Alec Peters

From overlooked recruit to reigning Horizon League Player of the Year, Alec Peters has visibly come a long way, and now he’s climbing up NBA Draft boards.

Various blogs have featured Peters in recent mock drafts, while established and well-respected ESPN NBA Draft expert Chad Ford has taken notice and currently projects him as a late first-round pick.

Last year’s changes to the NBA Draft allowed Peters to test new waters and see what the next level might have in store for him. For the first time, prospects that declared for the NBA Draft were allowed to withdraw their names from consideration, up to 10 days after the NBA Draft combine. Prior to the change, a prospect terminated his NCAA eligibility by just declaring.

Peters took advantage of the new format, declaring for the draft on April 7, 2016 and working out for several teams including the Celtics, Rockets, Nuggets and Jazz. Though having a long NBA career has been a dream of his since childhood, the timing wasn’t right.

“It was a learning process,” Peters said. “I went up against a lot of good players. I learned a lot of good information, was able to gauge where I thought I would be at last year, and ultimately it wasn’t enough for me to decide to go pro. I needed another year.”

He decided to return to the college game but another question presented itself. Having finished his undergraduate degree in three years, Peters had the option to attend grad school at another university, which would mean joining a new basketball team for his final year of eligibility without having to sit out a year.

A different school could mean a bigger basketball program with better facilities, more resources and a higher level of competition. Though Valpo holds a rich basketball tradition with well-connected coaches, it doesn’t compete in a “power-5” conference and naturally the Horizon League doesn’t garner the same amount of respect as others. Still, the decision was a no-brainer for Peters.

“Here I have great teammates, great friendships,” Peters said. “You can’t create that at another school. I wouldn’t be able to for one year. I don’t think I would have been happy playing with anybody else. Why would I leave?”

In addition, Peters felt that Valpo was the best place for him to continue his development and prepare for a career in the NBA.

“I was the leading scorer the year before and the year before that,” Peters said. “My role wouldn’t be changing. I always wanted to be the go-to-guy here and that’s what coach Lottich said to me. He was like, ‘You know nothing’s going to change, you’re still going to be the guy that we go to offensively.’ So why would you change anything when what you’ve had has been working for you?”

Peters returned to Valparaiso in the summer, ready to take what he had learned from NBA teams and implement it into his game.

“A lot of it was the 15-feet area,” Peters said. “I’ve been mainly a catch-and-shoot 3-point guy and then a post-up deep, turn-and-finish guy for most of my college career. The last step was how can I work that middle-area and be tough to guard? Because if you have all three phases it’s almost impossible for someone to stop, so that was something I really worked hard on.”

Peters also took it upon himself to learn and improve from watching old basketball tapes.

“I watched a lot of Kobe,” Peters said. “I watched a lot of his footwork. I’ve watched a lot of Doug McDermott from his senior year in college because there was a lot of times he would catch in that area and he would have to create out of it. A lot of it was watching footwork, watching balance, which way do guys turn, which way do guys fake. What are they doing with their head, because at the end of the day you need to be able to have the right footwork or else you’re not going to make the shot.”

Adding another weapon to his arsenal has yielded clear results for the 6-foot-9 forward, who has upped his averages in every major statistical category from last year, most noticeably in the scoring and rebounding departments. Last season Peters averaged 18.4 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. This year? He’s averaging a double-double, with averages of 23 points and 10.1 rebounds a night.

Pushing his game to a new level has elevated his draft stock, while making Valpo better. Through the 29 games he played for the Crusaders in the regular season, the team went 23-6. Without him? Valpo is an unknown at 1-1.

As he inches his way closer to achieving his professional dreams, he remains unfazed, ready for the task at hand: one last shot at an NCAA Tournament run.

“I don’t want to leave empty-handed,” he said. “Because everyone remembers your last year more than anything. I don’t want to leave feeling like I came up short. I want to be able to make it back to the NCAA Tournament. I want to be as competitive as we were my sophomore year and even better. I want to be able to win. And I don’t think that’s crazy. I think that can be done with the team we have. The three games in March are ultimately going to decide our fate, so nothing like playing with your back against the wall. It always brings out the best in people.”

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