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IOWA CITY — So much of what Peter Jok has meant to the Iowa men’s basketball team can’t be fully understood just yet.
For one, the ride isn’t finished yet. For another, especially this season, it might take a long period of reflection.
Jok plays his final game (presumably, barring a home NIT game) at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Sunday, and the Big Ten’s best scorer this season will have one more chance to make the crowd swell with a 3-pointer or six. It goes beyond just that for Coach Fran McCaffery, though. Jok was McCaffery’s “No. 1 priority when I moved to Iowa City.”
It seems like McCaffery had his priorities in line.
“He’s been very special to me for a lot of reasons,” McCaffery said. “I tried to connect with him initially in a way that he would feel comfortable coming to play here. And his growth has meant a lot to this program in so many ways.
“I couldn’t be happier he’s enjoying the success he has.”
More than the 11.9 career points per game, 3.2 rebounds and 1.5 assists or his 41 percent career shooting percentage, McCaffery said Jok’s biggest impact on the program — especially its future — came off the court.
Jok has talked a lot about being a leader this year and has taken a lot of blame when things haven’t gone right for the Hawkeyes. After losses at Purdue and Northwestern, the West Des Moines Valley graduate shouldered that burden, rightfully or not. His leadership extended into the offseason and perhaps most importantly into the recruiting process, McCaffery said.
The well-covered youth movement in the Iowa program can be traced to what was done when those players were on campus as recruits. Without him, McCaffery suggested, maybe there’s no Tyler Cook or Isaiah Moss wearing black and gold.
“The thing I talk about that is maybe a little bit unique — a lot of guys are here because of him. He did such a great job as a recruiter selling this program, selling our style, selling this institution and what it’s like to live here,” McCaffery said. “I’ll be forever thankful to him for that. He’s hosted pretty much all the guys we have. There’s just no substitute for that. The most important thing in any recruiting process is your players and their ability to communicate what it’s like to play here. He’s done that incredibly well, at the same time being one of the best players in the country.”
Of course, Jok isn’t the only senior to be honored before Sunday’s noon tipoff against Penn State. Dale Jones has one year of eligibility left, but with his injury history it’s uncertain if he’ll return to the program after this season.
He got to play in the previous home game against Indiana — which also happened to be his bobblehead night — but McCaffery said his knee swelled up and it kept him from being available. It’s uncertain if Jones will be available Sunday for what very well could be his final game for Iowa.
Jones will be honored with Jok and his teammates and coaches will celebrate him just the same, but obviously for different reasons. His career was star-crossed basically from the moment he left Waterloo — littered with injuries.
“You just feel awful for the kid because he’s such a great person. It’d be different if he was a malcontent and had an attitude problem,” McCaffery said. “This guy is the best and his teammates love him. Everyone’s rooting for him. It’s just been incredibly frustrating for him. He’s handled it like a pro and I couldn’t be more proud of him.”
So one more game left to see if Jok can break free from the hounding double-teams and in-your-shorts defense — coverage he’s at times claimed is illegal — that has come to define his senior season.
One more game to see Jok hold his follow-through on a made 3-pointer. One more game in a regular season that is nothing if not memorable for McCaffery and Co.
One more game for Jok to put an exclamation point on his games in Iowa City.
“I think he expects (a lot) from himself. It’s the way it’s been all year and he’s been terrific,” McCaffery said. “I think probably you can’t answer (how memorable it’s been) til it’s all over. Let’s see what happens in the next couple weeks and then we’ll look back. This is a group that makes you want to come to work every day. That says a lot about who they are.”
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