Iowa men’s basketball program has started to hit its recruiting stride with this year’s crop of five freshmen vaulting the Hawkeyes to 28th nationally in Rivals’ 2012 recruiting rankings.
Today, Iowa will sign one player for the 2013 class — West Des Moines Valley guard Peter Jok. At 6-foot-6, Jok has a versatile game that translates to shooting guard and small forward. Jok played in 19 games last year and averaged 10.2 points. He hit 86.5 percent of his free-throw attempts, grabbed 4.3 rebounds and shot 22 3-pointers. As a sophomore at Des Moines Roosevelt, Jok averaged 18.5 points and 7.0 rebounds game and was named second team all-state.
Jok drew interest from several high-major schools as a freshman, but he suffered a torn patella tendon in his left knee that season. He fought through the pain for two years before opting for surgery after his sophomore season. He’s slated to back up Devyn Marble.
While the 2013 class consists of one player, Iowa has three open scholarships for 2014 after Marble, Zach McCabe and Melsahn Basabe graduate. Iowa has scholarship offers out to more than a dozen current high school juniors in that class, ranging from Dubuque to Chicago and Baltimore to Brooklyn. Assistant coach and New York native Andrew Francis roams the country looking for players. Here’s what Francis had to say about recruiting players to Iowa.
Q: Now that the program has set the foundation in terms of talent, what’s the next step in recruiting?
A: “I think you still have to keep the mindset of constantly wanting to get guys in here who can help you take the next step. How to get talented players in here. As great a coach that you can be, It’s tough to win without good players. We want to continue to try to get the best players in here that fit, not only on the basketball court, but within the culture we have here in Iowa City and a program that coach (Fran McCaffery) is building.
“It’s a good challenge for us because we continue to chip away at that rock to break through, to really get through to a higher level of kid. We’re recruiting really good kids now, really talented kids, high-character kids, too. I think overall the reception has been far more positive now that when we first got here. People are recognizing some of the things that we’ve done and I think they kind of see some of the vision that we’ve talked to them about. They kind of see it now. It’s been good.”
Q: Is is easier now than when you first arrived when you not only had to smooth over ties, you had to build ties?
A: “I think more and more, I won’t say it’s easier recruiting … it’s never easy, especially when you go after a higher caliber of young man, because you compete against the Kentucky that may come in late, the Dukes that come in late, you’re always competing against Big Ten schools in this Midwest region. But I will say the recognition, the reception is definitely better now than it was when we first started. I think there’s a growing respect, a resurgence of respect for the Iowa program and I think it’s refreshing. It’s a shame to say that it’s a growing respect, a resurgence of respect because this is a storied program. But a lot of young guys nowadays are focused on the now, focused on what they see on ESPN or what they see on TV. It’s one of those things where the more you win, the more you you’re out there in the public eye. I think people start to equate you with success the more they see you.”
Q: How challenging is it to project a player’s talent to a high-major program when an athlete is 15, 16 years old?
A: “It is difficult because you’ll have a situation where you’ll have a kid may not show you as much as another. The kid that shows you that he has a greater talent set at this point may plateau and the other young man may really skyrocket a year or two from now. It is a difficult situation, there’s no exact science to recruiting. But what I try to look for personally is the skill set that you display right at this moment. If it’s good enough to say if you were a senior, would we take you? Then I get excited. If you’re in your sophomore or junior year and you look good enough that if you were a senior and we’d take you right now, that’s the first thing I try to do is just to see where their skill set is and then there’s some guys that you feel like, OK, he’s got a decent skill set but now I want to watch and see how you grow.
“There’s some guys that you go after really strong early on and there’s other guys that you know that you’ve to watch. Because they’ve got long arms, feet, they’re only 6-3 right now but chances are they can grow to 6-7 or 6-6. It’s a guessing game in some aspects but you’ve still have to trust your eyes.”
Q: Do you look for player first or position first?
A: “I think player first but need first. We like to look at what we need. What’s going to make our team complete. Because you can go out there and get another young man who basically does what Aaron White does, bring him in next year and Aaron has two more years here. You don’t want someone to sit for two years. The premise of, one of the things I like to make sure I highlight when I talk to recruits, what kind of opportunity do I have to play right away. That’s a big, big point you have to address early on with young recruits. They don’t want to sit anymore. ‘It’s how quickly can I get on the floor.’ That’s something I always feel comfortable saying to them because I know we recruit need based as opposed to we just want to get the best guy even though we have two guys that does what he does. Need-based first, then we just kind of go from there.
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