The Nicholls Colonels (13-8, 7-1) are sitting in first place in the Southland Conference and on the surface, are just another mid-major team taking their brief turn in the spotlight. However, their story is about two men intersecting at an unlikely place, Thibodaux, La., to produce a season fans have been waiting decades for.
“Coming from D.C. you’re used to everything moving fast and everything is city-like,” said senior guard Roddy Peters. “Then you come out here and it’s the complete opposite. It’s very country and everything is slow. It’s been a humbling experience.”
The action on the court in Thibodaux has been anything but slow as Peters and Nicholls head coach Ritchie Riley are key figures in what is shaping to be a season to remember.
Peters is a former top-50 recruit from the Washington, D.C. area, who had offers from Kansas and UCLA. Riley is a young, but well-travelled coach, who appears to have a bright future in the industry. Their story is fascinating.
In the summer of 2012 Peters, then a rising senior at Suitland High School in District Heights, Md., became one of the fastest risers on the AAU circuit. He eventually became the focus of a local recruiting battle between Maryland and Georgetown.
That fall Peters eventually picked Maryland. However, things didn’t go as planned there. In 2013-14, his freshman season, Peters averaged 4.1 points, 2.1 assists, and 1.8 turnovers per game. Several outlets reported there were off the court issues that affected his play and those issues eventually led Peters to transfer to South Florida in the spring of 2014.
His time at South Florida started a bit better. After sitting the customary year per NCAA rules, Peters averaged 9.8 points per game. However, after the 10th game of that season, he injured his left foot and missed the rest of the year.
Then, in March of 2016, he was dismissed from the school for violations of school policy. Those violations were never made public, but later that year, then head coach Orlando Antigua and one of his assistants and his brother, Oliver, were both gone as part of a NCAA probe into recruiting violations.
Peters suddenly found himself without a home. He said he wasn’t sure if basketball was in the cards for him.
“Coming from Maryland, you’re treated one way and then South Florida it’s something different” he said. “After you leave two schools you kind of think your basketball career is done and over with.”
Meanwhile Riley was looking for a new home himself.
Riley had spent his entire adult life coaching college basketball. Riley was an assistant at places like Georgetown College, Hawaii-Pacific and Pikeville College from 2003-2009 before taking his first Division 1 job at Coastal Carolina.
After leaving Coastal in 2011, he joined the staff at his alma mater, Eastern Kentucky for a season before moving on to UAB in and then finally Clemson in 2014. Riley thought it was time to seek out a job and found one in an unlikely place.
“There’s been one winning season here in 22 years,” Riley said. “When I took the job some of the people I’m closest to questioned do you wait on an opportunity that’s more set up to win right away.”
So how did Peters end up playing for Riley? At Clemson Riley coached Peters’ childhood friend Marcquise Reed. Peters was searching for a place and Riley was looking to build a program. Reed recommended both to each other.
“I kind of got connected with one of Marcquise’s mentors and was just able to build a relationship with [Peters],” Riley said. “Rod was looking for the same thing that I wanted. I wanted a chance as a head coach, my first opportunity at 33…I wanted chance to go win a championship and run my own program and Rod wanted that last chance.”
That last chance had been going well as Peters is averaging 18.7 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game. In the last game at Lamar, Peters scored 28 points and grabbed 6 rebounds. Riley said its because Peters is finally playing at a comfort level and has been fully integrated into his program.
“I’m so proud of the progression that he’s made since he’s been here and the maturity level that he’s gotten himself to,” said Riley.
For Peters and Riley, the season isn’t over yet. They still have to worry about New Orleans, SE Louisiana and Stephen F. Austin. So far, though, they’ve given themselves an opportunity that Peters said he didn’t think he’d get.
“The team goal and my personal goal is to get to the tournament,” Peters said. “I was never really big on the NCAA tournament and things like that because I never really thought I’d be there. Now I see I have a legitimate chance so I really want to get there.”