Nick Peters has been a varsity boys basketball player for Coal City since he was a freshman. He is the 2013 Morris Daily Herald All-Area Player of the Year.
If you think that means Peters has always been a productive, comfortable varsity player during that time, think again. His promotion in 2010-11 was one of necessity, not a reward for an ahead-of-his-time talent, for coach Brad Boresi’s undermanned team. And four games into his sophomore season, Peters struggled to the extent that he was nearly demoted from a winless varsity team.
Just one year later, Peters led the area in points, rebounds and blocked shots during a 19-win 2012-13 season for the Coalers.
From almost the very day Peters and his family moved into their Coal City home in 2000, he says he, his dad and his brother have “always” played basketball on the driveway behind it. He quickly grew to love the game, and when one considers his height — Peters now stands 6-6, and has long been tall for his age — it was a natural fit for him to start playing organized basketball as a Coal City Middle School sixth-grader.
So Peters had some basketball background when he entered the Coal City High School program just as Boresi was taking over in 2010. Calling him a varsity-ready player would have been a stretch, however.
“He was very raw as a freshman,” Boresi said of Peters. “We would see little glimpses of potential, but he was not really ready for varsity. He was not as physically mature as other varsity basketball players. Knowing the state of our program, we were making that move for the future. We felt that having him and Brennen (Shetina) up on the varsity would benefit us in the years to come.
“If our numbers in the program would have been where they are now, there was probably no chance that he would have played varsity. We had two seniors and three juniors my first year. He was one of our next-best options.”
Today, Peters admits that first season as a struggling player on a 3-23 team was not easy for him.
“It definitely was tough, but I feel it made me the player I am now,” he said. “I always had to be prepared mentally to go against guys bigger than me, and that’s kind of continued since then. It helped me grow as a player, mentally as well as physically. I learned that I can go in and battle guys even if I might be giving up weight against them. That’s what I’ve been doing for so long now that I feel I’ve got the mental part down.”
The beginning of the 2011-12 season was more of the same for the Coalers and Peters in particular. Boresi did not tell Peters at the time, but after the Coalers went 0-3 at their own Thanksgiving Tournament and then lost to Somonauk with Peters struggling, the young center was “one bad game” away from being sent down to gain some confidence at the sophomore level.
Peters, who was told about the near-demotion by Boresi later that year, remembers the time well.
“We started 0-4, and the reasons were building up,” Peters said. “We weren’t getting rebounds and we weren’t playing defense, and those are two of my strong suits, so that had me down. Everyone told me to keep playing, but it was a tough time to say the least.”
The Coalers defeated Peotone 61-59 in double overtime in their fifth game of that season, with Peters contributing what Boresi says was a much improved effort. Peters was spared. He would stick with the varsity for the rest of the year. The Coalers more than doubled their win total from the year before, finishing 7-20.
Coal City’s win total nearly tripled this season, as the Coalers went 19-13. They won their first regional championship since 2001, and did so despite moving up in classes from 2A to 3A.
Peters was in the middle, literally and figuratively, of it all. He played in all 32 games and finished a close second on the team to Shetina in minutes played. His totals of 460 points and 239 rebounds were each more than 100 higher than any of his teammates. He blocked 67 shots; his teammates blocked a combined 15. He made 58 percent (191-of-330) of his field-goal attempts.
That Peters and the Coalers would achieve what they achieved this season seemed unlikely when they started 5-8. But Peters says his faith that they would have success never waivered.
“I would take that even a step further than before Christmas and go back to before the season even started. Coach Boresi had pulled us four captains in and told us that we had a shot to do some things that I know maybe some people wouldn’t have expected, that we could even surprise ourselves. We knew the potential we had and what we could do each night,” Peters said.
“To go from there and then be 5-8 after our Christmas tournament wasn’t easy, but where some teams may have down on themselves, we just looked at it that we hadn’t done it thus far. We continued to do what we were doing and came into every night with the attitude we were a good team and could win some basketball games. Once it started happening, we just went on a roll, and it went all the way through the regional championship game, which was awesome.”
To Boresi, Peters is much more than the Coalers’ leading scorer.
“Aside from the points he scored, in the second half of the season, he was all over the boards — rebounding, blocking shots,” Boresi said. “One of the nicest things about his defensive game is that on the shots he blocks, I would say 80 percent of the time, we get the ball. He doesn’t swat the ball into the stands. He either deflects it to a teammate or to himself.”
Peters feels that the difficulties he endured during his first two seasons with the Coalers produced a more mature player.
“I’d like to say that I think I’ve learned there are two ends of the floor, not just one,” Peters said. “You know, my first couple of years I would let my offense bring my defense down. This year, I didn’t feel I let that happen. No matter what was happening on one end, I would still do my best to contribute on the other. There were some games where I would say I was low in points, maybe in the single digits, but I was still helping and doing my part by rebounding and securing the ball.”
The evolution of Peters, and of the Coaler basketball program, are things that Boresi believes will continue.
“Nick went through some growing pains for his first two seasons; however, this year, he showed us what kind of player he can be,” Boresi said. “He’s a big reason for the success Coal City basketball had this year and is going to have in the future.”