OF ALL THE forlorn Explorers in the Staples Center locker room, none looked sadder than sophomore D.J. Peterson.
La Salle had just lost to Wichita State in the Sweet 16, a foreseeable if unfortunate decision. For Peterson, the loss held special significance. He knew the team would change the following season. Tyrone Garland, one of the nation's top bench players, would probably start in place of Ramon Galloway, especially in the aftermath of his "Southwest Philly Floater" that beat Mississippi and sent La Salle to the Sweet 16.
Delaware transfer Khalid Lewis and La Salle High's Amar Stukes also would play plenty, alongside point guard Tyrone Garland. Forward Jerrell Wright and center Steve Zack blossomed this past season.
What would be the value of Peterson, a 6-5 swingman who scored just 3.9 points in 25.6 minutes? Who took just 13 free throws and 111 shots?
Add the recent commitment of 6-10 leaper Tony Washington, and yes, it made sense that La Salle last week announced that Peterson had been granted his release to transfer.
Peterson might have shocked his coach and teammates, but anyone looking at the program from the outside understood Peterson's thinking. Except, that wasn't Peterson's thinking at all.
In fact, that was so not Peterson's thinking that Peterson rethought the whole matter, reversed field Friday and decided to stay.
"Playing time never played a role in it," Peterson said yesterday. It was just homesickness, Peterson said.
La Salle coach John Giannini insisted as much last week, but, even considering Giannini's merciless candor, homesickness seemed an unlikely explanation. Especially since, in the locker room at the Staples Center, Peterson had acknowledged that he had considered that he might be marginalized in the upcoming season.
Perhaps Peterson did miss Minnesota . . . but Peterson had played a year at a prep school in Maine before landing at La Salle. His sister, Kylie, is a sprinter at the University of Minnesota, but she is a senior. Homesick? Really?
"Yeah," Peterson said. "I was just hoping to get back to the Midwest, somewhere."
Preferably, Minneapolis. Burnsville, his hometown, is 20 minutes South of what really is a gem of a town. "I love that city," Peterson said. "I don't know why."
As it turns out, he loves this city, too. "There's nothing like Philly," Peterson said. The Philly vibe actually caused much of Peterson's consternation.
Six of the Explorers this past season hailed from places close enough to allow friends and family to attend most of their games, as well as the Atlantic 10 Tournament in Brooklyn. The Philly connections of guards Galloway, Duren and Garland, with their hard-nosed, indefatigable style, supplied a constant storyline as the Explorers enjoyed national status as darlings.
"Yeah, I mean, I wanted that, too," Peterson said. "I hoped my family could see me play more than once or twice a year my last two seasons, you know?"
Sure. But, with no definitive offer from any other program in hand, he said, leaping into the great unknown proved too daunting. Besides, he fits in at La Salle like he would fit in few other places.
His statistics might not show it, but Peterson's value to the roster is impossible to quantify. Lanky but strong and quick, Peterson can defend both guard and forward positions, in the tradition of, say, a Scottie Pippen.
Peterson also shoots well enough, and frequently enough, to demand attention; he has made 57 of his 132 three-pointers, or 41.7 percent over the past two seasons. With Galloway gone there might be more shots for Peterson, who also can run the floor, finish and handle the ball.
And, while Peterson might not see 25 minutes a game this season, he will be some part of a La Salle attack that could be the class of the Atlantic 10.
"That was a big part of reconsidering," Peterson said. "We'll be right in the thick of things next season."
He'll be right back in a comfort zone, too. He shares a town house with Duren, Garland and Zack, the latter his best friend and roommate on the road.
They have an ongoing log of competitions on the Xbox Call of Duty and NBA 2K series, which Garland considers his forte but which Duren dominates. Sure, high-speed Internet can connect the games, but the flavor would change via fiber optics from Minneapolis to Philly.
"I'd miss all the trash-talking Tyrone does," Peterson said with a laugh.
He would miss more than that, which is what his roommates told him all last week. "Talking with them made me realize I couldn't walk out on those relationships."
Peterson said he is on track to graduate on time with a major in criminal justice. He has no illusions about being an NBA lock, or even playing in Europe. That was not the issue in his decision.
"When I finish college I just want to have a good job," he said, refreshingly.
And that job might well be back in Minneapolis. He has a lifetime ahead of him: "What's 2 more years in Philly?"