Zach Peters was taking a walk on Maui’s Kaanapali Beach in mid-March, thinking about swimming, snorkeling and catching some rays — anything but basketball — while on his high school spring break.
Out of nowhere, the 6-foot-9, 240-pound sophomore forward from Plano (Texas) Prestonwood Christian Academy suddenly was reminded of his first love — hoops.
“It was during March Madness. I saw a ton of people wearing Jayhawk shirts on the beach. I said, ‘My gosh, I may go to Kansas,’’’ Peters said.
“It wasn’t what made me want to, but I was like, ‘I could be a Jayhawk, and it’s awesome.’ That was the feeling in my stomach.”
Peters — he averaged 15.3 points and 9.0 rebounds in helping Prestonwood Academy claim a 2010 Class 5A state championship — at that moment had a list of four prospective colleges: Kansas University, Texas, North Carolina and Kentucky.
“I sat on it a couple weeks (after returning from Maui), then I broke it down and thought about it and said, ‘I feel Kansas is the best place for me,’’’ said Peters, who on Wednesday orally committed to play basketball at KU at an afternoon assembly in a packed Prestonwood gymnasium.
“First off, I love Kansas basketball. It’s one of my favorite teams to watch. I’ve always grown up watching the Jayhawks,” noted Peters, whose grandmother is from Hoyt and great-grandfather is a KU grad. He still has several relatives living in the Topeka area.
“Most of all, coach (Bill) Self and (Danny) Manning are two of the best coaches in college basketball. I feel I can trust them and feel I can benefit Kansas the most, and they’ll help me benefit Kansas the most. I feel comfortable in Lawrence, and it’s the best place for me.”
Peters felt right at home while attending the KU-Nebraska game last February in Allen Fieldhouse. It wasn’t the first time he was in KU’s tradition-rich building. He and his dad, Tim, attended the KU-Colorado game when Zach was in the eighth grade.
“I always followed Jayhawk basketball. I knew it was a crazy environment with crazy fans and wanted to see what it was like,” Zach said.
Tim, who is CEO of a software tech company in Washington, D.C., remembers the first KU visit well.
“It shocked us,” he recalled. “Kansas played Colorado in a 3 o’clock game. We pulled up early on a January day to meet the coaches at 11 (a.m.). We thought there was a concert at Phog Allen. There was a long line outside the building. I told coach Self, ‘Geez, they do that at Duke.’ He said, ‘No, that started here at Kansas.’’’
Tim and Zach also have made trips to North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas, USC, UCLA and Kentucky.
“They are all crazy. Kansas’ building is not as big as North Carolina or Kentucky, but it’s the loudest of all of them,” Zach Peters said.
After spotting Self at an open-gym workout earlier this week, Peters decided to end his recruitment. Like Cole Aldrich and Royce Woolridge, he orally committed to KU with two full seasons of prep basketball remaining.
“I know now, so why not get it off my shoulders?” Peters said. “Why have the other coaches recruiting me and act like I like the other schools when I know I want to go to Kansas? I want to get it out there since I know where I’m going. It’s better for everybody.”
Tim, who played college basketball at Eastern Illinois, loves that mature attitude shown by his son.
“Somebody from a Texas website said, ‘Rick Barnes and those guys from Texas know you well. What are you going to tell them when they talk to you?’ Zach said, ‘I’ll tell him I’m a Jayhawk, what else?’’’ Tim said.
Tim also can see his son is a less-stressed Jayhawk, resembling the relaxed Zach he saw on the Maui beach several weeks ago.
“He lost about 40 pounds today. He’s 40 pounds lighter,” Tim Peters joked.
Young prospects: College coaches started recruiting Peters when he was in seventh grade. How is that possible?
“It’s a small world,” Tim Peters said. “Kids his size stick out more than others. Texas and all sorts of schools were watching him play at that time. Coach Self being an Oklahoma native had friends who were Plano natives and told him about Zach.”
Tough luck: Zach’s older brother, Garrett, who was the first freshman ever to start at Plano High, broke his leg while playing in the spring of 2004, following his sophomore season. Garrett has had seven surgeries since and because of the injury was unable to play college basketball.
“It was a Joe Theismann-type injury,” Tim Peters said. “It did nerve damage. It was on a rebound. He came down on a kid’s foot, then a 300-pounder clipped him. It just snapped it (leg) in half. After that, we kind of look at things differently,” Tim added. “Enjoy every day of your life.”
Teammate talk: Zach’s teammate, 6-8 freshman Julius Randle, is considering KU and several other schools.
“That’d be great if he came to Kansas. I support whatever decision he makes,” Zach said. “He’s one of my best friends. I’m not going to pressure him to go to Kansas. It’d be awesome if he did. It’s probably in his top four.”
Taylor staying: ESPN’s Chad Ford this week wrote that KU’s Tyshawn Taylor is one player still considering entering the 2010 NBA Draft.
“That is inaccurate,” Self said. “I’ve already met with Tyshawn (about his junior season at KU).”