Mississippi State junior point guard Lamar Peters is in the top 20 in the Southeastern Conference in scoring (14.2 points per game) and fifth in assists (5.7 per game) and assist-to-turnover ratio (2.1). Photo by: Mississippi State Athletic Media Relations
December 14, 2018 10:08:05 AM
STARKVILLE -- Lovely Peters is convinced the only thing that can stop her son, Lamar, is himself.
Throughout Lamar's youth, Lovely Peters saw her son set goals for himself and meet every last one of them. So when Lamar hit a personal rough patch early in his Mississippi State men's basketball career, Lovely -- and everyone around Lamar in Starkville -- put the attention on him. His own actions were the only reason he was not playing up to his usual standard
"I pretty much knew it, but it's hard for me," Lamar Peters said in the preseason. "When I bought into that, everything started going well."
The first signs showed late last year, when Peters was playing well late in the season and into the run to the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) semifinals. The beginning of the 2018-19 season has proved to be a continuation of it: the best version of Lamar Peters.
That version of the junior point guard is currently top 20 in the Southeastern Conference in scoring (14.2 points per game), fifth in assists (5.7 per game) and assist-to-turnover ratio (2.1). He's also sixth in the league in 3-point shooting percentage (43.5) as No. 18 MSU takes on its biggest non-conference challenge yet, a 7:30 p.m. Saturday (SEC Network) game against Cincinnati (9-1).
"I had to get better at stop being a distraction, be a leader," Lamar Peters said. "I'm the point guard of the team, so I had to take some of that responsibility. Don't be whining when (MSU coach Ben Howland)'s coaching me hard, take the coaching and lead the team.
"I was a little hot-headed at first. I wasn't used to hard coaching at first. He sat me down, we had a lot of meetings: 'You want to be a pro, you want to be a point guard, this is the coaching you have to take to be the second me out there.'"
Through those conversations, and similar ones with his mother, Lamar Peters was finally able to unleash the full version of himself on college basketball.
It took Peters nearly two years to reach this point. There was the infamous moment from his freshman season of oversleeping a game, but he also served a three-game suspension last season, once more for disciplinary purposes. In his absence, MSU struggled to beat Stephen F. Austin and needed a buzzer-beater to beat Jacksonville State; he felt responsible for the struggles.
When he got back, things weren't smooth. In his first five games back after that suspension he went 8-for-39 from the field (20.5 percent) and committed 12 turnovers. After tough games he would call his mother, where he would continually get the same message: this is up to you.
Still, Lovely Peters could see what was troubling her son. She would tell him he doesn't look like himself in games, and that was jarring to her. She's seen nothing but athletic success from Lamar.
This is the same player who excelled so much in football, he only took up basketball as something to keep him busy in the summer, something to keep him from getting trouble in New Orleans. He was so good at football he had a local high school football coach in his living room trying to convince him to play at that school. Then he fell in love with basketball, chose to dedicate himself to it and had just as much success there as he did in football.
"He's always had a passion for sports, he's always been well-rounded and he always knows what he needs to do," Lovely Peters said. "I've always told him to apply himself: the only person that can stop him from his blessings and reaching his goals, is him.
"He knows where he wants to go, and he knows the type of behavior he had at the time, he had to sit back and reflect. You're doing these things, this won't help you get to the next level. You have to apply yourself, you have to be confident, you have to set your goals, attack them and you have to be coachable."
Howland believed all of that was in place before the season started -- "I have no doubt you're going to see a great year from Lamar Peters this year." -- and that confidence has been rewarded. The individual production speaks for itself, but Peters playing his best means everyone around him has their game elevated, and MSU's 8-1 start is evidence of that.
"Lamar's one of the best point guards in the SEC," freshman forward Reggie Perry said. "He does a good job of getting us all involved and getting himself involved."
This is Peters playing free. He is in as good a place off-the-floor as he has ever been. His comfort off-the-floor leads to comfort on it, and a comfortable version of Lamar is the one Lovely knows is capable of anything.
"He has matured a whole lot, it's been awesome watching Lamar's growth on- and off-the-court," she said. "He was young -- he's still young, he's still a young man -- but he's matured now. He knows what it takes to do what he needs to do."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson
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