In the Shadow of a Superstar: The Story of Jason Peters and Marc Gasol (Part I)

Mar 16, 2017; Atlanta, GA, USA; Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol (33) reacts after a three point basket against the Atlanta Hawks in the second quarter at Philips Arena. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 16, 2017; Atlanta, GA, USA; Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol (33) reacts after a three point basket against the Atlanta Hawks in the second quarter at Philips Arena. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports /

This is the story of the life of Jason Peters, Marc Gasol’s high school basketball coach, who stood in the shadow of his towering Spanish superstar.

It’s 1997 in Memphis, Tennessee. A rookie head coach is looking to turn around a high school basketball program that had won an abysmal ten games in eight years. In his first year as head coach, his team posted a 10-13 record, winning as many games as the school’s boy’s basketball team had in its entire existence.

But this isn’t a story about a team that defied all odds. Nor is this a story about a coach who turned around an entire basketball program. No, this is the story of the relationship between this Lilliputian coach standing in the shadow of his Spanish towering superstar.

Jason Peters grew up in the Memphis area with his three older brothers, Jeff, Judd and Jon. Born to a basketball family, he “grew up in the gym all [his] life.” All four Peters brothers played high school basketball for their father, Jerry Peters, at Memphis University School before graduating in the 80s.

His dad, Jerry Peters, was the Jerry Sloan of the South, amassing over 1,000 wins in his 47-year career as varsity basketball coach. For Jason, it was simple. He knew he wanted to be a coach, so he completed his student teaching at Rhodes College. It wasn’t always the perfect coaching path for Jason Peters. When he graduated from Rhodes College, he took a job at a business called X-Site Incorporated, where he was the General Manager:

"“I completed my student teaching when I was at Rhodes, because I knew that teaching was a possibility, but I had an offer to go into a business, and it was a good deal. But I was just bored to death. I didn’t like it. I was behind the desk all day. And so I did that for a year and then I decided I would go back and teach.”"

The Call into Coaching

In 1993, he got his first teaching and assistant coaching job at Germantown High School. That’s how he got into coaching, and that’s how the story begins. In the classroom, he taught his students the fundamentals of American Government. In the gym, he taught his players the fundamentals of the game of basketball.

Four years later, he left to take a job as the head athletic director and varsity basketball coach for Lausanne Collegiate School.

Said Peters: “They hadn’t had boys basketball in eight years at Lausanne before I got there.” Lausanne was an all-girls school until the late 1970s.

In the eight years of its existence before Coach Peters got there, the varsity

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basketball team had a rough history to say the least – if it’s indeed worthy of being called history. Norfleet Gym was a stomping ground for opposing teams, a true graveyard that witnessed 113 beat downs to just 10 survivals in eight years. In Peters’s first year, he looked to change that, and he did, recording ten wins in his very first year as the head of the program. After a few years of unthinkable success—well, for Lausanne, at least— a Spanish giant stomped his way into Coach Peters’s office, ducking his head a good deal underneath the frame. Having just moved to Memphis from Spain, this titanic figure was asking to play basketball. Jason Peters said yes. His name was Marc Gasol.

Meeting Big Spain

Marc Gasol moved to Memphis after his brother, Pau Gasol, was drafted by the Memphis Grizzlies in 2001. Both Pau and Marc, along with their other brother Adrea, moved to the bluff city with their parents. Marc Gasol had two years of high school left, meaning two seasons of basketball remaining in his high school career. Although chubby in the arms and in the waist and in the legs and in every other part of his body, the 6-foot-10 Spanish-speaking giant was going to be a star, and Coach Peters knew he had something special right from the get go.

Said Peters: “He could shoot unbelievably well. He had slow footwork, but good footwork, because he knew how to move like a basketball player does. He had great hands, and obviously had size.”

As athletic director, he was able to amend the schedule quite a bit. He loaded up his strength of schedule, because he had Big Spain. For example, “Instead of playing North Point, we’re going to play Bartlett,” said Peters. “And so I loaded up the schedule.”

Gasol loaded up on the Big Macs too:

"“He could go to the golden arches and do some damage. Four Big Macs would be no problem. I didn’t realize how easy it was going to be for him to gain weight eating American fast food, but he loved it.”"

In Jason Peters’s first season with Marc Gasol under—well, more like towering above—his wing, Lausanne advanced to the regional finals. This was basically the elite eight of high school basketball.

As for his second season with Gasol?

Well, it was one to remember. Not because of the wins. Not because of the losses. But because of the stories and memories made…

Part II will be coming out soon…