Peter Jok's extraordinary past prepared him for this season

Nicole Auerbach

WASHINGTON, D.C. — You can say that Peter Jok was the Robin to Jarrod Uthoff’s Batman a season ago, if you want. But make one thing clear in that comparison: Jok was not a sidekick that deferred or took a backseat in any way.

Jok averaged 16.1 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game for last year’s Hawkeyes, who finished fifth in the Big Ten and ultimately lost in the second round of the NCAA tournament. He was, undoubtedly, one of the best players in one of the best conferences in the country. But the 6-6, 200-pound guard expects even more from himself as he enters his senior season.

This is Jok’s team now.

He’s the only true senior on the roster, and as the accolades begin to come in — Jok was named to the preseason all-Big Ten team this week leading into the conference’s basketball media day — it’s clear he’ll shoulder responsibilities both as a team leader and the go-to guy on the court.

Which, by the way, his coach thinks he’s completely prepared for.

“He was kind of a goofy freshman who was talented and up-and-down,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffrey said Thursday at media day. “Then, he really got in shape and was a really good player his sophomore year, earned a starting position not at the beginning but a couple of games in, was an integral part of an NCAA tournament team. Then, he becomes a 16-point scorer, one of the premier players in our league. He puts his name into the draft, goes through that process. But he never loses sight of his team and his teammates: ‘If I go back, it’s going to be my team. If there’s a workout, I have to be there. If there’s a meeting, I have to be there.’”

Peter Jok during Iowa Hawkeyes media day in Iowa City Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2016.

McCaffery describes Jok as a “positive” leader, which is important with the youth on Iowa’s roster; the Hawkeyes have 10 freshmen and sophomores. Often times, it’s better for them to receive some encouragement than a veteran player getting in their faces.

“I’ve never been in this position before, so I’m still trying to learn how to be a leader, a great leader,” Jok said. “It’s kind of hard right now. But once the season starts, I think I’ll have to button down and get everybody to straighten up.”

Jok knew he’d be stepping up into this kind of role if he returned. So, to prepare for the challenges of leadership, he spoke to the veterans of recent Iowa teams, picking their brains and styles to find effective leadership styles. He also tried to glean what he could from one of the best leaders he’s ever been around: His older brother, Dau.

“He’s always talked to me about being a great leader,” Peter Jok said. “He’s the main reason why this isn’t so hard for me to be in this role. He’s been the dad of my family since my dad died. We’ve always just looked up to him, and he’s always been there.”

Dau, indeed, has been more like a father figure than a brother to Peter since their childhood, when their father Dut, a military commander in war-torn Sudan, was murdered.

Their mother fled Sudan and took her family to Des Moines, where the boys eventually got interested in sports. Dau eventually played basketball and graduated from Penn before becoming an activist for the Sudanese people; Jok earned a Division I scholarship and stayed home to join the Hawkeyes.

Jok’s mother, Amelia Ring Bol, is a member of the South Sudan parliament. Jok’s guardian, Mike Nixon, works in business. Jok considers himself fortunate to have been around three leaders throughout his life.

“I don't think there is any question about that,” McCaffery said. “I don't know if there is a better example of how to lead than what he saw with his brother essentially taking over as the parent in that family, the male role model.”

Combine that with the path Jok’s taken to becoming one of the best players in college basketball — the hard work he’s put in to improve defensively, and to learn how to create off the bounce in particular — and McCaffery thinks it’s pretty simple.

“What you're seeing now is the culmination of all of his experiences, and I'm really proud of him for that,” he said.