Parker Hazen

Parker Hazen

Aran Kessler

The question is as unfair as it is fair.

In the quest to replace Alec Peters on the Valparaiso men's basketball team, second-year coach Matt Lottich has routinely stated throughout the preseason that there isn't one player that is going to go get Peters' 23 points and 10 rebounds that the All-American averaged last season. 

While those numbers are almost certainly out of reach for any member of the 2017-18 Crusaders, the numbers that could be more attainable would be 12.7 points and 4.8 rebounds per game. Those are the numbers that Peters put up during his freshman season at Valparaiso. 

Which now begs the question, can Parker Hazen become the next Alec Peters?

The question alone puts a great deal of pressure on the shoulders of an 18-year-old kid that was picking out his prom tuxedo around the same time that Peters was picking out his NBA Draft wardrobe. To even mention Hazen's name alongside Peters before the former's career has truly begun could inflate the expectations surrounding Hazen to the top of the Athletics-Recreation Center.

But again, the question isn't whether Parker Hazen compares to the senior-year, NBA-ready version of Alec Peters, it's whether or not Hazen compares to the green-as-grass, baby-faced freshman version of Peters.

The answer isn't as far-fetched as you may think.

Consider this. Peters was the lone freshman to start the 2013-14 season-opener and he was in the lineup alongside two senior guards (Jordan Coleman and LaVonte Dority) and a pair of high major transfers (Bobby Capobianco and Moussa Gueye). Hazen is expected to start Friday's season-opener alongside two senior guards (Tevonn Walker and Max Joseph) and at least one high major transfer (Bakari Evelyn). Oklahoma State transfer Joe Burton will make his way into the starting lineup after serving a two-game suspension to start the season. 

Peters came in with a talented group of freshmen and he immediately set himself apart by scoring 17 points in his first exhibition game. Hazen, who won't be counted on for the same scoring production that Peters was four years ago, set himself apart by grabbing a team-high 10 rebounds. 

The stat lines from the second exhibition games are eerily similar. Peters had seven points, including one 3-pointer, to go along with four rebounds and one steal in a win over Robert Morris. In last Saturday's win over Chicago State, Hazen had seven points, including one 3-pointer, to go along with five rebounds and two assists...and he did it against a Division-I opponent...in eight less minutes of playing time. 

One of the biggest differences between Peters and Hazen that could skew the stats this season is that the 2017-18 Crusaders have considerably more firepower than the 2013-14 team. Simply put, Hazen won't be expected to shoulder nearly the same load that Peters was expected to carry as a freshman. 

Perhaps the best way to gather whether or not Hazen compares to Peters is to go straight to the source. 

"Alec was a great player, I mean, he was a Great player," Hazen said as he carefully chose his words before Tuesday's practice. "I don't mean this as any disrespect to Alec, but I'm not trying to be the next Alec Peters. I want to be the next Parker Hazen." 

It's just that being Parker Hazen is seemingly very similar to being Alec Peters. Both players come from small agricultural towns where they grew up with a brother and two sisters. Whereas Peters is the big brother in his family which features a college basketball coach, a professionally-trained ballet dancer and a talented high school basketball player, Hazen is the baby brother in his family which features a teacher, a Northwestern volleyball player and a Ball State men's basketball player.

What drove Peters during his formative years in basketball, and carried over into his time at Valparaiso, was a burning desire to get better every single day. Rare was the time when Peters wasn't in the gym working on some element of his game. The free throw shooting after his freshman year, the rebounding after his sophomore year, the all-around explosiveness after his junior year. Each summer in Valparaiso added another weapon to his arsenal. 

Parker Hazen isn't there yet. He missed all four of his field goals in his exhibition debut. He was largely invisible in the second half against Chicago State. He hasn't spent four summers in Valparaiso locked in the ARC working on his game. He hasn't logged a minute of real action yet, but the freshman is already earning a reputation around town for being a bit of gym rat. Rare is the time that Hazen isn't the first Valpo player in the gym and the last one to leave. 

"I want to come in here and get better every day," Hazen said. "If I work hard enough, I'll be able to keep improving. I'm going to keep working on stuff every time I step on the floor. That's just who I am."

Sounds familiar. 

0
0
0
0
1

Paul Oren has been a correspondent reporter for The Times since 2005. A member of the United States Basketball Writers Association, Paul has spent more than 15 years covering Valparaiso basketball.