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Iowa’s Peter Jok went from superstar 8th grader to afterthought. Now he’s one of the Big Ten’s top players

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Jok's skill set is finally taking form at Iowa, who suddenly looks like one of the top teams in the country.

Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

As soon as he was hired as Iowa's coach in March 2010, Fran McCaffery got a tip from his friend, who was the assistant coach at Penn: Go see a high school freshman named Peter Jok.

"A good friend of mine, John Gallagher, the head coach at Hartford, had just signed his brother Dau at Penn, and he called me and said, ‘Hey, his little brother is really good, you've gotta get on him.'"

Getting Jok shouldn't have been easy. Iowa was a major rebuilding project, having come off three straight losing season and having not made the NCAA Tournament since 2005-06, when Jok was in fifth grade and more of a soccer fan than a basketball fan. Making matters more difficult, some recruiters ranked Jok as a top-10 recruit nationally as a freshman. His offer list was competitive, and the offers started piling up in eighth grade.

"Marquette, Illinois, it was a lot," Jok said. "I was talking to Kansas, Louisville, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Kansas State."

What did these coaches see? As Jok put it, a "scorer."

"When I first saw him, I thought he could play the one," McCaffery said. "He was a big guard and he was a big presence, but the more I was around him, I said this guy can really make shots, as a shot maker, but also who can drive, who can post."

Six years later, that's what Jok has turned into as a junior at Iowa. He has an offensive rating of 123.3 in Big Ten play --€” 15th-best in the conference -- and he's also in the top 20 in the league in effective field goal percentage, three-point percentage, free throw percentage and steal percentage. And after a rough two years, he's a big reason why Iowa is off to a 5-0 start against a monster Big Ten slate, scoring 19 vs. Michigan State, 11 at Purdue, 23 at Michigan State and 16 vs. Michigan. He is averaging 14.7 points per game against KenPom.com top 50 opponents.

Iowa now has legitimate national championship hopes, with the No. 2 ranking on KenPom and a No. 2 seed in SB Nation's latest bracketology. And much of that is thanks to Jok's performance. But it sure was a long time coming.

If Jok had stayed this good and continued to play like he had as a freshman in high school, there's a chance Iowa never would have had a chance for him. But at a Nike camp in St. Louis during his freshman year, Jok tore his patellar tendon, and from there, everything spiraled. He lost his athletic ability, and he couldn't even dunk.

At first, he thought it was tendonitis, so he decided to play through it. It didn't work.

"I went to see him his sophomore year, and he really wasn't himself, and I remember talking to his coach after the game, and he said his knee has been bothering him," McCaffery said. "And he took some time off, and I went and saw him his junior year, and he didn't play well at all, and I really questioned whether I should be recruiting him."

So did everyone else. When Jok finally learned of his real diagnosis, he got surgery to repair his knee. The doctors warned that it would be a full, but long recovery. But that wasn't good enough for recruiters. Many of them pulled their offers.

"At the moment, it was new to me," said Jok, who came to Des Moines as a refugee from Sudan and grew up wanting to be a soccer player. "I was getting offers from everybody and all of the sudden I got hurt and everybody left. As I got older, I realized everything happens for a reason and this is part of a business, and they wanted the best to come play for them. But at the time, it was new to me."

Rather than pull his offer, McCaffery consulted his team doctor, who said that recovering from a patellar tendon injury can be a long process. So, McCaffery decided to wait it out, hoping to eventually get that kid who dazzled everyone in eighth and ninth grade.

It was a long wait.

"I wasn't 100 percent until after my sophomore year (of college)," Jok said.

So here we are in Jok's junior year, and he's living up to the hype, and the timeline, McCaffery knew he had to deal with.

Year

Minutes percentage

Offensive rating

Points per game

Steal percentage

eFG%

Three-point percentage

2014-15

49.30%

96.9

7

1.70%

43.50%

34.30%

2015-16

57.70%

113.4

13.9

3.20%

51.30%

38.70%

2015-16 Big Ten

75.50%

123.3

15.4

3.60%

54.10%

42.90%

Jok has made a major jump in virtually every statistical category. He's not only shooting better, he's also becoming a top on-ball defender, with one of the best steal percentages in the Big Ten. He's turning into the next great Iowa player with a super unique, strange skill set that makes him a nightmare for opposing defenses.

First, Iowa had Aaron White, who could run the floor and get fouled better than anyone. Now, the Hawkeyes have the three-point shooting, shot-blocking sensation Jarrod Uthoff and Jok. At 6'6, he can handle the ball, shoot the three, post up and endlessly bug three-point shooters on defense. He can play pretty much every position on the floor, and that's reflected in his shot chart, from Shot Analytics.

jokshotchart

Jok is money from three, but he can also post up smaller centers and drive the lane, where he's shooting a commendable 64 percent.

That all-around game was on display against Michigan. Jok hit four threes in the Hawkeyes' 11-point win against the Wolverines, but he also showed off-post moves like this:

When Jok is doing that and hitting his threes, he's virtually unguardable. Put an undersized player on him, and he'll post them up. Put a slower big man on him, and he'll get open for a corner three. Michigan coach John Beilein was sufficiently perplexed.

"We didn't worry about him as a freshman. And now all of a sudden he's Tim Hardaway III out there," Beilein said. "He's getting all kinds of good stuff and good looks, and they've become a good team."

With Jok playing like this, Iowa is an elite team, and he fits in perfectly with Iowa's group of misfits under McCaffery that includes White and Uthoff -- players who do a bunch of random things really, really well. It couldn't have come at a better time for the Hawkeyes, who are at the destination of the rebuilding project that started when they first started recruiting Jok six years ago.

In that time, Jok has gone from a top recruit, to a fringe Division I prospect, to a star for the Hawkeyes. It was a strange path, but one that has Iowa on its way to being one of the best teams in the country.