As his basketball skills flourished and his height sprouted, Alec Peters was presented seemingly grander opportunities than what his small town of Washington, Illinois, offered.
Peters was invited to play at some of the best prep schools in the nation, including the illustrious IMG Academy in Florida. Elite AAU teams beckoned for him to join them and play closer to Chicago, where he would be more frequently in college recruiters' sightlines.But Peters' dad coached and his friends played for the Illinois Irish, an AAU team in Peoria run by a family friend. And Peters was in a class of seven senior basketball players at Washington High School, having played with some of them since third grade.
"I was told early on: 'If you're good, they're going to find you. Someone is going to hear about you. You'll get an opportunity,'" Peters said. "That always stuck in my brain. I didn't have to change scenes to get where I wanted to go."
Despite once again purposefully competing on the outskirts, Peters has been found at Valparaiso.
About four NBA scouts study him during each game at Valpo's Athletics-Recreation Center — a cozy but hostile 5,000-seat arena. His parents and coach Matt Lottich field frequent calls from scouts and agents. DraftExpress.com projects the 6-foot-9 power forward as the 26th pick.
Through Monday, Peters ranked second nationally in scoring with 24.2 points per game to go with 10.4 rebounds, 19th in the country. Some of his best games have come against the stiffest competition: 24 points at Oregon and 23 at Kentucky. He was the standout last summer at the Nike Skills Academy camp.
A strong outside shooter, Peters has worked on diversifying his game. A phone call during the offseason with his mid-major idol, Bulls forward and Creighton alumnus Doug McDermott, prompted him to concentrate on developing his 15- to 17-foot range.
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"He is the 1 percent of 1 percenters," said Lottich, in his first season as head coach at Valparaiso. "It's really unique to have the ability to work on things you're not good at."
Peters' shooting percentages have dipped this season from 50.5 to 44.9 overall and from 44 to 31.5 on 3-pointers. An NBA source who has scouted Peters and asked to remain anonymous said that doesn't concern him.
"His [shooting] record is so sterling," the source said. "There's definitely a system he'll fit into. He's an intelligent kid and really tough. That's working in his favor. It's not a slam dunk to say he'll be drafted, but he'll have a career. Teams are so shooting-starved."
Peters' final season at Valparaiso wasn't a given. He tested the NBA draft waters last spring before withdrawing his name. He could have played almost anywhere as a graduate transfer. Logical reasons existed for him to transfer, including coach Bryce Drew leaving for Vanderbilt.
Again, Peters chose the less obvious path and returned to Valpo.
"I was patient and researched the facts," Peters said. "I ended up saying: 'Forget all the research. Look yourself in the mirror. Where do you want to play?' There was no other school in my mind. Why wouldn't I finish out with the dudes I've battled it out with every day?"
Peters credits his stick-it-out ethos to his upbringing in Washington (population 15,000), where during summer breaks from grade school he helped clean stalls on his grandparents' 2,000-acre pig and cattle farm.
In 2013, after a tornado decimated much of the town, Peters returned with his Valpo teammates to help build swing sets for kids.
"It's a very prideful place," he said.
Jeff Peters, Alec's dad, ran the local rec league and organized coaching clinics. As a youngster, Alec was his demonstrator.
"We would spend Saturdays and Sundays, three hours at a time, trying to replicate drills to do it seamlessly in front of people," Jeff said. "In fourth grade, he was in front of eighth-graders doing ballhandling, shooting and passing drills. He helped me learn what was possible or not possible."
They spent hours in the gym playing one-on-one.
"It was never an easy path to a basket," Jeff said. "He wanted to play varsity as a freshman — well, that's what it feels like. But it was fun. I knew he could do it. We played till we were exhausted. We didn't go in to just shoot baskets. We went in to learn to be a better and tougher basketball player."
Peters led Washington to the regional finals as a senior and received offers from Boston College and Tennessee, among others.
"What I'll remember most about Alec is he never let us walk off the floor at the end of practice for an entire year feeling like we had a bad practice," Washington coach Kevin Brown said. "He was always able to fix that."
At Valpo, he's 74 points from breaking Drew's scoring record of 2,142.
"He'll leave here as the best player ever to put on a Valpo uniform," Lottich said. "Arguments could be made for Coach Drew. A lot of that had to do with the ending [a buzzer-beater in the first round of the 1998 NCAA tournament and a berth in the Sweet 16], and Alec's ending is still being written. We're hoping there's some magical moments in there."
Peters, who spends his free time whipping up recipes from the Food Network and day trading, realizes his games at Valpo are dwindling. He relies on a family motto: "Bring a compass, not a map."
"In the next five months, my life could change completely," Peters said. "If you had asked me, 'Did you see yourself sitting in this position as a senior at Valpo in four years?' I would've said yes. But what transpired in those four years was nothing that I thought."
This article is written by Shannon Ryan from Chicago Tribune and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network.