December 17, 2011 1:09 AM
Christian Peterson's antics as a tyke were so amusing that his mother started calling him Silly Goose.
He was still known as Goose three years ago when he pulled one of his nuttiest stunts by trying out for the UCSB men's basketball team as 6-foot-3 power forward.
And now Goose is spreading his wings as a walk-on starter on a team bidding for its third straight NCAA Tournament berth.
"It's exciting," he said on the eve of UCSB's Friday game at the University of Washington. "Not everybody can wake up and go, 'I get to play Division 1 basketball today.'"
Goose was big enough to play in the post at Carlsbad High, averaging a double-double of more than 20 points and 10 rebounds per game. But college recruiters considered him to be little more than a big bird in a small cage. Not one would sound the Goose call.
"I was pretty undersized playing the post," he said. "I just played hard, and that's where I got most of my points back in high school. I didn't get many offers and I chose to go to UCSB as just a student."
And so the next nutty thing Goose did was join the university's Water Ski and Wake Board Team, even volunteering as its treasurer.
"I'm not one to just sit back," he said. "If I'm not competing, something's wrong."
Two years of flipping himself on a wake board and flying off ski jumps did get him ready for the rigors of Division 1 basketball.
"The closest lake to practice on was three hours away," Peterson said. "On the weekends, we'd have to get up by 6, load everything up in a truck, hook up the boat, tow it for three hours to Lemoore so we could ski on a private lake all day.
"We'd get back probably around 10 p.m. after another three-hour drive."
But going to the matches of his roommates - Gaucho water polo players Brian Shoemaker, Myles Christian, Sam Evans and Ryan Flint - made Peterson long for being part of a basketball team.
"I started missing the game," he said. "I saw them go to practice every day, and to weights, and to all the team things they'd do, and notice all the people they were meeting, and it just made me miss it even more.
"My dad was always telling me, 'Go try out! Try out!'"
UCSB coach Bob Williams, who's had success with a string of walk-ons from Bray Skultety in the early 2000s to Jordan Weiner, a starting guard on last year's team, became intrigued with how Peterson would mix it up with the bigger Gauchos during tryouts.
"What I liked about him was that he was just so physical, and he had a rare set of skills," Williams said. "To me, he's just built like a major college linebacker. Well, every once in awhile, it's nice to have a linebacker in your back pocket to throw out there.
"After we watched him, we met as a staff and decided, 'If we're going to add a piece, let's add a physical piece like that.'"
He played in only one game his first season and was kept home on road trips. But that only served to ruffle Goose's feathers even more.
"It would've been hard for me to make the team and then just play one game here and there for the next three years," Peterson said. "I didn't know if I'd get a chance here at all, but as I became more a part of the program and practiced more, and saw how Jordan Weiner worked his way up and eventually got to start, it kind of opened my eyes. 'Well, if he can do it I can do it.'"
But he did have to earn his teammates' respect the hard way.
"You're the bottom of the totem pole, basically lower than a freshman, so they treated me like that," Peterson said. "But it helped me having already been in college for two years. It was a, 'I'll stand up for myself, I'm not afraid of any of you guys' type of thing. And I played hard every day, no matter what.
"The guys would go, 'You're crazy, man.' And that's when they started realizing that I wasn't going to just sit back and let them push me around. They'd say, 'Go guard Orlando, walk-on.' And I'd tell them, 'Sure, I'll take it.'"
Orlando Johnson, UCSB's preseason All-America guard, appreciated Peterson's moxie so much that he took him on as a roommate when he made the traveling squad last year.
"O.J.'s always been a positive guy who understands where I'm coming from without being in my position, and he helped me a lot last year," Peterson said. "He's the top dog of the program, and he's going to go play somewhere, and he's been kind of a mentor to me. He kept pushing me and telling me to keep my head in it and playing hard, and you're going to get your chance, you're going to get your chance.
"Rooming with him last year was one of the best things that could happen to me, personally."
It didn't take Williams long to learn what Peterson's mom meant with the name Silly Goose.
"He almost scared me last year because he'd get so physical in practice," he said. "We were always worried about him hurting somebody."
He wasn't so worried about the opposition, however, and played him in 17 games last season. And when Keegan Hornbuckle's lingering back ailment opened up a spot at power forward, Williams decided to start turning Goose loose right from the opening tip.
"This year, he's had a whole different level of determination to be in there," he said. "He's so physical that he fits well with our team, with what we need.
"He's made himself very valuable, and everybody has a lot of confidence in him. He's not going to make silly mistakes, and he's physical, so when he's out on the floor, usually good things are going to happen. He's going to contribute an assist, he's going to get a couple of rebounds, he's going to draw a charge and do something physically to help us."
Peterson didn't let San Diego State's height and athleticism stop him from getting a career-high eight points and seven rebounds during UCSB's season-opening homestand. He's averaging 3.6 rebounds in 18.1 minutes of playing time.
"I've always been undersized," Peterson said with a shrug. "It's a mindset - you can't go into a game going, 'I know this guy has got five inches on me ... it's a little intimidating.' No, it's, 'The bigger you are, the harder I'm going to go at you, man.'
"I'm pretty strong for a guy my size, and it's just being in the right place at the right time. A lot of what rebounding is all about is effort and heart and going after the ball, anyway."
And now the next step in the migration of the Gaucho Goose is to turn him into an offensive threat.
"We've taken the reins off, and we want him to shoot if he's open," Williams said. "He took a couple of jumpers at San Diego and didn't hit any of them, but he's been shooting the ball really well in practice. And I loved the one he drove at San Diego when he went around two and got to the rim and laid it in."
He relishes the challenge, a trait known well by his older brother, Kiel, who recently joined an adult basketball league in San Diego.
"He keeps pressuring me, saying, 'We've got our playoffs coming up, and we need you,'" Peterson said.
He knows the Goose makes a pretty good wing man.
Mark Patton's column appears on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org]