Peter Jok was set to find out Thursday night whether a long journey that began in war-torn Sudan and detoured through Ugandan and Kenyan refugee camps would end up with him landing on an NBA basketball court.
Jok, a University of Iowa standout for four years, was predicted to be chosen in the first two rounds of the National Basketball Association draft in New York.
The 198-centimeter-tall (6 feet 6 inches) Jok told VOA’s South Sudan in Focus that his future once looked bleak, but since he began to play competitive basketball, he has set his sights on achieving a bright future.
“I have had a lot of ups and downs, but it has made me into a better man and a better player,” he said. “Everything I have been through has given me more edge, more motivation to go harder. The process is hard work, but you keep the faith and believe in God.”
From Lakes state
Jok, who is originally from South Sudan’s Lakes state, scored an average of 19.9 points per game in his senior year at Iowa. He was one of 62 players invited to the NBA Combine, a talent showcase for college players that’s held before the draft.
Jok made the All-America team and, on his 23rd birthday on March 30 this year, won the 3-point-shooting contest held as part of U.S. college basketball’s Final Four weekend festivities.
“In today’s game, every team needs a shooter,” Jok said. “I can shoot with the best of them. I feel my game fits the NBA better than college, because there’s more availability to do more things. My strength is shooting. And that’s what a lot of NBA teams need right now.”
Jok credits his mother, Amelia Ring Bol, for his leadership skills and work ethic.
“Growing up, I was always with my mom,” he said. “I would go everywhere with her. No matter what she went through, I was always with her. No matter what I am doing, I am doing it for her. I just knew from when I was growing up I was going to be a mama’s boy.”
His father was killed in the long war that resulted in South Sudan’s independence from Sudan in 2011. He and his mother fled Sudan when he was a young boy, eventually moving to the U.S. state of Iowa. He never played basketball until fourth grade, though his height and skills soon made him into a top prospect and one of the best players in the state.
Support of family, friends
Jok realized he easily could have ended up on the wrong path, but he believes the odds were more in his favor, thanks to family and friends.
“Moving to Iowa, I have always been surrounded by the right people. My background, coming from where I come from … if you have the right people around you and you have hard work in your system, I feel you can go anywhere,” said Jok.
If Jok is picked by an NBA team, he will be the third South Sudanese player active in the league, along with Luol Deng and Thon Maker.