Peters follows dreams, his dad’s legacy
AKRON, Ohio – Danny Peters was a seventh grader almost 15 years ago when he sat with his father, Dan, and the two watched the tape of a basketball game Danny had recently played. It was dad and son, coach and pupil, pause and rewind.
No punches were pulled, and Danny Peters came out of that video session with a career plan.
"My dad told me I was no good as a player," Danny says now of a conversation he’ll never forget. "I loved basketball, so I guess I knew then I was going to have to coach."
Coaching was his dad’s lifelong business. Dan Peters had been an assistant at Walsh College, Western Carolina and Akron before becoming head coach at Saint Joseph’s (Ind.) and Youngstown State in the 1990s. He later worked as an assistant under Bob Huggins at Cincinnati, Thad Matta at Ohio State and Keith Dambrot at Akron.
Dan Peters died last October after a battle with pancreatic cancer that started in 2013, a little less than a year before Dan Peters had planned to retire as Akron’s director of basketball operations. Danny Peters did OK for a player his dad told him was no good, walking on at Ohio State before going on to work four years at Arizona, first as a graduate manager and then as assistant director of basketball operations.
Last spring, Ball State hired Danny as an assistant coach. Last summer and fall, Danny spent a lot of time driving between Muncie, Ind., and the Akron area to spend as much time as possible with his father during his battle.
Tuesday night, Danny was back in Akron with Ball State for a game against the Zips.
Akron wore purple uniforms — the color of pancreatic cancer awareness — and every Akron player wore "Peters" on his nameplate. Ball State’s players wore the same purple "Peters" t-shirts that were distributed to fans at the doors and worn by Akron’s cheerleaders, band and dance team.
Before the game, Dambrot presented a framed jersey in honor of Dan Peters to Danny, his brother, Michael, and his mother, Nancy.
"I teared up," Dambrot admitted.
Dambrot has called Dan Peters his best friend. Tuesday night Dambrot said, "I think about him every day."
Danny Peters wanted Ball State to beat Akron Tuesday night. He wanted to make sure he told everyone involved with honoring his father how much his family appreciated it, too.
"(Dambrot) has given us a coping mechanism," Danny said. "He’s given me a way, when I was here bouncing back and forth between Muncie and here, to be able to spend some time in the gym. I watched (Akron) practice. We talked ball at dinner. He picked my brain. We talked about my dad. We kept each other up.
"I couldn’t be more thankful to have him in my life."
Dambrot said Dan and Danny Peters "used to talk on the phone four times a day, just talking basketball." Danny would bounce scenarios off his father, ask for advice in dealing with unhappy players, try to relate his early experiences in recruiting and managing personalities to things his father had encountered in almost 40 years.
One thing Dan Peters never did, Danny said, was try to talk him out of coaching.
"He told that to my brother but he knew I wasn’t going to listen to him," Danny said. "My brother (Michael Peters) is very educated. He has a 9-5 job as an IT consultant. He has it figured out.
"Following my dad into (coaching), it’s pressure. For sure. I have to live up to his name and all he did but I like it. I like what it brings.
"It used to be I’d go places as a young coach and people would look at me like, ‘That’s Pete’s son.’ Now I hear all these stories. Other people talk so highly of him, it’s something to be proud of."
A lifetime of training.
A lifetime of memories.
Tuesday night, Danny admitted he was "overwhelmed" by the purple, by the kind words from people he barely knew, by the banners and pictures of his father and t-shirts honoring him. A visit to Akron he’d had circled on the calendar brought an emotional reunion and a personal reminder that Danny Peters has the life he’s wanted since seventh grade.
A coach’s life — a life that includes lasting relationships, relentless competition and long bus rides, this one from Akron back to Muncie after Ball State’s fifth-straight loss.
Danny Peters was familiar with the trip.