Scoring 21.9 points per game, Peter Jok sits at No. 17 in the NCAA in scoring. But he hasn’t had a lot of help around him, and Iowa has struggled this season after losing much of its talent to graduation last year, most recently suffering a 22-point loss to Purdue in its Big Ten opener.
Because of the loss of scoring and rebounding, Jok has had to take a bigger role not only on the court, but in the locker room as one of just two seniors on the team too.
The Daily talked with Jok at Big Ten Media Day in October to discuss his new leadership role on the team, his summer NBA workouts and his homeland of Sudan.
The Michigan Daily: Now that you’re a senior and the leader of the team, what lessons have you learned throughout your time at Iowa that got you to this point?
Peter Jok: Having the guys who did it before me was key. As a freshman, I had Devyn Marble and Melsahn Basabe. And then my sophomore year, I had Aaron White, and last year, I had four seniors, so I mean just having them as my teammates and looking up (to) and playing with them, that really helped me. Off the court, I was hanging out with them, and I really understood what it took to be a great leader. I’d really like to thank them for where I am.
TMD: Transitioning to the upcoming season, do you know what kind of team you guys are yet?
PJ: We’re a running team. We got a lot of athletic guys. We got big forwards, we got shooters, we got ball handlers, we got playmakers. Right now, we’re working on putting all of the pieces together. Since we’re a young team, it’ll take a little while, but I think once we get there, we’ll be good.
TMD: You lose a lot a lot of scoring and rebounding with four seniors gone, do you see some of your incoming freshmen stepping into those roles right away?
PJ: For sure. Cordell Pemsl, Tyler Cook, and Ryan Kreiner, they play really hard. They can rebound and they can score. We don’t need all three of them to step up this year because we have returning guys like Dale Jones, Ahmad Wagner, Dom Uhl. They can all rebound. The thing with our team is we’re super athletic, ‘1’ through ‘5’ and on the bench too, so we’re not going to worry about that. I think one of those guys will fill in the shoes of the players who graduated.
TMD: You went to the New Orleans Pelicans camp this summer. What was that experience like and what did you learn?
PJ: It was great competition. It was the top players in the country, so going up against them in the three days and competing against them, it showed me this year’s going to be and the next level too. When I came back, I tried to take as much experience as I could and switch my mindset and try to prepare this year differently than I did the last few years.
TMD: What was some of the specific feedback you got from the NBA scouts?
PJ: They say I can make money being a shooter in the NBA, but it’ll help me out if I can be a playmaker as well. When I worked out with the Pelicans, they didn’t think that I could do what I was doing at the workouts, but it’s just because (Iowa’s) offense is different and doesn’t allow us to do our own stuff. But this year, coach is going to put me in a position where I can create my own shot and make plays for other people. And they told me to work on my defense because I’ll be guarding the ‘2’ guards, which are guys who are trying to score, so that was one of the main things I took away from the camp.
TMD: Last year, you had Uthoff, Woodbury, and a couple other seniors and expectations were a little bit higher. What’s the difference in the team’s mindset and how do you deal with that as a leader on the team?
PJ: Since I’ve been here, people have slept on us and pick us low, but we always prove them wrong. Just because we lost four seniors it doesn’t mean we don’t have the same expectations for the team and the program. It’s mostly different because we aren’t experienced like we were last year.
TMD: Knowing that there’s the same expectation as last year, how do you shoulder that pressure?
PJ: I don’t put pressure on myself when it comes to anything, whether that’s being a team leader or the scorer on the team. I just go out there and hoop. But at the same time, my mentality has to be different from last year because I had guys to look up to. This year, I gotta be more aggressive than I was the last few years.
TMD: You grew up in Sudan. Is going back something you want to do and you’re excited about doing?
PJ: My mom is a senator back (in Sudan). I haven’t been back because I’ve been so busy with basketball, but also, there’s a war going on back there, and my mom doesn’t want me to go back there. My mom wants me to stay focused.