Living his dream
Former YSU standout now starring overseas
Kendrick Perry feels the leather trickle off his fingers each time the tightly wound basketball echoed following each bounce off the court.
Sometimes it leaves his hands for a well-timed 3-point shot. Other times he’d see the snap of his wrists as the leather sphere perfectly places itself between the orange, breakaway rim and the nylon hoop, swishing as gravity wields it physical power toward the floor.
Then, there’s those variety of dunks or a gentle slight of hand as Perry glances the ball off the white square of the Plexiglas surface.
The former Youngstown State University men’s basketball player always had a flair for the offensive drama, whether it was at YSU, Edgewater High School in Orlando, Florida, or at the professional level.
The three-time Horizon League first-team player has been grateful to keep pursuing his passion since graduating from YSU in 2014.
He spent last season in Belgrade, Serbia with Mega Bemax, leading the ABA League First Division with 20.8 points per game. Perry, a 6-foot guard, shot 81.1 percent from the foul line, had 6.2 assists and shot 43.5 percent from 3-point range.
He’s staying in that league as he signed with KK Cedevita Olimpija in Ljubljana, Slovenia last week.
“It’s a blessing, especially when you think about the times we’re in now — the whole COVID-19 situation,” said Perry, who signed with the ninth professional team of his career. “It’s a blessing I’ve been able to build on this career of mine. Hopefully I’ll have a lot more years ahead of me. For now, I’m grateful for the opportunity that’s in front of me at this moment.”
Perry remains in the ABA League First Division with teams located in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, Slovenia and Serbia.
Perry doesn’t know when he’ll return to eastern Europe to keep playing. He’s estimating the earliest he’ll leave is August.
“I might have to go up a little early for medical testing purposes because of the whole situation,” he said. “There’s no exact date just yet.”
NASCAR and professional golf, when it restarts next month, has no fans for the foreseeable future. Maybe European basketball might have the same stipulations when play begins in October.
Perry said fans are hostile to opposing teams.
“I tell people all the time you can’t get caught up in that,” he said. “Once you have a good game against them, it’s going to be those same fans sending you messages wanting you to play for them next season. That energy over there for home and away games can be electric. Some people may see it as pressure. I love playing in those environments whether it’s a home game or an away game. I love environments like that.”
Take that factor away for this season? Perry will be interested to see how it’ll change the dynamic of games.
“It’s actually an advantage to the opposing team,” he said. “When you’re on the road, it’s that us-against-everyone-else mentality. When you’re at home and you find yourself in a slump, there’s been times when the crowd’s energy gets the team back where it needs to be. That crowd momentum is a big thing. Overall as players, we have to be a little more sharper, disciplined, especially if we’re talking about home games. We can’t rely on crowds to give us energy when we need to bring our own.
“The biggest difference is holding guys accountable and making sure they’re ready to go from the start of the game to the finish.”
Perry, 27, remains steadfast to his goals every season, remaining with his workout regiment and staying in the best shape possible.
“I think this year the stage is a little bigger in terms of competition,” he said. “I have my own goals in that regard, but overall it’s me continuing to stay healthy and continuing to play basketball at the level that I know I can — just continuing to enjoy it.”
He’s stayed indoors in the Orlando area with his workouts.
“It’s going to take me a little while before I feel comfortable being out and amongst big crowds and stuff like that,” Perry said. “As time goes on, hopefully we all do our part to combat this virus in any way possible so we can get back to a somewhat normal sense of living. Personally, I think the whole dynamic as we interact as people is going to change after this.”
He tries to get back to Youngstown for a week or two every summer. That trip is yet to be determined.
Perry is eternally grateful for the opportunities he had with YSU, being mentored by former coach Jerry Slocum and former YSU assistant Michael Wernicki, who coaches the Struthers High School boys basketball team.
“They’re just as much a part of this as anyone else,” Perry said. “If they hadn’t pushed me to be the best version of myself I could be at YSU, who knows what my path would’ve been like. Obviously coaches are a big part of it.”
He added former teammates like current Villa Angela-St. Joseph boys basketball coach Ashen Ward, who returned to coach at his alma mater, stays in touch with Perry.
“I’ve been blessed to have people like that in my circle that have helped me add to the foundation my parents have set,” Perry said. “I continue to shape who I am, not just as a basketball player, but as a man, too.”
He tells current YSU players there’s a stigma if you don’t make the NBA, that’s it. Perry reiterates to the current Penguins and others that players can have a promising career overseas, maintain a high level of play and still taking care of their families.
Perry had those NBA dreams in the summer of 2014 when he was on the Orlando Magic summer league team. Perry had a brief stint with the Iowa Energy (now Wolves) in 2015 in the NBA’s G League.
“There are thoughts of that,” he said. “The funny thing is the more I play overseas, there more I’ve let that thought go. Obviously you don’t drop it because it’s there in the back of your mind.
“I feel if I go into a season already thinking about going into the NBA or the G-League, I’m not just doing myself but I’m doing that team a disservice. I’m doing those fans and organization a disservice because I’m not 100 percent locked in to this moment and this opportunity right now. Once I realized that and embraced the opportunities I’m in, that’s when I play my best basketball. There’s no internal added pressure to try to get back here or get to this level. I’m going to go out here and hoop. Whatever comes from it, comes from it. I know at the end of the day I’m going to be all right.”