He didn't send a two-word press release to announce his return, but Peter Jok did announce today that he'd be returning to Iowa for his senior season. Hawk Central's Chad Leistikow had the first official word from Jok:
BREAKING: Peter Jok tells me he is returning to Iowa for his senior season.— Chad Leistikow (@ChadLeistikow) May 20, 2016
Jok's decision doesn't come as a huge surprise -- he looked like a very fringe-y NBA Draft prospect as soon as he announced his intention to go through the NBA Draft evaluation process and no subsequent developments did much to change that. Jok didn't earn an invitation to the NBA Draft Scouting Combine in Chicago last weekend and he had just one workout with an NBA team, the New Orleans Pelicans. (He apparently had another one scheduled but was forced to pull out after straining ligaments in his thumb.)
Jok and McCaffery expanded on the decision and the NBA Draft evaluation process in an interview with Leistikow. Fran was full of praise for the process -- and for the NBA rule change that allowed it to happen.
"I've been phenomenally impressed with the NBA office. I couldn't ask for any more of a transparent situation," McCaffery said. "They give you information. And then when he would work out for a team, they would follow up and give you information. And some teams just want to interview him; and get to know him, what kind of person he is. They know he can play."
"This has all been a very positive experience. It's provided the information Peter needed; it gave him exposure to the NBA on an incredibly high level," McCaffery said.
Jok also denied the rumors that there was any sort of a rift between he and McCaffery, as had been rumored when he announced that he was entering the NBA Draft process:
"He's had my back ever since I stepped onto campus and when he recruited me. That's just false. I don't know where they heard it," Jok said during a teleconference later Friday after the University of Iowa released his plans. "Me and Coach have been cool since I stepped on campus."
Jok's s return means that Iowa will return one starter from last year's team, as well as a second-team All-Big Ten performer. Jok's production rocketed up last season as he went from 7.0 ppg as a sophomore to 16.1 ppg as a junior. While part of that increase was down to increased usage -- his minutes went from 19.9 per game to 27.7 per game and almost doubled his shot attempts (6.8 to 12.4) and three-point shot attempts (3.1 to 6.2) -- he was also just a much better shooter. He shot 43% from the field overall (up from 40% as a freshman and 36% as a sophomore) and 40% from three-point range (up from 35% as a freshman and 34% as a sophomore). His free throw shooting went down a bit -- from 90% as a sophomore to 85% as a junior -- but it was still very good. He'll need to find a way to get to the line more as a senior -- he only averaged 3.4 attempts a game from the charity stripe.
It's not hard to envision Jok becoming Iowa's first 20 ppg scorer since Adam Haluska in 2006-07 (20.5 ppg). Iowa's offense has trended toward more balanced scoring under Fran, but I think next year will be an exception to that. For one thing, Jok is as good a shooter as Iowa has had under Fran (aside from senior Matt Gatens, perhaps) and his ceiling might be higher than what we've seen so far. The ball is going to be in his hands a lot (especially if he sees some time at point guard). For another, who's going to be taking shots from Jok next year? In years past Iowa has had Uthoff, White, and Marble; they all needed touches and helped carry the load on offense. Iowa's likely to rely on a large cast of guys to step up and be second (and third, and fourth...) bananas next year. If Jok can maintain his shooting percentages from last year and shoot around 15 attempts per game and get his free throw attempts around 5-6 per game, 20 ppg seems within reach.
And it sure won't hurt that Fran seems committed to building the Iowa offense around Jok next year:
Fran says he will use Jok to showcase him next season and that the goal is for him to be a first-round NBA draft pick.— Chad Leistikow (@ChadLeistikow) May 20, 2016
Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery on Jok: "Now it’s his team. He’s excited about that, and he’s ready for that challenge."— Scott Dochterman (@ScottDochterman) May 20, 2016
A first-round NBA Draft pick is a pretty lofty aspiration -- but hey, there's no harm in setting impressive goals. If Jok has that sort of season for Iowa next year, then we'll have front row seats to one of the best seasons in Iowa basketball history -- that would be pretty fun to watch. The key for Jok -- and Iowa -- will be figuring out how to be successful when defenses will be geared up to stop him. He did very well this year, but he also had Uthoff around to attract considerable attention from defenses, two experienced senior point guards (Gesell and Clemmons) who knew how (and where) to get him the ball, and an experienced senior center (Adam Woodbury) who was very good at setting screens. He's not going to have any of those things to work with next year.
That's something to worry about next fall, though. For now, let's just be happy that Peter Jok is coming back to light up scoreboards.