How Mason Peatling went from versatile role player to scoring machine

After playing much of his junior basketball outside the mainstream media spotlight, enjoyed by the likes of Josh Green and Ben Simmons, Mason Peatling has quietly emerged as one of Australia’s most exciting young talents.

Now in his senior year at Eastern Washington University, the 22 year old Melbourne native is rapidly approaching the finishing line of his college career. Although his college journey veered into the weeds on occasion thanks to injuries, the entire process has cultivated a player ready for the pro circuit.

Although it seems an age ago, there was a time in Australia where the US college athletic system was a mysterious and exotic entity, shrouded in myth and legend. However, as basketball in Australia has become a more mainstream presence on the national sporting landscape, the veil has been lifted. Heading into the US college system, Peatling had some idea of what to expect.

“I think I understood going into [college basketball] that it was going to be a lot of hard work and demand a lot of my time,” said Peatling, recalling his thoughts before he sailed across the pond to play in the world’s top amateur competition.

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“I sort of expected the team environment and being away for a couple of years, to be intense. I have never had so much time focused on one or two things as I have over here, but I definitely expected that.”

Despite the fatigue that came with having his focus so tightly concentrated, having his priorities so clearly defined allowed Peatling to throw himself into his development with all of his energy. Hard work was essential, but In his freshman and sophomore years at Eastern Washington absorption and observation was key.

Being around Eastern Washington legends like Jacob Wiley in 2017 and Bogdan Bliznyuk in 2018 allowed Peatling to observe what it took to lead a team from the front, and at the same allowed him to discover his place within the fabric of an evolving team.

“You’ve got to understand what your strengths and weaknesses are. You won’t be like the seniors you looked up to. If you want to be the best player you can be you have to be yourself and you’re going to be a completely different player from the guys you looked up to when you first began.

“With the way our team has changed, I’ve played a really different role each year.”

Now in his fourth year, Peatling has carved out a reputation as one of the best scorers in the Big Sky Conference. However, rewind the clock back to his junior and sophomore years and his role couldn’t have been more different.

“In my freshman year, we had… Jacob Wiley, who won the MVP that year [2017]. So a lot of my role as a freshman was just to feed the beast and rebound and play defence around him. The next year we had another really good guard, Bogdan Bliznyuk, who was MVP of the league. As a post player, I was setting him screens and giving him the best shots I could while rebounding and playing defence.

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“As a junior and senior I have taken on more of a scoring role because that has been the expectation of my coaches and teammates.

“Going into [my junior] year [scoring] was something that I really wanted to do. We lost Bogdan [Bliznyuk] who was the all-time leading scorer in the conference, and points were something our team was really going to need.”

The years of patience and grinding in the gym paid off. In his junior season Peatling’s scoring leapt from 7.7 points to 15.5. This season his scoring figure currently stands at 16.5.

“It’s a matter of my teammates giving me more confidence,” said Peatling about his huge jump in production with his trademark frank modestly.

“They’re the one that throws the ball to me in the post. When they give me the ball and they’re telling me to go and shoot it and make plays, you can’t not do it, that’s how the game is played.”

No game epitomised Peatling’s growth into one of Eastern Washington’s offensive leaders quite like the warmup game against Multnomah University last December, where he scored 54 points in 24 minutes, shooting a jaw-dropping 24 out of 30.

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“It was such a weird game,” said Peatling, as if the shock of it all was still sinking in.

“I wanted to come into the game and play hard early. I was expecting a double team to come after four or five early buckets and then I’d distribute it and get everyone involved, and then watch the younger guys play out the rest of the game.”

But the double team never came, and so the former Dandenong Ranger went on a rampage. His 54 points broke the Big Sky Conference record and also broke the record for the most points scored in US men’s college basketball by an Australian.

“It wasn’t something I went out to achieve, and honestly it wasn’t something that I thought I would ever do… It’s just a really cool record to have at the end of the day.”

Over the course of four years, Peatling’s college journey has been relatively smooth. His progression has evolved naturally with each step flowing into the next.

Unfortunately, as a big who bangs in the post, there are hazards that come with the territory. During his sophomore year, he suffered a wrist injury on his right shooting hand at a time when he was trying to take a step up into a more involved role on the team. The following year, in the offseason before his junior season he underwent surgery on an injured foot, and although the rehabilitation process was smooth, it sidelined him for the opening ten games of the season. Upon his return, Peatling propelled his team onward to the Big Sky Conference tournament final, narrowly missing out on the crown.

Through both hurdles, Peatling was able to maintain a positive mindset and continued to elevate his game, despite the physical toll on his body.

“Both of those two instances were pretty different. The hand [injury] I picked up in the middle of the year. I had to figure out how to overcome it and keep rolling, and I managed to play the best basketball I ever had in college. The next year, going into a season post-surgery and still being able to contribute to team success and almost achieving the ultimate goal for our program was amazing. Those are two things I can definitely say I’m really proud of.”

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Now, with the end of the season approaching, a life after Eastern Washington is on the horizon for Peatling. On this matter, he has no doubts where he wants to continue his basketball journey.

“I think about it often and talk about it with my wife a lot. We are pretty keen to come back to Australia. The NBL has been doing really well so far, especially the last couple of years. So if an opportunity opened up there, where I could potentially be on a roster contributing on an NBL roster that would be really cool. It’s always been a goal of mine.”

It's been a big past week for Peatling too. On the court, he was simply brilliant, while off it he has been starring too.

He posted 28 points, 10 rebounds and 6 assists in thrilling one point win over Sacramento State on Friday, and in the Eagles' 10 wins across their past 12 games, backing up with a further 27 points, 15 rebounds and 6 assists giving him his twelfth double-double of the season. It all came about as Peatling was selected to the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA) Academic All-District VIII first team, boasting a perfect grade-point average of 4.0 while pursuing a graduate degree in business administration.

Pro basketball almost looks assured for Peatling. There will be many NBL clubs keeping a close eye on the young Eagle.