The Nebraska sophomore is the Big Ten's No. 1 scorer in conference games, just ahead of Indiana's Yogi Ferrell, and No. 2 overall, just behind preseason player of the year Gary Harris of Michigan State.
"I don't think anybody can say they expect to be one of the top scorers in the best conference in the nation," Petteway said. "There are some great, great guys in this league, and some definitely will be playing in the (NBA) next year, so to be up there with those guys is really an honor."
Petteway has scored 10 or more points in 17 straight games and is averaging 18.2 for the season and 19.5 in Big Ten games. His 35 against Minnesota on Jan. 26 stands as the top scoring performance in a conference game.
He's one of the reasons Nebraska (11-9, 3-5 Big Ten) goes into Wednesday's game at 10th-ranked Michigan (16-5, 8-1) with wins in three of its last four. Second-year coach Tim Miles said he's been so entrenched in the task of building his program that he hasn't thought much about Petteway's impact on the Big Ten.
"He's probably an underrated guy," Miles said. "I would say I don't hear much about him, but I'm glad I have him. Some of the guys who have to play against him can tell you he can be a nightmare."
Miles originally tried to recruit Petteway three years ago when he was at Colorado State. But the native of Galveston, Texas, ended up signing with Pat Knight at Texas Tech in 2010. Knight was fired in March 2011 and replaced by Billy Gillispie.
Petteway said that, as an off-guard, his role in Gillispie's post offense was to run to a corner to create space for the big men. He averaged 3.3 points. Petteway wanted out after one year and Miles, who was just hired at Nebraska, was glad to get his call.
"He was one of the first to come to my house, from Colorado State, and I turned him down for Tech. I don't know why," Petteway said. "When I wanted to transfer, my mom told me we weren't going to any other school. We were going straight to Nebraska."
Petteway couldn't play his first year because of transfer rules, but he earned a reputation for being a tireless worker. He and assistant coach Ben Johnson became almost inseparable, with Petteway always asking to do extra shooting and drills.
"He was just a kid who loved to play basketball, and he wanted to feel like he was coached and wanted to feel like he was able to maximize his ability," said Johnson, now an assistant at Minnesota. "He's a guy who was hungry to take his game to levels that he didn't know he could reach."
Petteway also would hound basketball strength coach Tim Wilson for harder workouts than the ones prescribed for other players. He reshaped his body, increasing his weight from 190 to 210 pounds. The extra muscle has made him tough to stop around the rim. He also tweaked his jump-shooting form and leads the Huskers in 3-point shooting at 39.8 percent.
Johnson said that while it was tough watching Petteway have his best game against his new team, the Gophers, he takes pride in seeing how Petteway has developed.
"He's a kid other guys look up to now on that team," Johnson said. "They can hear his story about how there's nothing wrong with a little hard work, and how if you put the time in and dedicate yourself to your craft and are willing to be coached, great things can happen."