Independent Player of the Year: Peterson has basketball in his blood

Every journey must have a first step, an initial act to set the story in motion. For Brett Peterson and basketball, the story starts not long after his first steps.

“Every since I was a little kid, I just loved basketball. I got a little retractable hoop when I was three or four (years old), started shooting on that and just kept playing basketball,” Peterson said. “I’ve just kept playing, pretty much every day.”

From those initial jumpers on the plastic Fisher-Price hoop until now, hardly a single step in Peterson’s life has gone unechoed by the springy hop of a basketball at his side. In that time, Peterson has allowed his love for the game to transform him into one of the area’s premier players.

The 2013 Independent Player of the Year began making his mark on the area basketball scene two years ago, when Peterson became the first freshman to start in a quarter century of Russell-Tyler-Ruthton boys’ basketball (which is not lacking in notable alumni).

“He began his freshman year as a bench player for us and moved into the starting lineup for the last month of the season,” RTR head coach Ted Kern said. “He had the ability to put the ball in the basket at the varsity level even then. We had Taylor Newton to run the point for us and it was a good transition for Brett to the varsity level to not have to be the primary ball handler.”

Peterson took over the point guard duties for the Knights in his sophomore season, leading the area in scoring while also racking up impressive totals in assists, steals and rebounds. Unsurprisingly, Peterson says his favorite player is Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers, who is also known for stuffing the stat sheet.

This year, as a 6-foot-4 junior, Peterson toned down on the scoring while developing into a more well-rounded guard. His 19.8 points per game ranked third in the area and his 141 assists were fourth, though his 98 steals were first. Peterson admitted that he had committed to becoming a better defender coming into the season.

“Defense was huge. My freshman and sophomore years I wasn’t strong enough to play up against the big guys, my feet weren’t quick enough,” he said. “I really worked on that over the summer because that should be my job. I’ve got to be the leader, so I’ve got to bring it on myself to stop the best player on the other team.”

For all the inspiring statistics like his 66.7 percent field goal shooting (196 of 294) or 76 percent free throw shooting (105 of 139), Peterson’s best attribute may be his sense of the moment according to his coach.

“I would say his biggest intangible is his ability to take over a game when the team needs it,” Kern said. “The measurable stats are impressive, but the timing of them was just as important for us this year, whether it was hitting shots, hitting a teammate for a key bucket or pulling in a big rebound down the stretch in a close game.”

Such timing proved crucial to RTR’s team success this season. The Knights finished the 2012-13 season with a 27-2 overall mark and were perfect in the Camden Conference. Their two losses were both at the hands of eventual Class A state champion Southwest Minnesota Christian.

The Knights had five total games against teams ranked in the Top 10 of Class A, and in those games, Peterson totaled 102 points, 35 rebounds and 18 assists. He said that his summers spent playing AAU basketball helped train him for those top games.

“It really helps a lot. It’s really competitive playing against some of the best players in the state,”?Peterson said. “You only get better if you play against the best, and that’s what I try to do.

“My AAU coaches are awesome, they push me the whole way. It’s been a fun ride and they’ve helped get the best out of me. It’s been a lot of fun.”

RTR, too, was ranked in the Top 10 for most of the season, peaking at No. 5. Unfortunately that season came to a close on March 9 in the Section 3A-South final against Southwest Minnesota Christian. The 77-58 loss cut short a dream season where RTR was hoping to return to the state tournament for the first time since raising back-to-back banners in 2004 and 2005.

Peterson was just in third grade when Brett Newton, Kyle Minett and Travis Schultz were leading the charge for RTR and cutting down the nets inside Target Center. That moment, now eight years gone, had a lasting impact on the impressionable youth.

“I couldn’t wait to be in their shoes some day and do the things they were doing,” Peterson said. “That was really exciting for me.”

Unable to capture his childhood dreams as a junior, Peterson and the returning Knights have begun preparing for next season.

“This summer is going to be a big summer for our high school team,” Peterson said. “I play AAU, I have nine tournaments, but I’ll probably still play in five tournaments with my (high school) team. We’ve got to build up that team chemistry because we’ve got a lot of new players coming in next year. We’ve just got to play together.”

Kern hopes that Peterson will continue to add strength in the off-season and knows that the Knights will lean heavily on their go-to guard.

“For us next year, he needs to continue to be a leader on and off the floor,” Kern said. “He and Brett Vercruysse are our only returning starters and we will need to lean on them to be leaders for us going forward.”

Looking forward, beyond the walls of the gym in Tyler where Peterson has fearlessly attacked the basket the past three seasons, there is likely a college basketball career waiting for him.

“For college, I really do want to play up there; Division II, or, if I’m capable maybe Division I, wherever God leads me,” Peterson said. “I’ve received a couple offers and hopefully I receive a couple more after this summer. I’m going to be working my butt off to do whatever I can.”

Having already received scholarship offers, it is reasonably safe to assume that Brett Peterson’s basketball journey is not yet nearing its end. Rather, it might be just beginning.