After Helping U.S. Squad Earn Gold at Maccabiah Games, Peters Primed for Big Sophomore Year with PU Men’s Hoops

After Helping U.S. Squad Earn Gold at Maccabiah Games, Peters Primed for Big Sophomore Year with PU Men’s Hoops

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STRIKING GOLD: Princeton University men’s basketball player Blake Peters, left, and Tiger assistant coach Skye Ettin celebrate after helping the U.S. win the open men’s basketball gold medal last month at the 2022 Maccabiah Games in Israel. Sophomore guard Peters had a strong tournament, ending the event by scoring 10 points with three rebounds two steals as the U.S. rallied to defeat France 81-70 in the gold medal game. (Photo provided by Skye Ettin)

By Justin Feil

Blake Peters returned from the 2002 Maccabiah Games in late July with a gold medal and renewed confidence.

Peters, who will be a sophomore guard for the Princeton University men’s basketball team in the 2022-23 season, had 10 points, three rebounds, and a pair of steals to help the United States rally to win the title game, 81-70, over France. Princeton assistant coach Skye Ettin celebrated alongside Peters as part of the U.S. coaching staff.

“It was a really humbling experience,” said the 6’1, 190-pound Peters, a native of Evanston, Ill. “I’m not obviously ever going to have the opportunity to play for the Olympic team so this was the closest thing I could get to that. I have a lot of pride in my country and where I’m from. And I have a lot of pride in my identity as a Jewish basketball player. So to be playing there and representing a whole bunch of groups of people was just an awesome experience. And I did it with my assistant coach at Princeton, Skye Ettin, and a great group of guys. I just thought we represented the country well and the Jewish community well, and it was an incredible experience.”

The gold medal experience — Peters’ first time playing internationally — gives him a boost of confidence as he returns to Princeton after playing sparingly in his first year. Peters and the Tigers’ rising sophomores, juniors, and seniors will head to Spain for an overseas trip in August to kick off this year.

“I’m already familiar with how international basketball is played, and how physical it is, especially off the ball,” said Peters. “I don’t think you have an appreciation for it until you play international basketball. It’s grown man strength. It’s very different than college strength, that’s something I noticed immediately. I have high aspirations for the season. I didn’t play much last year. We had a great team. This year I’m definitely looking to be more of a significant piece. Just getting back to competing and making winning plays on Maccabiah, getting back into the rhythm of playing is important. Once I get back to Princeton, it’s going to be very fun.”

Peters appeared in 14 games last year for the Tigers totaling 18 points and 12 rebounds after setting the all-time scoring record (1,585 points) at Evanston Township High. He played a total of 64 minutes with games highs of five points and five rebounds.

“It’s never fun being on the bench,” said Peters. “Playing is definitely more fun. But you learn a lot. Through my experience of playing at Princeton last year and actually getting back on the court with Maccabiah is really going to be pay dividends this year.”

Peters helped the Tigers win the Ivy League regular season title outright with his behind-the-scenes work. In practice, he was a key part of the scout team that prepared Princeton’s main rotation of players for Ivy opponents. It also helped raise Peters’ game.

“I was guarding Jaelin Llewellyn frequently and Ethan Wright,” said Peters. “These are high major basketball players that will be pros one day. So especially on the defensive end, being familiar guarding very high level basketball players helped me translate into Maccabiah. There was not one player that was better or came close to being as high caliber players like Jaelin and Ethan.”

In Israel, Peters consistently scored in double digits for the U.S. in the Maccabiah Games. He had 11 points and three rebounds in an opening tournament win over Argentina. In the Americans’ first meeting with France in Stage 1 pool play, Peters had 18 points and six rebounds. Against host Israel, Peters made seven 3-pointers on his way to a game-high 24 points. He also scored 10 points in a decisive win over Canada. The U.S. did not panic when it trailed France, 37-35, at halftime of the gold medal game before turning up its defense to pull out the win.

“We had beat France in the group phase,” said Peters. “They’re an awesome team. Most of them are pros probably between 25-30 years old, so obviously they’re very experienced. That championship game, in the first half, they just wanted it a little more. At halftime, we got in the locker room and talked about what we needed to do on the defensive end. The whole tournament, that’s what was winning us games. Our goal was to keep teams below .75 points per possession. We do similar stat trackings like that at Princeton. So that’s basically they’re scoring once every three or four possessions. Once we locked in on defense, got in help position more, had a little more ball pressure, I think we ended up pressing them a little more in the second half and we sped them up a lot so that definitely helped.”

Peters seamlessly transitioned into the U.S. defense that was orchestrated by Ettin, who used Princeton principles and strategy. The offensive end was less like Princeton’s style, and more like what Peters played in high school.

“In 2021, I didn’t even know Skye was coaching Maccabiah,” said Peters. “I was already planning on going to Duke to try out. It just so happened I went to Princeton for Elite Camp and Skye was talking to me, and we both learned we were both doing Maccabiah. I went to Duke and tried out, and I think six months later roughly, the team was finalized.”

Peters was on the Maccabiah radar after connecting with U16 national coach Michael Weinstein, another Evanston product. Peters was scheduled to play
Maccabiah in 2021 but the COVID-19 pandemic pushed the Games back one year and forced Peters up to the open team level. The team assembled for a three-day minicamp at Kean University before departing for Israel.

“Once we got to Israel, the first week was essentially another training camp,” said Peters. “We would wake up really early in the morning, go to practice at 6:30. We scrimmaged the Israeli U19 national team at one point. We scrimmaged our U18 Maccabiah team. We actually had a decent amount of prep. A lot of those days were also spent team bonding just around the hotel to get to know each other a little better.”

It was all part of an experience that he won’t forget. In addition to playing in his first international tournament, he was also making his first trip to Israel.

“I think they do a good job of connecting you to Israel and Judaism and everything that’s involved on a deeper level,” said Peters. “But you’re also there to win a gold medal so there’s a good balance between the two.”

It has been a whirlwind summer for Peters. He was home for less than a week after finishing his first year of classes at Princeton when he headed to New York City for a seven-week internship.

“I didn’t really have any trainers there,” said Peters. “It was really on me to be working out by myself and doing my lifts, so that whole experience has taught me a lot about myself and playing adult for a couple months.”

It led up to his final preparation and trip to the Maccabiah Games before a couple of weeks back at home and then the Princeton team trip to Spain. Peters has been trying to take advantage of every chance he has to play and hone his skills. It starts at the defensive end, where he hopes to spearhead a lockdown mentality. He’s been able to improve each year at the defensive end.

“That’s something I’ve always needed to focus on,” said Peters. “By the time I was a senior in high school, I was guarding the best player on the other team every game, something I took a lot of pride in. Last year, guarding Jaelin and Ethan every day, that was a tough task originally — they may have a different opinion — but I thought I got better as the year went on.”

At the offensive end, Peters also benefited immensely from his first year at Princeton. And as he showed in the Maccabiah Games, he is capable of shooting as well as anyone while running an offense. Playing with the Tigers helped him become a tougher player to guard.

“On the offensive side, the biggest thing is in high school it’s very stagnant, and you don’t play with a shot clock so the game is much quicker in college,” said Peters.

“I got really good at cutting and really using my foot speed to get to my spots. I’m not going to be taking five or six dribbles and breaking people down. That’s insanely hard to do in college with the high level guards and the defense people play. It’s really perfecting my shot and being able to fake people out on cuts for layups and playing with a lot of poise and being a solid point guard. Those are all skills I’ve developed working out by myself this summer and during the season last year and playing with Maccabiah too. As I get on the court next year, hopefully people will be able to see that.”

This week, Peters will be getting his next chance to play and develop his game. Princeton will be repeating a trip to Spain that it last took in 2012, leaving on August 18 with stops in Madrid, Valencia, and Barcelona. Schools are permitted one overseas trip out of season every four years, and Peters has confidence from winning Maccabiah gold and is looking forward to playing with Princeton’s returning players.

“We’ll treat the week and a half before we leave as a mini training camp almost and get back in the flow of things,” said Peters. “Hopefully that’ll set us off on the right path. It’ll be fun.”

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