Former Penguin inching toward NBA

Now playing in Russia, Perry hasn’t forgotten his roots

Tribune Chronicle / John Vargo Former Youngstown State standout Kendrick Perry poses for a recent picture inside a weight room on campus. Perry has played overseas for four years and is now in Russia.

YOUNGSTOWN — Kendrick Perry walks into the room, somewhere in Youngstown.

Some friends haven’t seen him since 2014.

The clean-cut, 6-foot-1 point guard enters. His hair is not as short as it once was. The Ocoee, Fla., native quickly brushes a dreadlock or two aside. It’s him, the Youngstown State University legend, smiling as he enters a room.

The three-time, first-team Horizon League men’s basketball player is the third-leading scorer in the program’s history and has since moved on to bigger and better things.

He played for the Sydney Kings just months after his YSU career ended, but he didn’t trust anyone to cut his hair in Australia. Finding a good barber is a sacred thing. The long hair was twisted up and became dreadlocks.

“Everybody does a double take because they see me, then they see the hair,” Perry said. “Then they take a second look, ‘KP?’ It’s like, ‘Yeah, yeah. It’s me.’

“It’s definitely an adjustment for most people. I look at pictures now and like, ‘Wow. That’s what I look like without hair.’ (It was very short).”

Same cannot be said of his professional playing career, which continues this fall at BC Nizhny Novgorod in the VTB United League in Russia, located in the western part of the country. The VTB is the top-tiered basketball league in the country.

Ryan Broekhoff, 27, who played four years at Valparaiso, also was once part of the VTB. Both he and Perry, 25, were former Horizon League players. The 6-foot-7 Australian signed a deal with the Dallas Mavericks this summer, which gives the former YSU standout some hope.

Perry helped Szolnoki Olajbanyasz in the Hungarian A Division win the league title and cup, earning finals MVP and All-Hungarian League Player of the Year honors. That notoriety got him the recognition to move to this Russian league, which could open his path to the NBA.

“The opportunity is there,” Perry said. “It’s a matter of going out and putting the work in.”

Now, he’s visiting Ohio, seeing former teammates like Danny Reese, Damian Eargle, Mike Podolsky, Larry Johnson Jr. and Ashen Ward.

Ward had dreadlocks when he played for the Penguins, but cuts his hair short like Perry used to at YSU. Ward is now the Orange High School boys basketball coach.

Reese got a chuckle out of Perry, his former teammate, when he first saw him come back to Youngstown.

“It’s funny, when Ash was here and KP were here,” said Reese, an assistant YSU men’s basketball coach, “KP had the clean-cut look. Ash had the dreads. They’ve kind of flipped. It’s kind of funny seeing them now.

“It’s a little bit of a shock the first time I saw it. I can mess a little bit with him about it. It looks good and he’s obviously playing well.”

Perry sat inside the Beeghly Center last Wednesday, looking on the floor he once dominated. His stage is overseas, but part of his summer belongs to YSU.

“I always view Youngstown as my second home,” Perry said. “Regardless if I played with the guys I’m playing with now or even with the new coaching staff, that doesn’t change what Youngstown means to me. Every offseason I try to get up here for as long as I can.”

Former YSU guard Francisco Santiago said having people like Perry active in the program is quite an asset.

“I think it’s a big deal,” Santiago said. “I think that should be the case for all programs to have those guys who were successful at the university, as a professional, give those players that vision that they could accomplish their goals they’ve set out for themselves. Enable to reach their goals and continue to play after college. It’s not just NBA. You can go play anywhere and be successful.

“I think it’s not only important for Youngstown State, but all universities across the country.”

Perry sees the weight room within an eye shot of where he’s sitting. The film room is on the other side of the building. It’s indications the program and university are moving the right direction.

There are new dorm rooms and apartments and general improvements everywhere. Even the former Buffalo Wild Wings downtown became a DoubleTree Hotel.

“The development of Youngstown as a city is heartwarming,” Perry said.

His family story is too.

His older brother Aubrey is a professional soccer player in Sweden, a defender for MD FF Koping. The two find overlaps in their schedules when they’ve been within flying distance of one another. A couple hours here or there.

The two are starting a non-profit organization in the Orlando area. It’s in the infancy stages to help out schools in the central Florida area.

Aubrey is content playing overseas.

The former YSU standout may dabble into coaching later in life, but now it’s about chasing an NBA dream.

“I’ll do it for as long as I can,” Kendrick said.