OK, Hawkeye fans, go ahead and exhale. Peter Jok is coming back.
The junior guard, expected to be the focal point of the Iowa basketball team for next season and probably one of the elite players in the Big Ten, announced Friday that he is withdrawing his name from the NBA Draft and will be back in a Hawkeye uniform for one final season.
Jok, who averaged 16.1 points per game and made 80 3-point field goals last season, will be Iowa’s only returning starter from a 22-11 team. He made it sound as though there really never was much doubt that he’d return.
“I was coming back regardless,’’ he said.
But he said the experience of going through workouts, doing an individual audition with the New Orleans Pelicans and being subjected to multiple interviews with NBA executives was extremely positive and beneficial.
The 6-foot-6 Jok took advantage of a new rule that allows college players to enter the draft multiple times but still return to their college team as long as they do not hire an agent and they declare their intentions by a certain date. This year’s deadline is next Wednesday.
“I think it’s been a very, very thorough and great experience for Pete to go through …’’ Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “From the beginning, he wanted to see what it was like. He wanted to go through the workouts and have conversations with NBA people.’’
McCaffery said he was involved in the process every step of the way, funneling as much information as he could to Jok and conferring with him, his brother Dau and his guardian, Mike Nixon.
“Pete’s made a decision based on a very good feeling about himself,’’ McCaffery said. “He looked at himself and said ‘I’m going to come back next year and have the kind of year that’s going to put me in position to be a first-round pick.'’’
Jok ended up going through just one workout with an individual team, but may have done more had he not suffered a thumb injury.
“At the beginning of a workout, I was guarding Ben Bentil from Providence and my thumb got stuck in his back,’’ Jok said. “I sprained ligaments in the thumb and they said I was out 2 to 3 weeks. I couldn’t work out for anybody else or it would have gotten worse.’’
Jok said he still learned a lot from going through the draft process, however.
“In the workout with the Pelicans, the guys were super athletic,’’ he said. “They said I did pretty well but they said I needed work on defense. That’s pretty much what I heard from everybody.’’
Jok said he feels he also needs to work more on his ballhandling skills and said he probably will try to play point guard as much as possible during games and workouts this summer.
That does not mean he will be the Hawkeyes’ point guard next season although McCaffery conceded that is a possibility.
“As long as we can all dribble the ball and get it down the court, I don’t think we really need a specific point guard,’’ Jok said. “We have Christian Williams back and Jordan Bohannon coming in, and they’re going to do a great job.
“But if coach next season wants me to play point guard, I definitely am going to play point guard …’’ Jok added. “I’m just excited to come back and play with the young guys. I’m going to work on my leadership skills and try to lead this team.’’
McCaffery said there is no question it will be Jok’s team. He is relying on him to be the unquestioned leader just as Aaron White was in 2014-15 and Matt Gatens was in 2011-12.
He said he plans to feature Jok even more in the team’s offense than in the past, moving him around to different spots on the floor. He’s not concerned about how Jok will respond to additional defensive attention because he already was a focal point for opposing defenses last season.
“They chased him around, they face-guarded him, they mugged him, they switched on him,’’ McCaffery said. “They did all those things and he still got 29 in the Big Ten tournament.’’
At times in the past, conditioning has been an issue for Jok. He sometimes wore himself out playing defense and that occasionally detracted from his ability to contribute offensively. McCaffery said he’s confident Jok will be stronger than ever and will be in the best physical condition of his life next season.
He said he already can see that Jok is “all in’’ and “as hungry as he’s ever been.’’
“If he can just get himself to the point physically where he’s dominant on every possession and can play 36 minutes a game,’’ McCaffery said. “I tell you what, no one has worked harder since the season ended than Peter Jok on his body and on his game … He recognizes that this is his team now.’’