The Hy-Vee Classic gives Jok his final homecoming at Wells Fargo Arena.
They’ve been measuring themselves against each other for a decade, and it likely comes to a conclusion Saturday in Des Moines.
Peter Jok will lead his Iowa team against Jeremy Morgan and Northern Iowa at 3:30 p.m. in a Wells Fargo Arena setting that has not been kind to either senior star. The game is technically the undercard at the Hy-Vee Classic, with Drake-Iowa State to follow. There’s no question that Jok vs. Morgan is the main attraction.
The game will not be televised, but online streaming is available at ESPN3.
“I don’t ever look at any game as a one-on-one battle. It’s a team goal,” Jok demurred this week. “I’m not going to go out there and go one-on-one every time. I’m just going to do my part, let the game come to me and do whatever it takes to win.”
Jok became a hotshot on the AAU circuit shortly after arriving in Des Moines from his native Sudan. His long-range acumen was notorious by the time he was 12.
That’s when Morgan first started battling with the newcomer to Iowa. Morgan had an impeccable pedigree and a preternatural all-around game. His father, Michael, played for the Hawkeyes; mother Cris was a Drake Bulldog. Growing up in Coralville, Morgan and his AAU teams frequently matched up with Jok’s.
Jok said he couldn’t count how many times his team has played one of Morgan’s over the years. But from those battles came mutual admiration and a bond.
“His dad’s a great coach. I’m kind of close to his family. They’re nice people,” Jok said. “I’m really proud of the way he’s been having success at UNI. I always knew that he was going to have good success. I knew this year he was going to come out and be a great leader, which he’s doing a great job of leading that team.”
The Iowa forward will miss his fourth straight game Saturday against UNI. How will he blend into the lineup upon his possible Dec. 20 return?
That bond was tested in 2013 when the players finished fantastic high school careers — Jok as the leading scorer in Class 4-A at West Des Moines Valley, and Morgan at Iowa City West, where he was a two-time state champion.
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery coveted both, but had only one scholarship to give. His greatest need was a shooter. That happens to be Jok’s greatest skill.
“We felt like Pete was the best fit at that time,” McCaffery said. “If we had two or three scholarships, (Morgan) would have been offered without hesitation.”
It’s hard to fathom what a team containing both Morgan and Jok would look like. But for basketball fans in the state, a chance to see the shooting guards duel one more time Saturday shapes up as the best holiday treat.
Jok, at 6-foot-6, leads the Big Ten Conference in scoring at 23.8 points per game. He is on the best 10-game points stretch to start a season for the Hawkeyes (5-5) since Fred Brown put up 270 in 1970. Jok scorched Memphis for 42 points last month.
But Jok is taking a page from Morgan’s playbook this winter in developing a more rounded game. He also leads Iowa with 6.2 rebounds per game, is second with 11 steals and third with 24 assists.
“I’ve really been impressed with his overall game. Being able to take guys off the dribble and get to the basket, and also sharing the ball,” Hawkeyes forward Nicholas Baer said of Jok. “Sometimes you can look at guys who are leading the nation in scoring and say, ‘Well, yeah, they’re getting 30-40 shots up.’ But not with Pete. He’s been so efficient from behind the line and at the line, and he’s also creating for others. So overall, getting the chance to play with Peter Jok has been great.”
Morgan, 6-5, has always filled a stat sheet. A consummate team player, he leads the Panthers (5-4) with 18.1 points, 7.3 rebounds and 3.2 assists. Not impressed? He’s also tops on the team with 27 steals and 15 blocked shots.
Morgan has never been known as a great shooter, but that’s changing. In the Panthers’ last game, a home victory over North Dakota, he scored 38 points. All in the second half.
Morgan is hitting 45.8 percent of his 3-pointers this season; Jok is at 40.9.
“Watching him since high school, he’s always been a great team player. He does whatever (his) coach wants him to do,” Jok said of Morgan. “This year I feel like coach (Ben Jacobson) told him to be more of a scorer and more of a leader. And I think he accepted that role and he’s been doing a great job scoring. I’ve always known he can score, and this year he’s got to score for them to be successful.”
Neither player has done much scoring in their three previous college games at Wells Fargo Arena, however. Jok has put up 22 points and is 1-for-12 from the 3-point arc in two victories over Drake and an ugly 56-44 loss two years ago against Morgan’s Panthers.
Morgan has shot the ball better (8-of-16) but has only 21 points in his three games, the last two of them victories.
Have Jok and Morgan saved their best for last? A crowd of 15,000 will soon find out.
“I like guarding any best player on the other team. It’s a challenge for me, and I’ve just got to play my best,” Jok said of the matchup.
“That’s my hometown. There’s going to be a lot of fans there. My family’s going to be there. But at the end of the day, I’m just going down there to win. UNI’s the next game on our schedule. I’m just ready to go play.”