ON THE COURT, his presence is undeniable.
No, he's not throwing down thunderous dunks - he can't - or dazzling with moves in the post. He simply is putting his all into a game he's often been told he couldn't play, proving people wrong every time he takes the floor.
He is Tyreek Peeples, the starting freshman point guard for Division III Immaculata University, and he was not blessed with a key characteristic synonymous with the sport he loves. But giving up on basketball only because he is 5-3 - he acknowledeges his 5-4 listing is generous - has never crossed his mind. Those who have written him off - oh, and there have been many - only motivate him further.
"If I have him starting, I have him starting for a reason," coach Terrence Stewart says. "He's not a novelty act. The kid can play."
Watching Peeples run up and down the floor for mere minutes serves as validation. His hustle and relentlessness make you wonder which schools would have come calling if he were just a few inches taller. When his shots trickle through the net, they draw the loudest cheers of anyone's. He is a 130-pound pain in the neck for opposing guards, and there is not a loose ball he isn't after.
"When people talk about my height," he says, "it definitely drives me, motivates me to succeeding more."
After most colleges passed on him because of his size, Peeples landed at Immaculata, one of the few schools willing to give him a chance. Only seven games (he missed two with a concussion) into his freshman season, and on a roster on which players average taller than 6-4, Peeples has a stranglehold on the starting point guard position.
Immaculata, which started the season 0-4, is 3-2 in games Peeples has started. He has scored in double figures in three of the last four, highlighted by a 20-point performance on a program-record six threes on seven attempts in a recent win over Cairn University.
Three-pointers are a huge part of Peeples' game, with 28 of his 35 field-goal attempts coming from long range. It's tough for him to pull up and take midrange jump shots over 6-foot-plus defenders, so his offensive game is predicated mostly on taking care of the ball (he has 11 assists to four turnovers), three-point shooting (he has made 13 of those 28) and the occasional teardrop layup.
Though he's always the smallest player on the court, Peeples is one of the most vocal, calling out plays in the halfcourt offense with authority. He doesn't force anything and makes smart decisions. When a shot goes up, he tries to box out among the trees. He brought down four rebounds in the Mighty Macs' last game.
"He's kind of like a big motivation behind the team," says guard Dan Hogan, Peeples' roommate. "When you see him succeed on the court, everybody gets that much more motivated."
As you might expect, Peeples' height has led to plenty of nicknames over the years. He's heard them all. There are some he even likes, such as "Baby" and "Mighty Mouse," and some not so pleasant, like the occasional Gary Coleman references from opposing fans.
"The Gary Coleman chants would just make me laugh and bring a smile to my face in the games," he says. "It never hurt my confidence or my passion or anything."
Peeples, 18, is used to being the shortest player on the court. Though his father, Terrance Brown, was 6-2, it's apparent he and 22-year-old brother Trevor (5-6) received their height genes from their mother, Karima, who is 4-11. Peeples' 14-year-old sister, Tiana, is expected to be the tallest of the siblings. Already, she stands head-to-head with Tyreek.
Peeples' obvious disadvantage has never stopped him from continuing to compete, ever since he started playing at age 6 on a makeshift hoop outside his Southwest Philadelphia home. The basket was made out of a milk crate, a hole cut in the bottom. The crate was stapled to a tree.
For each of his 12 years of grade school, Peeples attended the well-known Girard College, a private Philadelphia boarding school for kids from single-parent families with limited financial resources. Peeples was raised by his mother after his father was killed in April 2004. Tyreek was only 10.
"He's the reason why I do what I do, as well," Peeples says. "I just want to make him proud, be the son that he always wanted me to be. One thing that he always instilled in me, I'll always remember this quote he said: be better than what he was. He always told me to strive for what I want. If you want to become something, you can become it no matter what anybody says."
Peeples' accomplishments, in AAU ball, high school and now college, are a reflection of someone who overcomes adversity.
"He has more determination and more heart than anybody I've seen who's 7-foot play ball," says his mother.
Others echo similar sentiments. Amile Jefferson, a freshman forward for top-ranked Duke, is a good friend of Peeples'. Growing up only 12 blocks from each other and playing AAU together for Team Philly's Finest, they've known each other since they were about 9. According to Jefferson, "you could never really judge [Peeples] by his height."
"It's not the size of him, it's the size of his heart. He gives his all at whatever he does," Jefferson says. "The way he plays the game, the toughness he plays with. It doesn't matter how small he is or the things he can't do, because the things he can do, he's going to do them so well."
Peeples finished a great high school career only four points shy of 1,000, but many college coaches shied away after seeing him in person. "He's so small. He'll never be able to play at the next level," they would say.
"I swear, if Tyreek was taller, Tyreek would not be a Division III guard," says Nasser Eggleston, a Girard College coach who has been influential in Peeples' basketball career. "But it is what it is. You've got to work with what you have."
Immaculata assistant Ben Kay started recruiting Peeples 3 years ago. Despite what Peeples lacked in size, Kay saw a confident kid with tremendous leadership qualities and "all the things that you need to be a great player."
Four other Division III schools and Division II DeVry University were involved in Peeples' recruitment, but Immaculata was clearly the most passionate. For Peeples, it wasn't too tough of a choice. He hasn't looked back.
Stewart, a former Rowan star, is in his first season as Immaculata's head man, so Peeples was already part of the program when he was hired from La Salle University's coaching staff.
Stewart, who is 6-5 - "It's a funny conversation when we talk," he said - has misplaced Peeples only once, only to realize his point guard was standing right in front of him.
"Other than his size," Stewart says, "everything about him is big."
Watch him play. You won't be able to miss the most fearless player on the floor.