Family, hometown lay foundation for Valparaiso's Alec Peters on way to NBA

Jul 09, 2017 | by Michael Osipoff, Chicago Tribune

Carrie Peters half-jokingly talks about "Peters Boot Camp."

When each of her and Jeff Peters' four children reached fifth grade, they had to walk, run or bike a mile every day during the summer. That included Alec, their second-oldest child.

"I never allowed my kids to be lazy," Carrie Peters said. "Everyone gets 24 hours a day — what are you going to do to be different?"

Alec Peters took that message to heart in order to pursue and achieve his goals. His route might have been unconventional, but the former Valparaiso star and NBA draft pick has been preternaturally focused and driven.

Off the court, notably to the select few in his inner circle, Peters shows a softer side. On the court, that's not an option for possibly the greatest player in program history.

That intensity helped him get selected No. 54 by the Phoenix Suns in last month's draft, the first Valparaiso player chosen since Bryce Drew went No. 16 in 1998 to the Houston Rockets. Before a stress fracture in his right foot ended his college career, Peters also was projected as a first-round pick.

After practically rewriting the Crusaders' record book, the 6-foot-9 forward continues to progress ahead of schedule following March 10 surgery. He won't play in the summer league for the Suns, although he was listed on their roster. He's expected to be ready for training camp.

Few people, except perhaps Peters, would have envisioned him being in this position. Then again, given his unyielding, almost maniacal work ethic — on occasion, the Washington, Ill. native has to be reminded to dial it back ever so slightly — those closest to him aren't exactly surprised.

"He's always known what he needed to do, and he does it," Carrie Peters said. "He's always had the ability to choose the road less traveled. So many kids get caught up in the bells and whistles, and he doesn't."

That concept applies to his high school team, his AAU team and — twice — his college team.

At each level, he could've chosen higher-profile situations. At each level, he remained true to his principles and a long-held belief.

"If you're good enough, they'll find you," Alec Peters said.

In high school, prep schools inquired. But he remained at Washington, where coach Kevin Brown is a "mentor and second father."

With AAU, Chicago-based programs inquired. But he remained with the Peoria-based Illinois Irish, where father Jeff is a coach and longtime family friend Gavin Sullivan is the CEO.

When it came to choosing a college, he opted for Valparaiso from among 20-plus offers, including high-major programs such as Boston College and Tennessee. With the Crusaders, he saw the potential to be the go-to guy early in his career and to develop beyond the pigeonhole of being simply a shooter.

When he could have departed Valparaiso in the spring of 2016 as a graduate transfer, he didn't. He couldn't abandon his "brothers" in the program.

After grappling with the decision to withdraw from the NBA draft as a junior, then staying at Valparaiso, Peters was having precisely the type of senior season imagined — until the injury halted it with two games left in Horizon League play.

It was a far cry from when he was a 6-foot, 145-pound high school freshman, physically not ready to play. He had the skill and basketball IQ to come off the bench before suffering a torn right MCL midway through that season.

He was ready to explode as a high school junior as his body caught up with his ability. But mononucleosis sidelined him a month, delaying his breakout to stardom until his senior season.

"I'm a coach who's always the hardest on my best player, and he was like a sponge," Brown said. "From his sophomore year on, he was our focal point, and if anything went wrong, it was his fault.

"He's a tough kid. Sometimes expectations eat kids alive, but he could always handle it and keep pushing. He held his teammates accountable, but he held himself accountable more than anybody."

Peters continues to rely on Brown for advice.

"He wanted to be in the gym all the time," Brown said. "I don't have kids, and I wanted to be in the gym with him."

Jeff and Carrie Peters instilled that attitude in Alec and his three siblings.

Austin is the eldest, and he and Alec are close to inseparable. The two-season graduate assistant at Valparaiso is considered well on his way to a long career as a coach, scout or front office executive.

"Everything he's done is a byproduct of the everyday dude he is — showing up for work every single day," Austin Peters said. "We were raised the right way. Our parents aren't just people who talk about it. They are about it.

"I remember in grade school and even high school, my mom worked jobs she didn't like, multiple jobs, for our family. Same with my dad. Our parents told us to work hard, get good grades, don't quit. But we saw them live it too."

That notion of maximizing every moment was hammered home when a tornado devastated Washington on Nov. 17, 2013, early in Alec Peters' freshman season at Valparaiso.

His family's home, "out in the country" on land south of town, wasn't affected. But people close to him, and their property, were.

"It taught me you can put years into building something and in a couple of hours or even minutes, it's gone," Peters said. "That goes for most things in life.

"I've put countless hours into my basketball career, and I know today could be my last. You have to have that mindset you can't take for granted any day you have playing this game of basketball."

Peters, who took teammates to his hometown that summer to help rebuild a park, has never lost the connection. He's considered a hero, a local kid who reached lofty heights and did it with grace.

"He's so compassionate and loving with his community," Sullivan said. "That's who he is. He comes back and talks to everybody, not just the people he knows. He doesn't just wave; he shakes hands, takes pictures.

"It's powerful how he is with kids he doesn't even know or families he barely knows. He takes 10 seconds or 10 minutes to speak with people, and it changes how they look at things. His ability to change people, whether he knows them or not, in a positive way is the most powerful thing."