Transfer to USC works out better than expected for Libertyville grad Peterson
In a strange year full of heartache, there were blessings.
And Drew Peterson is certainly counting his.
The former Libertyville basketball star experienced a great ride this winter, and had a few shining moments of his own.
"It was awesome for my entire team," Peterson said. "And especially for me personally."
Peterson transferred from Rice University to the University of Southern California last spring and, like all transfers in the year of COVID, did not have to sit out a season.
His immediate eligibility put Peterson right in the middle of a historic run by Southern California in the NCAA tournament, which just capped its biggest night on Monday when Baylor blew by Gonzaga in the national championship game.
Southern California played Gonzaga in the Elite Eight. And despite 13 points and 6 rebounds from Peterson over 34 minutes, Southern California lost to Gonzaga, 85-66.
A week removed from that loss now, it's easier for Peterson and the Trojans to think fondly of the game. After all, it was just the second time in 60 years, and the first time in 20 years, that Southern California advanced to the Elite Eight.
"Going into the season, I didn't even think I was going to be able to play (because of the transfer)," Peterson said. "To be able to play and to also be a part of what we did, it was pretty amazing."
Peterson, a first-team all-stater his senior year at Libertyville, was one of two former Daily Herald area stars to advance to the Elite Eight of the men's tournament. Former Stevenson standout Justin Smith, who transferred to Arkansas this year, is the other and will be featured in Thursday's Lake County editions of the Daily Herald.
"To play at a known football school, there was an interest on my part in changing that, in putting the men's basketball team on the map," Peterson, a junior guard with two more years of eligibility, said of one of the things that drew him to Southern California. "I also thought that there was a really good blend of talent here and I saw pretty quickly as we started practicing how we were all on the same page.
"I was just hoping that I would be one more piece to help put us over the top."
The 6-foot-8 Peterson started 29 of 32 games this season and averaged nearly 29 minutes per game. He was the third-leading scorer on the team at 9.7 points per game. He also averaged 5 rebounds per game and was second on the team in both 3-pointers (34) and assists (88, 2.75 per game).
Peterson had 3 double-doubles and flirted with a triple-double against Stanford late in the season.
"I tried to be a glue guy, I tried to do a little bit of everything," Peterson said of his role at Southern California. "I just went into every game trying to affect the game in multiple ways: scoring, assists, rebounding, whatever we needed. But probably playmaking was the best way I impacted the game, finding my teammates. Also, being a tall guard, I tried to find a lot of mismatches, too. That's also a good way to impact the game."
Peterson was looking for small victories when he first arrived on the USC campus.
Coming from a smaller school, he knew he had to earn his stripes.
"There are kids who struggle going from a mid-major to a high-major school," Peterson said. "That made me work hard in the summer. Really hard. I knew I needed to prove myself at a bigger school.
"It was nice when I realized I could hang with all of them."
That was kind of the same experience USC had as a team in the NCAA tournament. The Trojans were definitely overlooked by most prognosticators. Underdogs to say the least. USC was a No. 6 seed.
"We went into March Madness feeling under-appreciated," Peterson said. "But then we beat Kansas and Oregon and we kind of gave ourselves and name. And even though we lost to Gonzaga and we were really sad about that, we knew it was a heck of a season for us. We made a real memorable year for USC basketball."