Tennessee State's Peters traveled a short distance but came a long way

Tuesday, March 1, 2011 at 8:46pm

Though Wil Peters went to high school just eight miles geographically from the Tennessee State University campus, the school wasn’t high on his list of possible college destinations.

In fact, it wasn’t on his list at all.

“It is funny how things work out because this is the last place in my mind that I ever wanted to come to,” he said.

Nearly five years after graduating from high school, Peters finds himself as the starting point guard at TSU and in the top three in the Ohio Valley Conference in assists (4.2), assist-to-turnover ratio (1.7) and minutes played (34.8). The Tigers are the fifth seed in the OVC Tournament, which will be held at Municipal Auditorium, and play eighth-seeded Tennessee-Martin in the opening round at 6 p.m. Wednesday.

“His work ethic is second to none. He spends countless hours in the gym. He is a joy to coach,” Tigers coach John Cooper said. “If you could coach them all like that your whole career, most coaches would probably just coach forever and forever.”

But the road to that point didn’t come easy for Peters, who is a 6-foot, 180-pound redshirt junior and has been at TSU longer than any other current Tiger. After graduating as a 1,000-point scorer from Whites Creek in 2006, Peters was hoping to land at a college outside of Nashville. His ACT scores, however, weren’t high enough to pass the NCAA clearinghouse and, therefore, he attended prep school in North Carolina.

After one year there, he received interest from low-profile programs, along with Lipscomb and TSU.

“I just came on back home, came here [to TSU] and it turned out to be the best fit for me,” Peters said.

Peters didn’t start right away. He redshirted his first year was a walk-on the next two and endured a coaching change in 2009 when Cy Alexander was fired and replaced by Cooper.

Last year’s play, however, earned him a scholarship this season as he averaged 9.6 points in 28 starts. He ended this regular season with an average of 10.5 points a game and a team-high 85.6 free-throw percentage. He also made 41 percent of his 3-point shots.

His stellar play has lifted a young TSU squad. The Tigers (14-15) were tied with Austin Peay atop the conference standings a month ago and entered this week the opportunity to produce their first winning season in 15 years.

“Coming out of high school, that was the last thing on my mind ever — being a walk-on,” Peters said. “You just have to be determined because a lot of times I wanted to transfer and go Division II or something. But you got to be focused and determined and my family stayed behind me. It was a long journey, I must admit. I’m glad I’m at where I am at now.”

• Ohio Valley Conference honors: Tennessee State’s Patrick Miller was named Ohio Valley Conference Freshman of the Year and was one of three Tigers to be honored when the league announced its postseason awards Tuesday.

Miller, a 6-foot, 185-pound guard out of Chicago, averages 11.4 points, 3.2 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.4 steals. He was named to the all-newcomer team, along with junior Kenny Moore. The 6-foot-7, 220-pound forward transferred in from Midland Community College and has given the Tigers a big boost. The Philadelphia native is averaging 14.5 points and 6.8 rebounds, while shooting 46.3 percent from the field. Moore was also named to the All-OVC second team, along with teammate Robert Covington. The 6-foot-9, 210-pound sophomore from Bellwood, Ill. is averaging 13.4 points, 7.6 rebounds and 1.5 blocks.

On the women’s side, Tennessee State’s Tayla Foster was named to the all-newcomer team. Foster, a 5-foot-10 freshman from Madisonville, Ky., is averaging a team-high 12 points a game. She also averages 4.6 rebounds and is shooting 47.6 percent from the field.