For Jok family, Penn-Iowa a long way from Sudan

jok-slide.jpg

For Jok family, Penn-Iowa a long way from Sudan

Tonight at the University of Iowa, two brothers will play against each other in a Division I college basketball game.

On its own, this is an achievement few families can match.

Now throw in the fact that another one of their brothers will be playing for a high school state football championship just a couple of hours away, and it becomes even more surreal.

And when you consider that just 10 years ago the Jok family -- among them Penn senior guard Dau Jok and Iowa freshman swingman Peter Jok -- escaped from war-torn Southern Sudan after their father, a general in the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, was murdered … well, tonight’s athletic festivities in Iowa can be described only as a remarkable testament of courage and determination.

“It’s incredible,” said Dau, shaking his head in disbelief, shortly before departing for Iowa with his Penn teammates. “It’s a blessing, man.”

“It’s crazy,” Peter told reporters in Iowa. “I never thought I would get to play him. But it is a great opportunity at the end of the day, so I’m just looking to take advantage of that.”

While the youngest brother, Jo Jo Jok, a defensive end at Dowling Catholic in West Des Moines, will be playing in a title game at the University of Northern Iowa, the main event will be in Iowa City, where the Joks expect at least 40 family members to be in attendance for the Iowa-Penn hoops clash at Carver-Hawkeye Arena (7 p.m., Big Ten Network).

For Dau, this is an especially meaningful game as it marks a long-awaited return to Iowa, the state where his mother brought the family in 2003 after they fled Sudan and made pit stops in Rumbek and Uganda.

Dau didn’t know anything about basketball when they first settled in Des Moines but began to play the game at a local YMCA to avoid the gang life that plagued some other Sudanese refugees. And when he learned basketball could be a path to an education, he started to take the sport more seriously -- and very nearly accepted an offer on the spot from former Penn head coach Glen Miller.

“We came here for a better life,” Dau said. “And that better life is through education.”

Dau has yet to become a true impact player in college, having played in a reserve capacity during his first three seasons, as well as in the first three games of his senior year. But his impact at Penn has been measured in other ways -- as a campus leader who devours all aspects of academia and recently applied for a Fulbright Scholarship, as an activist who began his own foundation for Southern Sudanese children and as a basketball captain who’s always the first one off the bench to greet his teammates during timeouts.

Why does he care so much about Penn basketball when he doesn’t play that much and has so many other big things happening in his life?

“Freshman year when I wasn’t playing, I had to decide: You can be really mad on the bench and be a cancer, but what does that do?” Jok said. “That doesn’t change the coach’s position. That doesn’t make him play you more. So I was like, ‘If I’m here, I’m going to try to have an impact and cheer on the guys who are playing. It’s not their decision I’m not playing.’”

As for tonight’s game, Jok said, “Whether I play 30 seconds or 10 minutes, Coach [Jerome] Allen knows I’m going to go out there and bust my butt.” He’d do that for any game, of course. But he has a lot riding on this one after dishing out some friendly trash talk with his brother.

“It started in the summer and I was like, ‘We’re going to give you guys one of your few non-conference losses,” Dau said. “That was the extent. To be honest with you, there’s no need for it. I don’t think they’re going to be ready for us. Their first four games have been blowouts. So I don’t think they’re going to be prepared for us.

“I need the W. The rest of my life, I’m going to be able to call him and just say, ‘We beat you guys.’”

The competitive streak between the two brothers goes back a long way. Dau has broken game systems when he plays video games with Peter. And he still boasts that he has a winning record against him playing one-on-one.

But Dau will also be the first to tell you that Peter has long since surpassed him on the basketball court, where he was once one of the nation’s top high school players and is already averaging 9.8 points per game through four games at a Big Ten school.

“I’m the least athletic in my family,” Dau said. “I like to joke about that.”

But even though Peter is the better player and the Hawkeyes -- coached by former Penn guard Fran McCaffery -- the better team, Dau is confident that the big brother will prevail in this one. He also plans to make sure his family members will be pulling for the underdogs from Philly. Although when asked if Penn can pull the upset, Dau said, “I wouldn’t call it an upset.”

“I’m telling people if they’re going to sit on my side, they’ll have to wear something Penn,” Dau laughed. “They can cheer for individuals. But when it comes to teams, they better cheer for Penn. After all, we’re the better school.”

But no matter who wins, when the final horn sounds, Dau will shake hands with Peter, walk back into the visitors’ locker room and think about their old lives in a different world, when thousands of spectators cheering them on in a college basketball game was not even tangible enough to be considered a dream.

“It’s crazy where we were and where we are now,” Dau said. “Every once in a while, I’m reminded how far our journeys have taken us.”

Georgetown fires John Thompson III after another losing year

Georgetown fires John Thompson III after another losing year

WASHINGTON -- John Thompson III was fired as Georgetown's basketball coach Thursday after two consecutive losing seasons at the school his father led to a national championship.

Thompson said in a statement released by agent David Falk that he was "honored" to have been the Hoyas' coach and proud of what his players have "accomplished on the court and how they are thriving since leaving Georgetown."

"Georgetown Basketball has been a part of my life since 1972," Thompson's statement said, referring to the year his father took over as the Hoyas' coach, "which makes this moment even more impactful, but I look forward to my next chapter."

School president John DeGioia told Thompson on Thursday he would not be brought back next year at a basketball program strongly associated with his last name.

"Our tradition of excellence as a university will forever be inextricably linked with John and his family," DeGioia said in a statement. "We are committed to taking the necessary steps to strengthen our program and maintaining the highest levels of academic integrity and national competitiveness."

Thompson, known as "JT3," was Georgetown's head coach for 13 seasons, including a run to the Final Four in 2007 with future NBA players Jeff Green and Roy Hibbert on the roster. But he went a combined 29-36 the past two years, with some of those defeats punctuated by crowd chants of "Fire Thompson!"

What had once been unimaginable -- a Thompson being sent away from Georgetown -- became a topic of conversation among the team's fans as the losses mounted. When the subject was broached with Thompson after a defeat against defending national champion Villanova, a team spokesman jumped in to say: "Leave it to game-related questions, please."

The Hoyas' 14-18 record this season included six losses in a row to finish and marked the team's worst winning percentage since the 1950s. They went 15-18 a year ago, losing seven of their last eight games.

"We're not going to keep rehashing last year," Thompson said before the start of this season. "A lot of introspection where you just stop and, from top to bottom, look at everything: How you do things, how you approach things, how we should change things, how you should alter things. ... We have to make some changes on how things were done, and we have. We're in the process of doing it."

Not quickly enough, apparently.

Thompson's record was 278-151 at Georgetown, with eight trips to the NCAA Tournament.

Since that lone Final Four appearance a decade ago, the Hoyas had several missteps at the Big Dance, going 3-6 and never winning more than one game in any single bracket. There were plenty of memorable exits against low-seeded opponents such as Florida Gulf Coast and Ohio.

His father, John Thompson Jr., led the Hoyas to 20 trips to the NCAAs, three Final Fours and a national title in 1984 with Patrick Ewing at center while coaching the team from 1972-99. "Big John," as many call him, has been a visible and vocal presence at Georgetown's games during his son's tenure, often sitting in on news conferences and interjecting his thoughts from the back of the room.

Georgetown's new on-campus practice facility, which was opened with a dedication ceremony in October, is named after the older Thompson.

NCAA Tournament Wrap: South Carolina upsets Duke; Michigan stuns Louisville

NCAA Tournament Wrap: South Carolina upsets Duke; Michigan stuns Louisville

GREENVILLE, S.C. -- Sindarius Thornwell had 24 points, Chris Silva scored 13 of his 17 points in the second half and seventh-seeded South Carolina stunned No. 2 seed Duke 88-81 on Sunday night to advance to its first Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament's expanded bracket.

The Gamecocks (24-10) trailed by 10 points early in the second half after one of its coldest shooting stretches of the season to start. But behind Thornwell's outside shooting and Silva's dominance underneath, South Carolina rallied to win two NCAA games for the first time in 44 years.

The Gamecocks rushed to their fans when things were over, celebrating one of the biggest wins in program history.

Next up is the East Regional at Madison Square Garden where the Gamecocks will face third-seeded Baylor, an 82-78 winner over Southern Cal earlier Sunday.

Duke (28-9) was attempting to reach the round of 16 for the sixth time in eight seasons. The Blue Devils, though, could not surmount South Carolina's stifling defense. Leading scorer Luke Kennard had his second straight subpar shooting game, finishing 1 of 6 for 11 points before fouling out (see full recap).

Wagner's big game sends Michigan past Louisville in NCAAs
INDIANAPOLIS -- Moe Wagner scored a career-high 26 points and spurred a furious second-half rally to send Michigan past second-seeded Louisville 73-69 on Sunday and into the Sweet 16.

The seventh-seeded Wolverines (26-11) have won seven straight -- six since a frightening plane accident before the Big Ten Tournament. They also earned a ticket to the Midwest Regional in Kansas City, Missouri, their first since 2014.

Donovan Mitchell scored 19 points and Deng Adel had 16 points to lead Louisville (25-9), which had made the Sweet 16 in its last four NCAA Tournament appearances.

But Wagner bailed out the Wolverines from a poor game.

Trailing 45-36 with 16:09 to play, the German native scored on a layup to start a 17-6 run that gave Michigan its first lead since the opening minutes. And after Wagner's 3-pointer broke a 55-55 tie with 6:39 to go, the Wolverines led the rest of the way (see full recap).

Ball helps UCLA past Cincinnati to earn Sweet 16 trip
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Lonzo Ball scored 19 points and ignited UCLA's rally from a poor start with nine assists, lifting the third-seeded Bruins to a 79-67 victory over Cincinnati on Sunday in the South Regional.

UCLA (31-4) had a hard time solving sixth-seeded Cincinnati's active defense in the first half, unable to get shots to drop or get out in transition. The Bruins found a new gear in the second half, breaking out for dunks and dropping in strings of 3-pointers to quickly push the lead to double digits.

Now UCLA is headed to its third Sweet 16 appearance in four seasons under coach Steve Alford, erasing -- at least in part -- the 15-17 letdown of a year ago.

The Bruins will face No. 2 seed Kentucky in the South Regional semifinals Friday in Memphis.

Cincinnati (30-6) had no real answer when the Bruins got rolling falling short of their first Sweet 16 appearance since 2012 (see full recap).

UNC survives close scare from Arkansas
After blowing a 17-point lead, No. 1 seed North Carolina came from behind in the second half to beat Arkansas 72-65 and advance to the NCAA South Region semifinals. North Carolina next faces Butler.

The ACC had nine teams invited to the NCAA Tournament, but seven of them already have lost. The ACC still could get a second team into the Sweet 16, as Duke faces South Carolina later tonight.

North Carolina also avoided becoming the second No. 1 seed to exit this tournament. Defending national champion Villanova, the No. 1 seed in the East Region, lost to Wisconsin on Saturday (see full recap).

Josh Jackson heats up in second half to lift Kansas over Michigan State
TULSA, Okla. -- Josh Jackson scored 14 of his 23 points in the second half to help Kansas pull away late and reach the Sweet 16 for a second straight year with a 90-70 victory over Michigan State on Sunday.

Frank Mason III added 20 points for the top-seeded Jayhawks (30-4), who have advanced to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament in nine of coach Bill Self's 14 seasons.

Devonte' Graham added 18 points and Landen Lucas had 10 for the Jayhawks, who shot 53.1 percent (34 of 64) in the win.

Miles Bridges scored 22 points to lead Michigan State (20-15) despite leaving briefly in the first half with an injury. Nick Ward also finished in double figures with 13 points and Joshua Langford had 10 for the Spartans (see full recap).

Kentucky edges out Wichita State with block at the buzzer
INDIANAPOLIS -- Bam Adebayo had a double-double and swatted away the final shot on Sunday as Kentucky sent Wichita State to yet another second-round heartbreak, 65-62 in the South region.

The youngest team in the NCAA Tournament grew up in the closing minutes.

Adebayo had 13 points and 10 rebounds. De'Aaron Fox had 14 points, including a late steal and dunk. Malik Monk blocked a shot and made a pair of free throws in the final 13 seconds. Adebayo clinched it by blocking Landry Shamet's 3-pointer shot at the buzzer.

Yes, Kentucky's freshman trio did it all.

Wham, Bam, move on `Cats (31-5), right into the Sweet 16 for the seventh time in nine years (see full recap).