The former WDM Valley and Iowa star was here to raise awareness for the Dut Jok Youth Foundation ... and see his mom. Chad Leistikow / The Register
Peter Jok hopes his professional basketball career is about to take off.
And there would be no more fitting place for that to happen than in Des Moines.
It was here that Jok, a South Sudan refugee, learned the game of basketball before starring at Des Moines Roosevelt, then West Des Moines Valley, then Iowa.
At 7 p.m. Friday night, as a member of the NBA G League’s Northern Arizona Suns, Jok is scheduled to play his first healthy game as a pro at Wells Fargo Arena against the Iowa Wolves. Friday's game is Northern Arizona's only trip to Des Moines this season.
In advance of his return home, Jok spoke with the Des Moines Register on three topical items: His pro plans, his recent Cy-Hawk bet and watching his former Hawkeye teammates struggle.
Jok was scooped up by the Phoenix Suns as an undrafted free agent, but one morning he awoke with crippling pain. It turned out to be a strained adductor muscle on his right side. After being sent to the G League and missing most of the preseason, Jok played nine minutes in Northern Arizona’s first regular-season game before getting shut down until he was healthy.
“I wish I wouldn’t have gotten hurt,” Jok says. “But I’m a big believer in that everything happens for a reason, so I’m trying to stay positive. I know God’s got a plan for me. Everybody’s got different paths.”
Now, after more than a month on the sidelines, Jok is antsy to show what he can do. Everyone already knows the 6-foot-6 guard is a smooth 3-point shooter (he was the Big Ten Conference’s leading scorer last season). He probably won’t play more than 15-20 minutes Friday, as the Suns want to ease him back into action.
“Just trying to show the scouts and the NBA people that I can defend and be a ‘3 and D’ guy,” Jok says. “I can shoot with the best of them. I’m sure they are going to see that as I get back into my rhythm.”
Former Iowa State star (and good-natured Hawkeye antagonist) Georges Niang reached out to Jok on Twitter to offer a wager before the Hawkeyes and Cyclones played Dec. 7 at Hilton Coliseum.
Iowa wins? Niang donates $1,000 to the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital.
Iowa State wins? Jok donates $1,000 to the Blank Children’s Hospital in Des Moines.
Jok agreed to the terms. While at Iowa, Jok had befriended Niang and eventually got the best of Cyclone buddies Monte Morris and Naz Long as a senior.
This year, Iowa lost.
And while in town, Jok is going to make good on his promise with the $1,000 donation to Blank on Friday. And for good measure, Niang said he would donate $1,000 to the UI Children’s Hospital, anyway.
“I would’ve been more mad (about the result) if it was (paid) to him,” Jok says. “… At the end of the day, we’re giving back to kids in Des Moines and in Iowa City.
“Stuff like that is going to leave a legacy for a long time.”
Jok says it’s been hard to watch his former teammates at times. He remembers how well they were playing when with them in the summer, but isn’t seeing that same fire now as Iowa is off to a disappointing 5-6 start.
He’s been talking to the current Iowa team leaders and reminding them that basketball is supposed to be fun.
“They just look like they’re not having fun out there,” Jok says. “I told them, 'This summer you guys were looking great. That’s because you guys were having fun, and you guys were competing.'
“You’ve got to get everybody to compete. At the end of the day, if you don’t compete at this level, you’re not going to win.”
Jok was the senior leader on last year’s team that went 19-15, but now the Hawkeyes are led by inconsistent freshmen and sophomores.
“It’s hard to watch them, because I wish I was out there. I feel like they’re making strides,” Jok says. “If they keep getting better every game, they’re going to turn the season around.”