Valparaiso’s main man, Alec Peters, is kind of the anti-Kentucky player. He arrived unheralded, then steadily, methodically over four years made himself one of college basketball’s most productive players.
After last season, when he joined Kevin Durant as the only college players in the last two decades to average at least 18 points and eight rebounds while making 80 or more three-point shots, Peters entered his name in the 2016 NBA Draft. He worked out for four teams — one with former UK player Marcus Lee — before ultimately deciding to return to Valparaiso for his senior year.
“A lot of times, I was the only small-school player there,” he said Monday of the workouts. “It was good for me to have that little chip on my shoulder.”
When asked how often this chip sits on his shoulder, Peters said, “Every time I step on the basketball court I put a chip on my shoulder. I’ve got a lot of things I want to accomplish, and I got a lot of people doubting me. So it’s every day. It’s a daily grind for me with that chip on my shoulder.”
Valparaiso’s first-year coach, Matt Lottich, said Peters epitomizes the program’s approach: Finding players “who are willing to put in the work to be able to one day step on the floor with Kentucky and give them a go and compete with them.”
That moment comes Wednesday night when Valparaiso plays Kentucky in Rupp Arena.
The chip on Peters’ shoulder does not involve a put-down of the opponent. UK’s freshman Bam Adebayo, he said, “is everything you want in a big man.”
For Peters, the chip is a way to compensate.
“I kind of play a little angry, and I play a little more intense than maybe some people like . . . ,” he said. “I’m not the most athletic (player). I’m not the fastest. I’ll never be the strongest. The only way to supplement that stuff is to work as hard as I possibly can and be more focused and be more intense.”
Peters has led Valparaiso to a 7-1 start to the season. The Crusaders have beaten Alabama and then No. 21 Rhode Island. Peters, who is listed at 6-foot-9 and 235 pounds, had a double-double against Alabama (24 points and 10 rebounds). He scored 27 points and grabbed nine rebounds against Rhode Island.
Going into the game against Kentucky, Peters ranks in the top 10 nationally in points (No. 2 at 25.4 per game), made free throws (No. 2 with 68), shots (No. 7 at 145) and free-throw attempts (72).
Peters has scored 1,885 points and grabbed 777 rebounds in his college career. Valparaiso’s career records — 2,142 points by Bryce Drew and 910 rebounds by Chris Ensminger) — are within reach.
“Like our entire team, Alec will never quit,” said Lottich (pronounced LOT-ick). “You knock him down, he’ll get back up. . . .
“For Alec, he’s really 1 percent of the 1 percent in that he has a tireless work ethic. He competes on the floor. He competes in the weight room. He competes in the classroom. You keep competing like that, you try to win everything, you’re going to end up on top in a lot of ways. Alec really made himself into an NBA prospect with sheer determination and hard work.”
Peters needed three years to get a degree in sports management. He’s working on a master’s this school year.
As a high school player from Washington, Ill., Peters was considered a two-star prospect by Scout.com and a three-star prospect by Rivals and 247 Sports.
“I did my best not to pay any attention to any of that stuff,” Peters said of the recruiting ratings. “I knew that I was going to be different than other highly touted people. I still had a little room to grow physically and as far as basketball-wise, too.”
Peters, who played for a non-descript AAU team, drew recruiting interest from “a lot of mid-majors,” he said. He also made official visits to Boston College, Tennessee and Missouri.
He cast his basketball lot with Valparaiso, in part, because he thought the program would develop him into an all-around player.
“I knew if I went to a bigger school, I’d be stuck being strictly a shooter,” he said, “and maybe not develop other parts of my game.”
The feedback Peters got from NBA teams last spring told him to try to become quicker and more athletic.
“Alec hit the weight room harder than I ever saw anyone hit the weight room,” Lottich said. “He’s gotten more athletic and gotten faster . . . and you’re seeing the result of the hard work he put in this offseason.”
Valparaiso at No. 6 Kentucky
8 p.m. Wednesday (SEC Network)