Photo courtesy of Gardner-Webb University Athletics.
By David Cordova
On the basketball scene, there are many stories to be told. Everyone likes to hear about how players rose from obscurity and made it to successful heights. At the end of the day, once you’re up, there is nothing more to do than to continue to ascend.
Jose Perez is that player that plans to do just that. In the last couple of years, he has gone from an unknown talent to leading his high school team to a city and state championship to playing on one of the best AAU programs in the nation to leading his college program to a conference championship and an NCAA Tournament appearance.
The 6-foot-5 swingman is someone that can do damage from three-point range and has the ability to score points in bunches. But he can also battle for rebounds inside the paint and can find ways to be active on the court for his team to be successful and win.
When asked what motivates him to be successful in the game of basketball, he replied, “Definitely my mom, and just where I came from, not too many people make it out. It’s either you choose the streets or you choose the basketball route, and people I grew up with, some of them started to choose the street route, and I decided to do differently and choose the basketball route, and became successful at it.”
A native of the Claremont section of the Bronx, Perez first played baseball and then started taking hoops seriously when he was 14 years old. From there, everything took off. “I’m from Prospect Avenue and 174th [Street], and that’s where I grew up at,” he said, “That’s where I got all my toughness and grit, for sure. 14 years old, I used to just go out there and hoop and just play until night time.”
On the basketball culture in the Bronx, he replied, “The basketball culture in the Bronx is big, every basketball court you go to, you see people playing and it’s unbelievable. You go out there and people bring their five, and just going to different neighborhoods and just playing basketball.”
Perez played his high school basketball at Wings Academy, also in The Bronx, one of the most powerful basketball programs in the PSAL (Public Schools Athletic League).
When asked about his time there, he replied, “That four-year experience was amazing, my freshman year, I started on JV, and my sophomore year, we won the city and state championship and my junior and senior year, we went to the Final Four (PSAL semifinals) and came up short both times.”
In 2014-15, when Perez was a sophomore, he was a part of a Wings squad that included Jessie Govan (Georgetown University) and Desure Buie (Hofstra University), which won the PSAL championship and the New York State Federation championship and was invited to play in the Dick’s Sporting Goods High School Tournament. That season, Wings finished 30-2 and was rated as the No. 1 team in New York State and No. 15 in the USA Today national poll.
When asked about his sophomore season, he replied, “My sophomore year was one of the best years that I ever had, we had Jessie Govan, he went to Georgetown, and then we had Desure Buie, who went to Hofstra, and then we had a talented group of players. It’s something that you can never take away from me, [it’s] something I was a part of, that team was like family, it’s still like a brotherhood.”
That season, Perez averaged 8.6 points and 5.3 rebounds per game. Then, as a junior, he doubled his average to 16.5 points and 8.4 rebounds per game. Finally, as a senior, he averaged 20.5 points and 8.7 rebounds per game. Every year he was at Wings, his numbers rose and his game continued to improve.
Also, during his high school years, he played for the Pro Scholars Athletics Cardinals, a Bronx-based AAU program which plays on the Nike EYBL circuit. When asked about his time with the program, Perez replied, “It was unbelievable, they took me from the bottom, they did things for me that I know nobody else would [have], and that’s why look at them as family. I know Terrance “Munch” Williams (founder and director of the PSA Cardinals), Munch is a great dude. He’s really that man. I really appreciate him, he took me from my junior year until my senior year, [and] I did a post-grad year until now, and he’s basically like my father [figure], to be honest, I can go to him for anything.”
Feeling in need of a spike in his recruitment, Perez went to Putnam Science Academy in Putnam, Connecticut and made a huge splash, as he averaged 18.8 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game and led the Mustangs to a 38-4 record, a No. 1 national prep school ranking and a National Prep Championship.
When asked about his prep school experience, he replied, “My post-grad year at Putnam Science was unbelievable, [I] played with some unbelievable teammates, played with Kareem Reid, Kyle Lofton, Hassan Diarra, these are kids that are all Division I players, we won a national championship, first time ever there, just an unbelievable experience.”
After fielding offers from schools such as Jacksonville, Kent State, LIU Brooklyn, Stony Brook, Manhattan and Hartford, Perez decided to commit to Gardner-Webb University in the spring of 2018. When asked about why he chose to go the school in Boiling Springs, North Carolina, he replied, “It made me feel like I was at home, it made me feel like I could be the manthere, and just be who I wanted to be there.”
This past season was one for the ages for the Bulldogs, as they went 23-12 and won the Big South Conference championship, which led to the program making their first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance in school history on the Division I level. In between that time, the program beat high-major programs such as Georgia Tech and Wake Forest, both of whom are in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC).
As for Perez, he made a major entrance into college basketball by averaging 15.1 points, 5.7 rebounds and three assists per game and was also a part of the Big South Conference All-Freshman Team.
“As you can see, it turned out to be the right decision, right level. It’s not about what level you go to, it’s what you do there, like production and stuff,” he said about his decision to go to Gardner-Webb.
On his freshman season and the experience of playing in the NCAA Tournament, he added: “Playing in the NCAA Tournament is something that a lot of people don’t get to do, and it was definitely a dream come true, it was unbelievable, the atmosphere, I think about it as like Dyckman, but just organized, to be honest, that’s how I looked at it. Just playing there with two of my teammates, two seniors that left, that I look at as big brothers, David Efianayi and DJ Laster, those are like my big brothers, not just them, but everybody was like a brother. We would talk about stuff that was going on throughout the season, and we won a conference championship for the first time ever there, as well. It was an unbelievable experience just going to the tournament as well, I’m trying to do it again with my team, have a great run again this [coming] year, and prepare for what’s next.”
When asked about the strengths and weaknesses in his game, he replied, “I just know how to get buckets, to be honest, that what I’d say. [My] weakness is my lateral movement and just my athleticism, it’s something I’ve been working on all summer, just preparing myself to take my game to the next level.”
Next season, there will be three players from New York City and ironically, Putnam Science, on the Gardner-Webb roster. Aside from Perez, will also be Reid, an incoming freshman and Jaheam Cornwall, a junior guard, whom are both from Queens.
When asked about the New York-to-Gardner-Webb pipeline that is starting to form, Perez replied, “I feel like, just the way they recruit, Coach Jeremy Luther, Coach [Tim] Craft, Coach Ronrico White there, those are all great people there, they’ll tell you the truth, they’re going to tell you what you’ll have to do to be here and play. So when I went there [on my recruiting visit], they told me the truth and what I had to do [to get minutes], I just took it, embraced it, and now look at where I am. With Kareem Reid coming in, Jah [Cornwall] and we have our team returning, I feel like we can definitely make a run at the Sweet 16 with this team we have coming back and definitely winning another conference championship, I’m very confident to be honest.”
Now with a year under his belt, Perez is paying it forward and taking the steps necessary to improve his game and continue to keep Gardner-Webb. This summer, when he’s not on campus taking summer courses, he will be playing for Dominican Power at the famed Dyckman Tournament in the Inwood section of Manhattan. But one thing is certain, he has definitely come a long way from being that youth from the South Bronx.
As for what’s next in his future, he replied, “We’ll just have to see to be honest, you never know what the future holds, I’m just going to go out there, play, and try to go out there and give it my all, and just see what the outcome is. But I just know, next year is going to be a big year for me and for my teammates, and I’m just going to go out there and try to get buckets.”