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IOWA CITY — This is Peter Jok’s team now.
This is the time when the West Des Moines Valley grad and Iowa senior steps into the limelight once filled by Jarrod Uthoff, Aaron White and Devyn Marble.
This is the time he gets to showcase his transformation from a highly-talented, but not-exactly-multi-dimensional player to the all-around player he is now. This is the time he gets to lead. This is the time he gets to carry the load in the moments everyone else can’t.
So is Peter Jok ready for all that?
To ask his coach, Fran McCaffery, you bet.
“I’ve been really, really happy with Pete’s development there, and as you know, it didn’t just start Saturday when we officially started practice Oct. 1,” McCaffery said Tuesday at the team’s media day. “It’s kind of when the last year ends, and he recognized that immediately, and it wasn’t easy because as you remember, he put his name in (to NBA Draft consideration). So it was a very critical thing for him to recognize. While he was getting a thousand shots a day up with an NBA basketball and traveling and trying out for teams, whenever we had a workout (here), he was there early and stayed late, said all the right things to the young guys, and led that group both through example and verbally. So I was really impressed with him there.”
Pete, what say you?
“I want to be a better leader and lead this team,” Jok said, “because it’s my team now.”
Don’t ever let it be said Peter Jok lacks confidence.
Jok acknowledged it’s his team, but not in a braggadocios way. It was said in the context of understanding what his role not only should be thanks to time, but also has to be if the Hawkeyes are going to return to the NCAA Tournament coming off a 22-11 2015-16 season.
His teammates have seen a change in him in the way he approaches things off the court. He tested the NBA Draft waters before returning, and that’s obviously where his sights are set for the future. His habits reflect his dedication, and his dedication should run off.
“I think maybe some of his small habits. In particular, I think he’s taking this a lot more serious because he wants to be an NBA player,” said sophomore Nicholas Baer. “He’s taking care of his body more, I think he’s getting more sleep and just doing the little things day-in and day-out to be successful. I’m really excited for him to have a great season and be our leader.”
McCaffery gave Jok the nod to shoot when he feels like he’s open, and that obviously hasn’t changed. Jok finished eighth in the Big Ten in scoring at 16.1 points per game last season and shot 43.1 percent from the field and 40.2 percent from 3-point range. He made 80 3-pointers total, and that number might have to be higher in 2016-17.
If anything, the increased reliance the Hawkeyes will have on him is encouraging for Jok. It’s certainly not pressure.
“I don’t let all that get in my head. I just play the game and let it be,” Jok said. “I always play my game. This year, I’ve got the ultimate green light, so I can play freely and I don’t have to worry about anything. I can try to get everybody involved and do what I do best.”
What he does best has long been shoot the ball, but make no mistake: Jok has improved his game at the other end, too.
He finished last season ranked fifth in the Big Ten in steal percentage (steals per defensive possession), according to KenPom.com, totaling 40 in 2015-16. That’s a long way from 19 steals all of his sophomore year and just nine in his freshman year. Jok’s defensive presence was vital in wins against Michigan State, Purdue and in the NCAA Tournament win against Temple.
But yeah, what he does best still is and always will be on the offensive end of the floor.
As good as he’s been, McCaffery said he’s got to change his offensive game, if only slightly, because opponents will be able to focus a lot more on him than they have in the past. Having Uthoff, White and Marble around in years past was plenty enough to get a guy open.
Now, McCaffery said, “he’s going to have to (add to his game) because he’s going to be defended differently than he’s ever been before.” Jok will be faceguarded, double-teamed and, at the very least, have the opponent’s best defender in his shorts from the opening tip. He’ll bring the ball up a little more, too McCaffery said — something Jok isn’t thrilled about, but is willing to do “if it’s good for the team” — adding to the variety of ways he’ll impact the team.
Yeah, the NBA is out there, and Jok — like everyone who laces up sneakers — wants to get there. McCaffery has no doubt Jok will make the adjustments necessary to succeed within the Hawkeyes’ framework and be the leader he needs Jok to be.
It’s his team now, after all.
“At the end of it all, Pete is a guy who wants to win. There’s always the, ‘Well, they want to see me do more of this. If I do more of this, maybe I move up in the draft,’” McCaffery said. “But I don’t ever think you’ll see Pete make that the priority. That’s not who he is, that’s not his character. I have complete confidence he’ll lead this team.”
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