games."
Iowa (0-0) vs. Hampton (0-0)
Specifics — 8:30 p.m., Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Iowa City.
Following the game — TV: Live stream available at ESPN3.com and WatchESPN. Radio: WHO (1040 AM) in Des Moines, WMT (600 AM) in Eastern Iowa. Live scoring: www.hawkeyesports.com.
Preview — Iowa is 13-0 all time against opponents from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. The Hawkeyes will again try to strike in transition, one reason why they are 34-6 under coach Fran McCaffery when scoring 80 points or more. Iowa has won 24 straight non-conference home games.