DES MOINES — On the eve of the Hy-Vee Classic, where Iowa, Iowa State, Northern Iowa and Drake men’s basketball teams have their annual meetings, it was a bit of a Big Four reunion at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.
When former Iowa guard Peter Jok and former UNI guard Wes Washpun last played each other, it was in the then-Big Four Classic, in December 2014.
Fast forward three years to Friday night, and it was Washpun and the Iowa Wolves hosting Jok and the Northern Arizona Suns in an NBA G-League game that happened to also be Jok’s road debut as a professional. The pair even guarded each other for a few possessions. Washpun and the Panthers won that 2014 game en route to a 31-win season, but it was Jok and the Suns who got a runaway victory Friday, 131-108.
Washpun is at the beginning of his second year as a professional, while Jok’s career is just beginning. Jok said before the game Friday he was “excited,” that his first game back came in Des Moines, but more than anything he was just glad to be playing competitive basketball again.
“Everybody’s got a different path,” Jok said. “I’ve been out for over a month and it kind of feels like a fresh start. I know the situation I’m in and what I’ve got to do to get back out there.”
Jok went to NBA training camp with the Phoenix Suns and was designated to the G-League roster to “get some experience,” Jok said. His early development has been slower than he’d like, after a groin injury sidelined him early this season.
The 2016-17 Big Ten leading scorer played just 11 minutes Friday night, which he said before the game was expected because the coaching and training staff wanted to ease him back in.
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Still, it was Jok who got the hometown ovation when he checked in for the first time. With family and friends in attendance, Jok may not have had the same contribution to the Suns’ blowout victory, but he viewed it as just another step toward where he wants to be. Jok hit a 3-pointer just before the end of the game for his only points, and had one rebound and one assist.
The patience it’s taken, he said, has not been easy.
“It’s pretty hard, but in this situation you can’t let it get to your head,” Jok said. “You can’t rush it. I got the clear to go and I’m ready to go now.”
Jok and Washpun exchanged quick pleasantries before the game as both warmed up, but didn’t get much of a chance to talk otherwise. The pair were friendly during their college days, as Jok played at Iowa with Josh Ogelsby, who played at Cedar Rapids Washington with Washpun.
Washpun came off the bench Friday, and finished with 12 points, five assists and three rebounds. Washpun came to Des Moines midway through last season after half a season with MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg of the German Bundesliga, where he averaged 5.4 points, 3.2 assists and 2.8 rebounds in 15 games in Germany. In 34 games with the then-Iowa Energy last year, Washpun averaged 6.7 points, 3.9 assists and 2.5 rebounds per game.
When Iowa’s G-League team went through its organization change from the Memphis Grizzlies affiliation to the Minnesota Timberwolves, Washpun was one of just a few holdovers.
The former Warrior and Panther has played in 10 of the Wolves’ 14 games, averaging six points, 2.2 rebounds and 1.9 assists. While he hasn’t been in contact with the Timberwolves about a call-up, he did spend the offseason getting feedback on how to advance his career with his time in Des Moines.
“It’s just understanding the league and the system and what it takes, really,” Washpun said. “You’ve just got to trust everything you’ve learned.
“I just have to focus on developing and getting as good as I can and seeing where the chips fall. I just have to prove I can put the ball in the basket. If I can prove I can put the ball in the basket consistently, I think there’s a spot for me at the next level.”
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Jok and Washpun are just two of several players from Iowa, Iowa State or UNI in their era of college basketball to play in the G-League. Former Hawkeyes Jarrod Uthoff and Adam Woodbury are with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants and Westchester Knicks, respectively. Uthoff faced off against former Cyclone Abel Nader and the Maine Red Claws on Thursday night. Fellow former Cyclone Georges Niang plays for the Santa Cruz Warriors. Former Panther Marvin Singleton played with the Wolves for five games earlier this season.
Uthoff is averaging 19.5 points, 9.1 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game, and Jok said, “he’s been balling out, and I expect him to get called up soon.”
Jok and Washpun both said they try to keep up as much as they can with guys they used to play with or against, and Washpun said, “I’m glad (Pete) is back healthy. I try to keep tabs on everybody, especially if they’re from this area. It just tells you how high-level the state of Iowa basketball was.”
“I’m really happy for (Wes), where he came from to be on that G-League team, he’s been playing really good, and I’m just happy for him to be able to still compete at the next level,” Jok said. “We just have a lot of great players coming out of Iowa. Obviously we’ve got Harrison (Barnes) in the NBA. I feel like the G-League is the next best league in the world after the NBA, so for guys to be in there and putting up numbers is a great thing.”
Both Jok and Washpun wished their former teams well for Saturday’s Hy-Vee Classic games, but neither will be in attendance. Jok and the Suns are traveling to Frisco, Texas, to play the Texas Legends on Saturday, while Washpun and the Wolves are headed to Sioux Falls, S.D., to play the Sioux Falls Skyforce.
The Hy-Vee Classic tips off at 1 p.m. Saturday as Iowa faces Drake, followed by Iowa State vs Northern Iowa.
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