Peter Jok will return to the Iowa basketball team for his senior season rather than turn pro, he told The Des Moines Register on Friday.
The 6-foot-6 shooting guard made the final decision after consulting with members of his inner circle, which included coach Fran McCaffery.
Like more than 100 other college underclassmen, Jok was exploring a new NCAA rule that allows student-athletes to apply for early entry in the NBA Draft without losing college eligibility. Provided they don’t hire an agent, underclassmen have until Wednesday (May 25) to withdraw from the draft and return to school.
"I went through the process. My mom wanted me to come back to school," Jok told the Register. "This is going to be my team. I want to be the leader. I'm ready to get my degree and lead this team next year."
When Jok learned in late April he wasn’t among the 70-plus players invited to the May 11-15 NBA Draft Combine, it was an indicator that he would be a long shot to garner guaranteed money and an NBA roster spot. It would’ve taken both to entice him to skip his senior year at Iowa.
So why wait another three weeks to make a decision? Because during that time, Jok scheduled two private workouts with NBA teams — something he and McCaffery expressed would be beneficial to his future either way.
In Jok’s first scheduled workout, with the New Orleans Pelicans, he made such a positive impression that it was worth waiting to gather as much feedback as possible. (The Pelicans hold two early second-round picks, at Nos. 39 and 40 overall.)
The second workout didn’t happen because Jok strained ligaments in his thumb, an injury with a three-week recovery.
"(The Pelicans) told coach McCaffery and the other coaches that I did pretty well," Jok said. "It was just a bad thing, because I got injured and there were some other teams that wanted me to come work out for them."
Because Jok couldn't hire an agent, it was McCaffery who served as a supportive liaison throughout the process. McCaffery would consult with NBA teams, help set up workouts and distribute feedback. Jok said rumored bad blood between he and McCaffery was false.
“He’s had my back ever since I stepped onto campus and when he recruited me. That’s just false. I don’t know where they heard it," Jok said during a teleconference later Friday after the University of Iowa released his plans. "Me and Coach have been cool since I stepped on campus.”
And it was always the former West Des Moines Valley star's intention to come back unless a jackpot-type guarantee transpired.
The new rule worked for Jok exactly as the NCAA intended, with the NBA providing clarity to a prospect wanting to make a well-informed, stay-or-go decision.
"I’ve been phenomenally impressed with the NBA office. I couldn’t ask for any more of a transparent situation," McCaffery said. "They give you information. And then when he would work out for a team, they would follow up and give you information. And some teams just want to interview him; and get to know him, what kind of person he is. They know he can play.”
Jok instantly becomes one of the Big Ten Conference’s top returning stars. He’ll be a marked man after earning second-team all-conference honors and averaging 16.1 points per game as a junior. He and forward Dale Jones, who is coming off a second ACL surgery, will be the only seniors on the Hawkeyes’ young 2016-17 roster.
By returning, Jok will be positioned to finish his degree in sports and recreation management — not something he takes lightly. Jok’s unlikely journey here began in 2003 when his family fled war-torn Sudan after his father (a general in the Sudan People’s Liberation Army) was murdered. Jok’s older brother, Dau, served as a guiding force for Peter by playing basketball and becoming an accomplished scholar at Pennsylvania, an Ivy League school.
Coming back also allows Jok to improve his draft stock. Only the 30 first-round selections are guaranteed NBA contracts (worth at least $900,000 annually). Second-round picks are guaranteed nothing. Some second-rounders can earn guaranteed money and roster spots (as Iowa’s Devyn Marble did two years ago with the Orlando Magic) and some wind up playing overseas (as Iowa’s Aaron White this past year after being drafted by the Washington Wizards).
Jok will be looking to build on a big junior year, one in which he more than doubled his sophomore scoring average of 7.0 points per game while also improving his stamina and defense. With more significant progress in those areas plus strength and ball-handling, it’s possible that Jok can be a first-round NBA draft pick in June 2017.
But for the next 10 to 11 months, he’s a student-athlete. That's good news for the Hawkeyes.
"This has all been a very positive experience. It’s provided the information Peter needed; it gave him exposure to the NBA on an incredibly high level," McCaffery said. "And he’s as hungry as he’s ever been to take that one last step and move into a situation where he’s going to be a first-round pick. As a staff, we’re committed to making that happen.”