Sophomore guard L.J. Peak added several stamps to his passport this summer. Coming off a strong freshman season in which he was featured in the starting lineup from start to finish — a rarity for a freshman under Head Coach John Thompson III — Peak was named to the Team USA U-19 team. Between that and Georgetown’s summer trip to Italy to play against international competition, Peak had a basketball in his hands for most of the offseason.
Peak helped the U-19 team to a perfect 7-0 record at the 2015 FIBA U19 World Championship, held in Heraklion, Greece. Peak, who averaged 7.9 points and 2.3 rebounds per game for Georgetown last season, started two games in Greece and averaged 3.6 points and 1.1 rebounds per game.
The team featured the United States’ top young talent, with most of the players either entering their senior year of high school or their freshman year of college. This provided Peak with the opportunity to take on a leadership role on the team. Peak’s teammates included Jayson Tatum, the No. 2 overall recruit in the Class of 2016 according to ESPN, and Harry Giles, the No. 1-ranked recruit on the same list, both of whom are committed to Duke.
Peak hopes to use what he learned to help senior guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera and senior center Bradley Hayes, Georgetown’s co-captains, lead the team this season.
“I was on the team with a bunch of young guys, so I just learned how to be more of a leader and just bring it back to Georgetown and help D’Vauntes and Bradley, be more of a leader and just lead by experience,” Peak said.
After losing defensive stalwart and team leader guard Jabril Trawick — as well as center Joshua Smith and forwards Mikael Hopkins and Aaron Bowen — the team will need a new infusion of leadership as it looks to build upon a 2014-15 season that ended in a Round of 32 loss in the NCAA tournament. Peak, along with his fellow sophomore teammates including forward Isaac Copeland, guard Tre Campbell and forward Paul White, will be called upon to lead a team that now features only three seniors in Smith-Rivera, Hayes and guard Riyan Wiliams.
“It feels different a little bit because now I’m a leader and I’m looked up to by the younger guys, and I have to come ready to play every time,” Peak said.
In addition to improving as a leader with the national team, Peak also improved on the court. As a freshman, Peak shot 39.4 percent from the field and 24.6 percent from three-point range. During his time with the national team in Greece, Peak displayed an improved shot, recording a 41.2 shooting percentage from the field.
“I’ve really been working on my dribbling and my shooting, and I think it’s getting a lot better,” Peak said.
If Peak can extend his shooting range and become more of a versatile scorer, he could quickly become Georgetown’s second-best scoring option behind Smith-Rivera. After scoring a career-high 23 points in last year’s season opener against St. Francis (Brooklyn), Peak levelled off as the season went on and teams adjusted to him defensively, keeping him from driving into the paint.
Thompson noted that Peak’s experience playing with Team USA will likely improve his performance in the Hoyas’ 2015-16 campaign.
“I think it helped,” Thompson said. “Representing your country is obviously something that’s unique and special. I thought it was good for him just to go against the guys he played against in practice every day, and the guys he played with. Overall it was terrific.”
Peak’s teammates are taking note of his improved play as well.
“L.J. has gotten a lot better. He’s gotten a lot faster, gotten a lot stronger, and he’s gotten a lot smarter with the game as well,” Hayes said. “His three-point range is a lot better, he’s not just someone who can go to the hole and lay it up. He’s going to be good.”
“Defensively, he’s gotten a lot better as well,” Smith-Rivera added.
Thompson has also noticed a jump in Peak’s game.
“I think he’s starting to really take pride in his defense and have fun with defense, as opposed to just being naturally good at it,” Thompson said. “But I think the biggest thing with all the sophomores is the understanding of how we’re going about things; that has been a huge jump.”
Much will be expected from the sophomore class this year, with two or three sophomores potentially slated to be in the starting lineup for the Hoyas’ season opener at home against Radford on Nov. 14. After his time with the national team, Peak seems ready to become a go-to option and a leader who can carry the team deeper into the NCAA tournament than it has gone in recent years.
“I don’t have many personal goals but as far as my team, just being a winner, winning the championship, Big East, and hopefully the national championship,” Peak said.