Princeton’s Peters Leads Improbable NCAA Run
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Princeton’s Peters Leads Improbable NCAA Run

The Jewish sophomore guard played a pivotal role in helping the Ivy League school advance in this year’s NCAA Tournament.

Every year during March Madness, there’s inevitably at least one Cinderella story that captures fans’ attention. This year, it was Blake Peters (No. 24) and the Princeton University Tigers // Photo Credit: Greg Carroccio/Sideline Photography
Every year during March Madness, there’s inevitably at least one Cinderella story that captures fans’ attention. This year, it was Blake Peters (No. 24) and the Princeton University Tigers // Photo Credit: Greg Carroccio/Sideline Photography

On the afternoon of March 19, the day after his team’s stunning 78-63 win over the University of Missouri in the second round of March Madness, one in which he came off the bench to drain five three-pointers in the second half, Princeton University Tigers sophomore guard Blake Peters estimated that he had received well over 500 text messages.

His iPhone was inundated with well-wishes from elementary school friends he hadn’t spoken to in nearly a decade and relatives he hardly ever sees. Meanwhile, when he was able to put the device aside and stroll around campus, he was getting noticed by fellow students for the first time in his life.

Earlier that morning, Peters, along with the rest of the No.15-seeded Princeton men’s basketball team had touched down at Newark Liberty International Airport, fresh off a cross-country flight from Sacramento, where, over the past 48 hours, they had upset both the University of Arizona and Mizzou. For Peters, his second-half performance (he finished with a career-high 17 points and a pair of rebounds) that sparked his team’s improbable 78-63 win over Missouri, was good for a nationally televised postgame interview (“Anything’s possible!”), spotlight on the back page of the New York Post, and several mentions in the New York Times’ account of the game, including in the lede.

“The past couple days have been far from ordinary,” acknowledged Peters while speaking to the Atlanta Jewish Times less than 24 hours after his team pulled off the improbable blowout victory over a vaunted SEC opponent. “It’s definitely difficult with all the attention. We’re not used to that.”

Ivy League schools are not expected to make a lot of noise in March Madness. Since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, only one Ivy League team, Cornell, in 2010, had reached the Sweet Sixteen, before falling to the mighty Kentucky Wildcats. Likewise, No. 15-seeded teams are not expected to upset higher-ranked opponents by 15 points. That Princeton became only the second Ivy League team to reach the Sweet Sixteen by knocking off a legit national title contender in Arizona and then, two days later, posted the largest margin of victory ever for a No.15 seed, made for above the fold news.

“The goal’s always to get to the tournament and, once you get to the tournament, anything can happen,” added Peters, who represents the Jewish community in Princeton by being an active member of the school’s Hillel, for which he has been a guest speaker at Shabbat. “I don’t think any of us are surprised that we’re in the position we’re in, but, at the same time, this is the kind of stuff that, at least for me, personally—you thought about going to the Sweet Sixteen with your middle school friends at the lunch table. You’re talking about it jokingly, but you’re not actually thinking you’re really going to get there.”

Understandably so. Generally speaking, Ivy League basketball players are not heavily recruited and Peters, despite being Evanston Township High School’s all-time leading scorer (1,585) and the No. 13 ranked player in Illinois by PrepHoops, was no exception. But Peters’ deadly three-point shooting and deft ball handling skills eventually caught the attention of Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson, himself a former hoops player at the school, and, for the past couple years, he has served as a reliable option coming off the bench.

The Princeton sharpshooting sophomore explained, “Initially, the biggest challenge was not being comfortable in that role. And what I mean by that is my whole life I always started, and I was always used to playing the whole game. This year, that’s just not the case. Initially, I was struggling because, when I would come in, I wasn’t as locked in as I should have been on the game plan. As the season progressed, I kind of got out of that mindset and stopped making excuses for myself.”

As the week unfolded before the Sweet Sixteen, during which Princeton ultimately fell to Creighton, 86-75, the spotlight on the upstart Tigers would only intensify, bringing to light Peters’ fascinating life story—away from the court.

Irrespective of whether Peters ever plays in or is interviewed following another CBS-televised March Madness game, last month may not be the last time America hears from the young man from Evanston, Ill.

“That [becoming Secretary of State] is the ultimate goal,” said Peters, who hopes to land a summer internship at the State Department. “I don’t know how exactly I am going to get there. I have been dreaming about being in government at that high level for a while now. Thankfully, I have had that great blessing of being able to travel the world and see different cultures and interact with people of all backgrounds. I’m just really interested in American foreign policy. I love this country and definitely want to serve one day.”

His global travels have taken him to 14 countries, including China twice, Israel last summer while representing the U.S. at the 2022 Maccabiah Games, and a tour of Singapore, Vietnam, and Cambodia that he took with his grandparents for his bar mitzvah. Along the way, he has become fluent in Chinese, which he currently studies at Princeton, and well-versed in Spanish classical guitar.

Clearly, basketball comprises but a sliver of his life outside the classroom. But that doesn’t make what transpired this past March any less special.

“You never know when you’re going to be back in the tournament,” the soon-to-be upperclassman added. “It’s something I’ll never forget.”

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