McNary senior Tregg Peterson slams a ball home on an alley-oop. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)

McNary senior Tregg Peterson slams a ball home on an alley-oop. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)

By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

With his thick red hair and 6-foot-3 frame, McNary High School senior Tregg Peterson stands out on the basketball court for his physical appearance alone. After the tip off, he stands out even more.

Peterson has been a backbone of the Celtic boys basketball team all season long. He’s averaging 16 points, five rebounds and three assists per game. His most points in a single game this season is 34. As soon as he gets close to the net, there is a collective intake of breath on the Celtic side of any gym. That’s because there’s a better-than-average chance he’ll slam one home. If he does, what follows is most like a roar.

“It’s really the best feeling you can get. When you have everyone there – friends and family – and they explode, it gets your adrenalin going and gets you excited,” said Peterson.

Peterson’s path to becoming a star on the court likely began playing basketball with his father and sister, Teresa.

He laughs and smiles shyly at the mention of her name.

“She used to beat me pretty handily, but she was my push factor. She was good when she played and, coming in, I wanted to be better than she ever was. I’ve tried to surpass her and my dad who played in high school and college,” Peterson said.

After playing on a three-time state champion soccer team through middle school, Peterson turned his focus to basketball his freshman year. In some ways, it was the best and worst time to join the program. The Celtics had been struggling for a couple of seasons already, but it continued for the next two years under a new head coach, Ryan Kirch.

“You could tell there was a lot of confusion and a lot of player issues. There were egos and attitudes, and a lot of them,” Peterson said. “But you still learn to love the people you play with.”

While the teams struggled, Peterson turned to what what he could contribute and began hitting the gym, focusing on weights and building strength in his legs.

“Tregg puts a lot of time in during the off season, specifically in the weight room,” Kirch said. “Between his sophomore and junior season he went from being an average looking player to a physically dominant perimeter player. His vertical leap improved by nearly 10 inches, and he became a very physical presence on the floor.”

Kirch said Peterson came into his own two years ago during a summer league team in a tournament at University of Oregon.

“Johnathan (Doutt) missed a couple of games for a family event and we were in a position where we were looking for someone to step up.  We began to run plays to isolate Tregg and he scored at will,” Kirch said.

As a junior, Peterson  was a first team all-league selection, an honor he wasn’t planning to gun for until his senior year.

“My goal was just to start and be a good player for our team, but I exceeded my own expectations and everyone else’s,” he said.

While Peterson has risen to the forefront of his team, he’s also aware that it’s taken progress from everyone on the roster to reach the heights it has in the Greater Valley Conference. The Celts’ record is 13-1 in league.

“We have all these other weapons and when someone is on fire, we start feeding them the ball. On any night, it could be anybody’s big game,” Peterson said. “It’s nice to be relied upon, and I want to be the guy with the ball at the end of the game. It’s a lot of pressure, but I enjoy it.”

He’s getting looks from several Division II schools and is planning to visit a couple of them during spring break. With a 3.98 grade point average, it’s likely he’ll have a couple of choices. In addition to being able to play, he’s looking for a school with a good engineering program – either chemical or bioengineering. Science has been his favorite subject for a while.

Peterson’s accolades on the court are getting him most of the attention, but he’s equally reliable off the court. When longtime friend Payton Williams was diagnosed with cancer last summer, Peterson filled Williams’s room with about 100 balloons he’d blown up himself.

“I got a little light-headed and I was tired after, but it was life-altering. When someone gets a diagnosis like that, you realize how quickly life can change,” Peterson said. While basketball has drawn much of his time since November, he and Williams remain in constant contact via text messaging.

His reliability is what makes Peterson a leader on the court, Kirch said.

“I think he’s come to realize that the responsibilities of being a great player continue off the court. It includes in class, in the hallways and in the community. I know that our youth kids idolize him,” Kirch said. “Tregg is also a funny kid, compassionate towards others and loves the color purple … we are working on his fashion sense.”

Wherever he ends up next year, Peterson will take with him more than just his talent on the court. He will take the lessons the game has taught him.

“Basketball isn’t just about competing, it teaches leadership, accountability and a lot of other lessons. When you fail you have to get up and keep going. You learn the lessons that will stick with you the rest of your life,” he said.