‘Anything is possible:’ Blake Peters’ journey from ETHS to the Sweet 16


Blake Peters. Picture by Jonah Charlton.

Blake Peters is no stranger to clutching up in the biggest of moments. So when he stepped on the court in the second half of last Sunday’s Round of 32 contest against Missouri, he was ready. 17 points and one more giant upset for the Cinderella 15-seed Princeton Tigers later, and Peters could add another moment to his long list of clutch performances: helping his team to the Sweet 16.

Long before the NCAA tournament success, Peters was just a high school freshman playing on varsity for the Wildkits. On Jan. 26, 2018, a miracle of a shot would make the name Blake Peters known throughout the country. Trailing 44-42 against Maine South in the final 2.6 seconds of the game, Evanston’s chances of pulling off a win looked little to none, as the Redhawks were shooting a one-and-one free throw to put the game away. As the ETHS fans in Beardsley Gym were preparing to leave the bleachers and head for the parking lot, Maine South’s Michael George missed the free throw short. Peters, a freshman at the time, grabbed the rebound, took one dribble, and hoisted up a one-handed, 80-foot, full-court prayer.

He drained it.

Evanston Township beats Maine South on epic buzzer beater – 1/26/2018

Peters’ teammates sprinted on the court, dog-piling on top of Peters near the scorer’s table. The ETHS student section was in utter shock at what they had just witnessed; the shot would later be nominated for an ESPY award under the Best Play category, next to athletes like Lebron James, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Giannis Antetokounmpo. One would expect that shot to send his confidence through the roof, but if you ask ETHS head coach Mike Ellis, he emphasizes that whether Peters made that shot or not, his work ethic and commitment to improving is the real factor in driving him far in his basketball career.

“That’s the beauty of it with Blake. It’s all natural. Whether he made that shot or not, his confidence would’ve been the same for the next three years,” said Ellis. “He understands that investing the way he does into his abilities and the game of basketball will lead to results. [Blake] knows there’s no shortcuts or secrets—it’s the time you put in that’ll lead to the reward.”

As a four-year varsity starter for the Kits, Peters helped lead the Kits to two trips downstate. During his freshman year in 2017-2018, Evanston finished third in the class 4A bracket, falling to Whitney Young in the state semifinals. The season later, Evanston continued right where they left off. Peters and the Kits made it back to Peoria, this time advancing to the championship after a 94-82 win over Rockford in the semifinals. In that game, Peters led the way with 27 points, draining seven of his eight three-point attempts and helping the Wildkits set the class 4A team record for most points in a game. Peters currently holds the title of Evanston’s all-time leading scorer with 1,585 points.

Peters’ historic high school career led him to the ultimate reward in June of 2020: a commitment to Princeton University. 

“Princeton is one the best universities in the country, and athletically, it’s right up there,” Peters stated. “A lot of people that choose to come to Princeton or any other Ivy League school can play basketball at high major schools but I chose to get the best of both worlds– academics, and athletics. It’s an amazing place to go to school, and it’s really rewarding.”

Peters joined a Tigers team whose 2020-2021 season was canceled due to the Ivy League’s restrictions on winter sports in response to Covid-19. In Peters’ freshman year, he played just under five minutes per game and averaged 1.3 points per game off the bench. While the team had a tremendous regular season finishing with a record of 23-7, Princeton lost by two to Yale in the Ivy League conference championship, 66-64, and ultimately missed out on an NCAA tournament bid.

Peters took it upon himself to improve in the offseason. He traveled to Israel in the summer to compete in the Maccabiah Games, helping the U.S. to win a gold medal. Princeton Assistant Coach Skye Ettin was a coach for the U.S.

“The summer was really crucial for me. I was [in Israel] with one of my Princeton assistants. A lot of the defenses that we use at Princeton, we used this summer,” said Peters. “It was a great experience. You wake up every morning at 6:00 a.m., you go to practice, go sightseeing, then you practice again later in the day.”

Following Peters’ trip to Israel, Princeton took an offseason team trip to Spain. The Tigers played against four Spanish professional teams.

“[That offseason trip] began the tremendous season for us,” Peters said. “I can’t describe to you how close we are as a team. It’s really rare for teammates to genuinely care for each other. It’s not about any one of our successes, but [how] we play as a team.”

This season, Peters’ minutes and production have taken a massive leap. The 6’1” guard is averaging 5.9 PPG, shooting at a 40 percent rate from beyond the arc and averaging over 13 minutes a game. Princeton’s regular season record of 23-8 landed them in second place in the Ivy League behind Yale. 

The Tigers defeated No. 3-seeded Penn handily in the Ivy League Conference Championship semifinals and moved on to play No. 1-seeded Yale in the championship. Having lost to Yale in both regular season meetings, the Tigers took revenge and knocked off Yale, 74-65, to win the Ivy League championship and clinch an NCAA Tournament berth.

“We were so glad to be the Ivy League team to [make the NCAA Tournament]. You never know when you’re going to be back in the tournament, so we are just taking it all in,” Peters said.

Princeton received a No. 15 seed and was matched up with the Pac-12 champs, the No. 2 seeded Arizona Wildcats. Princeton was massive underdogs, with Vegas projecting the Tigers to lose by nearly 15 points, and ESPN having the Tigers at just a 7.9 percent chance to win the contest. Coming into the game, a 15 seed had only upset the No. 2 seeded team just a mere ten times in the 83 years the tournament has been played. 

Peters and the Tigers changed that number to eleven times.

Against all odds, Princeton shocked the Wildcats, 59-55, in a defensive battle. Peters dropped nine points, all on three-pointers, shooting 60 percent from deep on the night. Peters’ biggest basket came with 6:29 to go in the second half when the Tigers came roaring back into the game, nailing a three that cut down Arizona’s margin to 51-48. Princeton continued to claw at the lead and eventually took the lead on Ryan Langborg’s layup with 2:03 to go. Illinois native Caden Pierce, the 2022 Class 4A state champ from Glenbard West, hit two major free throws to seal the game with 20 seconds remaining and send the Tigers to the Round of 32.

“We were excited we made the tournament, but we didn’t want to stop playing. We were playing for our lives,” said Peters. “We were operating on one-day preparation, which is pretty hard in college to prepare for. But the best teams at this time of year are the most mature and the most willing to do the little things. We did that through all the media attention. We rallied around each other and took the momentum that we had from the crowd in Sacramento; we’re just a very mature group.”

While the rest of the nation was in shock at the upset that had just occurred, Peters and the Tigers had their eyes set on their next matchup against the No. 7-seeded Missouri Tigers. Princeton was the underdog yet again, projected to lose by around eight points. But as Peters noted, Princeton began to embrace the dark horse mindset. 

“We embraced the underdog mentality, but we knew we were playing like one of the best teams in the country. Ultimately, we have nothing to lose.”

On Saturday evening, Princeton proved to the entire nation that their win over Arizona wasn’t just a fluke. 

Princeton dominated from the earliest minutes of the game, winning handily by a score of 78-63. Princeton knocked down twelve triples and out-rebounded Missouri 44-30, despite Missouri being one of the nation’s best-rebounding teams all season long. But it was the ETHS alum who emerged as the star of the night.

Peters only played two minutes in the first half and didn’t attempt a shot. The second half, though, was a completely different story. Peters caught fire and could not be extinguished. He tied a collegiate career high, scoring 17 points, shooting 5-8 (62 percent) from deep, adding a pair of free throws late. 

After the game was over, Peters was interviewed by TNT on national television. When asked about his impressive performance and the win, the former Wildkit echoed Kevin Garnett’s iconic words: 

“Anything is possible!”


“When you get in the zone, it’s a feeling any basketball player will tell you about. People often say ‘live by the three, die by three,’ but right now, we’re shooting at such a great clip that whatever we throw up we think is going in,” said Peters. “I know my role on this team. Whenever my name is called, whether that’s to make a shot or play lockdown defense, it’s my job to be ready.”

For Ellis, seeing a former player succeed at the next level means everything to him.

“You’re just so happy for a player like Blake that has worked so hard at his game. He’s a person that’s handmade his game,” Ellis stated. “He was in the gym every day working on his shot and ball handling. He’s loved the game since he was a child to where he’s at now as a sophomore in college, and to see someone like that get rewarded like that, you’re just so happy.

“If there’s anyone who lives in a gym, it’s Blake Peters. He didn’t just come into the gym every morning. For [Blake], it’s like the whole year is preseason. He’d come into the gym and shoot in the mornings, lift at different parts of the day, and then come back in the evenings and shoot again—even during the season. [When] you couple that with his academic success? Blake is superhuman, man,” said a laughing Ellis.

Princeton will take on Creighton, the No. 6 seed in the South Region, on Friday night. The Bluejays (23-12) defeated No. 11 seed North Carolina State and No. 3 seed Baylor en route to the Sweet 16. For Peters and the Tigers, the message remains the same.

“We know it’s going to be a tough game. [Creighton] has very talented guards and an extremely unique big guy. But we’re playing like one of the best teams in the country. We’re no longer looked at like the little guy,” said Peters.

“The mentality is the same. Anything is possible.”