In the summer of 2009, Peter Jok was preparing to enter high school at Des Moines Roosevelt and Harrison Barnes was regarded as the nation’s best high school basketball player, then entering his senior season at Ames.
There were people around the nation, people who have covered high school basketball prospects for a long time, who felt Jok was on a track to be a better player than Barnes. Several felt he was much better than Barnes as a 9th grader to be. ESPN had him as high as #18 in his class at one point while a few scouts rated him as the #1 prospect in his class.
Here is a link to just one example, a blog from Joe Henrickson of the Chicago Sun Times from 2009. Henrickson still covers preps for the Sun Times and I have been following him on twitter for quite a while now as I respect his work. Here is a sampling of that blog entry from three years ago:
Another day at an event where once again the evaluating principles show how much they’ve changed. While the Milwaukee Next Level Invitation lacked an abundance of high-major talent, the player with the biggest upside at the event was a freshman-to-be, 6-4 Class of 2013 star Peter Jok of Roosevelt High School in Des Moines (via Sudan in Africa). That’s what the City/Suburban Hoops Report took from the two days spent in Milwaukee — that the best college prospect had yet to play a high school basketball game.
It’s very rare the Hoops Report talks much about out-of-state players, but in this case it’s hard not to after so much attention has been paid to the terrific Class of 2013 trio of Whitney Young’s Tommy Hamilton, Simeon’s Jabari Parker and De La Salle’s Alex Foster out of Chicago. As talented as the trio of Hamilton, Parker and Foster are, Jok is better.
Henrickson added that was saying a lot and things would change quite a bit over the next four years. It was and they have.
Parker is now being bandied about as the best high school basketball player since Lebron James and was the first non-senior Mr. Basketball in the state of Illinois in the 32 years the award has been given out. When you consider the amazing players that state has produced during that time, it’s an historic achievement.
While Parker’s star has risen, Jok has seen his fade.
Jok suffered a tear of his patellar tendon sometime in late 2010, something that has bothered him for the better part of the last two seasons according to his high school coach Jeff Horner at Des Moines Valley, he was no where near healthy.
“During the season, I’d say he was playing at around 60 percent,” Horner said. “When you play at 60 percent when you are used to playing at high level, you get frustrated and it was a struggle for him. I think he let it get to him a little bit and got down because he couldn’t do what he normally did.”
“But he has worked hard with rehab since the end of last season and probably playing around 85 percent now, which is huge coming from where he was in a small amount of time. He is getting better and I think he is to the point where he will be working on getting back in basketball shape and trusting that his knee is OK. Then he will be able to make the same kind of moves he used to make and hopefully play at that level, which is what his doctors expect.”
As previously established, that is a pretty high level. Horner believes Jok is still very much a high-major prospect and as the video at the top of the page shows, he is returning to the air.
“From what he has told me, his doctors expect him to have a full recovery,” Horner said. “We had open gyms this spring and he is already exploding and getting up. I saw the same video you saw; he went up one time in warm ups and I have seen him get up as well and throw it down well with two hands jumping off of two feet.”
As it relates to the Iowa basketball program, the Iowa coaches are still very much interested in Jok. Iowa will have just one scholarship to award this fall with the recent addition of Wisconsin transfer Jarrod Uthoff. It’s no secret that Iowa is looking for a slashing combo guard who can also knock down the three, which is exactly what Jok is when he is healthy. Horner, who played for Iowa in the Big Ten in the last decade, believes he can play that position at the high major level.
“I believe he is a shooting guard or small forward, which is what I think most people are thinking. If I were to look at him in Iowa’s offense, he would be a wing player…a two or a three in that offense.” Horner said. “I think he is a wing player and he shoots well. He has a good one-dribble pull up and makes plays for other people which is great. If you were in a pinch you could play him at the point, too. He is versatile and reminds me a lot of Devyn Marble in a sense that they are both right around 6-6 and they have the ability to get to the rim and solid ball handling skills.”
Having seen tape on Jok as well as having spoken with talent evaluators who have seen him play, Jok is the more polished outside shooter if we were to continue the comparison to Marble. But like Marble, Jok isn’t all about scoring the ball.
“His two biggest strengths before the injury were shooting and playmaking. He is an unselfish player, which is great for someone who has all that offensive ability. Those two things haven’t changed. He still shoots the ball extrememly well and gets his teammates involved,” Horner said.
When most young athletes get injured, especially those who receive the kind of accolades and expectations that Jok heard, the time away from the game and out of touch with your talent can have an impact, something Horner has seen with Jok.
“Before the injury, I wouldn’t say he took game for granted but he has a better appreciation for it now. Last year he would get down and shut everything down,” Horner said. “Since the spring, he has been working extremely hard and is in gym all the time. He really is a gym rat now and is taking nothing for granted and loves the game. He wants to play at the high major level and beyond.”
As for Jok’s recruitment, he was certainly on the radar of every major college program three and even two years ago, before his knee injury. After the injury, most programs stepped back and are taking a ‘wait and see’ approach. Based on my discussions with talent evaluators and scouts, there have been ‘local’ schools who have remained in more close contact with Jok, with Iowa, Wisconsin, Creighton, Drake and UNI among them.
Jok is presently at the NBA Players Camp, the same camp where incoming freshman Adam Woodbury blew up a year ago after earning camp MVP honors. To say this is a huge weekend in the young man’s life would be an understatement as Jok’s performance will be one of the more anticipated results.
While Jok may not be the hot commodity he once was, Horner says he has not been forgotten.
“I have coaches calling me from all over. They can call me at any time. A lot of them have held their offers back to see what he can do this summer. This summer will be a big one for him and he has to play,” Horner said.
“He is at the NBA players camp right now, with the top 100 players in the country. I told him that everyone there can play and you have to show everyone that you can go hard 100 percent of the time. You have to have a good attitude on the floor and you want to go out and play and prove yourself. A lot of coaches are still calling. They want to see if he is healthy and this summer will be big for him.”
After speaking with Horner, I placed a few calls to some talent evaluators and folks who are tied into the college basketball recruiting scene. The Iowa Hawkeyes will definitely be one of programs eagerly awaiting news on Jok’s performance.
If he can prove his knee and health are on the mend and if he can show some of that ‘old’ athleticism, it’s likely his star may rise again.
NOTE: Jok Averaged 10.2/ppg for West Des Moines Valley in 19 games while playing around 60 percent, according to his coach Jeff Horner. Shot 86.5% from the free throw line and 37.3% from the line.