Zach Peters, the tall Texan who orally committed to play basketball at Kansas University two years and two months ago, has finally arrived in Lawrence to begin his college career.
“It did seem like forever to get up here. Getting here ... it’s been awesome,” said the 6-foot-9, 236-pound forward from Plano’s Prestonwood Christian Academy who chose KU over Texas, North Carolina, Kentucky and many others way back on April 21, 2010.
“Finally feeling like a Jayhawk the first day was an incredible feeling. Getting my codes to get into the gym to work out on my own ... that was surreal. Going into the locker room and seeing my name on my locker ... it’s amazing. I’m really excited about this year.”
Peters checked into his apartment at Jayhawker Towers on June 1. He actually could have sped up his arrival at KU by a year.
A good student, he needed just a couple hours of classwork last summer to graduate high school and be immediately eligible for the 2011-12 collegiate season.
In no hurry, Peters decided to remain in Plano for what turned out to be a memorable senior season, one in which he earned first-team all-state honors for a state-championship basketball team and second-team all-state mention at receiver for a football team that reached the state semifinals.
“It was a lot of fun. I met a lot of new people last year. I got closer with some of my friends,” said Peters, who averaged 14.7 points and 7.2 rebounds in hoops and caught 13 TD passes for more than 1,000 yards on the gridiron. “One of those things people always talk about ... they say the time of your life is your senior year, then you go on to college. It’s one of the things I felt I needed to do. Experiencing it was awesome — the perks of being a senior and all the experiences that come along with it.”
Peters felt comfortable making a comeback in football. He returned to the sport he retired from after his freshman year.
“I’m extremely happy I played football. It was a great experience. I had the time of my life,” said Peters, who dove to catch a game-winning touchdown pass in the back corner of the end zone with four seconds left in a victory over rival Trinity Christian.
“It’s one of those things I can look back and say, ‘Hey, I did that. I didn’t miss out on that.’ I never even got close to getting hurt. I don’t even think I got one turf burn all season.”
Not burned out at all after football season, Peters and fellow major-college recruit Julius Randle helped Prestonwood to the second state hoops title in Peters’ four-year career.
“I love football, but basketball always has been my first love and always will be. I mean, my dad played basketball,” he added of Tim Peters, who played at Eastern Illinois. “If a basketball game is on, we watch basketball over football. Because we live in Texas, football has always been so high, it got in my blood a little bit, but basketball ... it’s always been there.”
Which brings Zach to KU. He has high goals for a freshman class that includes eight players counting red-shirts Ben McLemore and Jamari Traylor and 10 including walk-ons Evan Manning and Tyler Self.
“I like all the guys. I think there’s eight of us, a ton of freshmen,” he said of scholarship players McLemore, Traylor, Peters, Perry Ellis, Landen Lucas, Andrew White, as well as Anrio Adams and Milton Doyle, expected to come aboard when they are cleared academically. “We are extremely underrated — actually very underrated. I think we’re going to surprise a lot of people.”
Peters enters as Rivals.com’s No. 137-rated player in the class of 2012.
“I didn’t play summer AAU my senior year and didn’t go to any camps,” Peters said of the summer of 2011 in which he prepared for his return to football. “I don’t care about rankings. They don’t say who I am as a person or who I am as a player.”
He hopes to battle for a rotation spot his freshman season.
“As far as positioning, I’ll probably be a small forward,” Peters said. “I’ve got a good mid-range game. I can shoot the ball. I can see myself on the perimeter a lot, but also being able to go down low, a versatile small forward. I’ve got pretty good ballhandling and passing for a big man, so ...”
He knows he has a lot of work ahead of him to claim a spot in the rotation.
“That’s up to me,” he said. “It depends how hard I work this summer and how I show up (at practice and games in preseason).”
KU coach Bill Self has high hopes for Peters.
“He’s a legit 6-9, 240 player that can really shoot the basketball. He’s big and rugged. We can play him to where he’s big enough to defend the 5 (post) or skilled enough to play in at the 4 (power forward),” Self said. “Guys that can really shoot are usually great passers. I think he will be that. He’s going to be a guy that can do a lot of things. We know he’s a big guy that can stretch it, but he likes to hit you, and certainly contact and physical play will not be an issue with him early in his career.”
Self does not care about national rankings of players.
“He didn’t play summer basketball, so his stock has fallen from the national rankings,” Self said. “All that did was motivate this kid. Zach is a potential top-20 player in the country. I think he’ll come in and have a great impact right off the bat.”