Alec Peters

Valparaiso's Alec Peters (25) dunks in front of BYU's Chase Fischer (1) during the semifinals of the NIT on Tuesday, March 29, 2016, in New York.

Frank Franklin II, Associated Press

Alec Peters has been around college basketball long enough to know the difference between what is real and what is meaningless when it comes to the upcoming 2016-17 season. 

Peters was named the Horizon League Preseason Player of the Year on Thursday morning, the first Valparaiso player since Lubos Barton (2001-02, Mid-Continent Conference) to earn such distinction. 

Valparaiso senior Shane Hammink was named to the All-Horizon League Second Team. 

The Crusaders were a near unanimous pick to win the Horizon League this year, garnering 35 out of 39 possible first-place votes. This year marks the second straight season that Valparaiso has been picked to win the league. 

"At this point it's a lot of fluff," Peters said. "All this preseason stuff is just added expectations. I just want to be able to go out there and deliver for my team. Then in March if we've accomplished all this, people can look back and say there was a reason for it."

While Peters doesn't necessarily put a lot of stock in all the preseason hype, it's certainly been hard for the Valparaiso senior to ignore it. Peters has been named an All-American candidate by a multitude of preseason publications and is in position to finish his career as Valparaiso's all-time scoring and rebounding leader.

"If anything, all the expectations have made me work to the point where maybe I shouldn't be in the gym as much," Peters said. "Sometimes I need to step away from the gym and find something away from basketball. At the end of the day I want to be living with a win instead of a loss. I don't care how many points I have, rebounds, assists. I'd rather score five points in a win than score 40 points in a loss."

Peters has been on a whirlwind since his junior season came to a close last March. The 2015-16 Horizon League Player of the Year entered the NBA Draft and worked out for several teams, only to be the last player in the country to officially withdraw his name from consideration. Peters graduated this summer and had his choice of schools that he could transfer to with immediate eligibility, but he ultimately decided to return to Valparaiso and play for first-year coach Matt Lottich this season. 

Peters ended his summer by attending the Nike Skills Academy in Los Angeles where he was part of a team of college players that dominated a group of NBA stars in several games. Since returning to Valparaiso, Peters has been living in the Athletics-Recreation Center, meticulously preparing for his senior season.

"It's not something you can put into words," Peters said of his eagerness to get this season started. "After the first four days of practice you're ready to rip someone's head off and you just want to play someone else already. We've got a new team, a new style and we want to see if it's going to work. My goal this year is to only get bigger and better. You can say you're ready, but we need the time in practice right now."

Peters has adapted even more of a leadership role with his teammates this season as Lottich transitions from an assistant coach to the head office. Peters is aware that players often listen to their peers more than coaches and the veteran also knows that his example will go a long way to crafting how young players like Micah Bradford, Jaume Sorolla and John Kiser approach the game.

"Right now it's just getting everybody on the same page chemistry wise," Peters said. "It's different now. For the last two years we had the same team. Now it's getting that cohesiveness that you don't necessarily have. In October last year we didn't need to worry about that. Now we need to get a feel for each other."

The Crusaders didn't practice on Thursday and Peters said by the time returns to the court on Friday that there will be no mention of being the Horizon League favorites or of the individual honors for Hammink or himself. The focus will remain on what it's been all along; getting prepared for Southern Utah on Nov. 11.

"Once we get back on the practice floor tomorrow then it's back to business. I don't think we have time to worry about what people think of us," Peters said. "I'm eager for that first game. It kind of sets the tone. We want to come out and get a win. Only half the teams in the country can say they started 1-0. We want to show the young guys what it's like to win and us seniors know it's our last go around. It's about winning and getting that feeling. Nobody likes to lose." 

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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.