Roy Williams was at the podium, fielding questions about North Carolina’s worst start since 2001, when London Perrantes' name came up.
Hall of Famer Williams wasn’t caught off guard by the play of Perrantes, the Virginia freshman point guard who had helped engineer the Cavaliers’ 76-61 rout of the Tar Heels. The Carolina coach promptly pointed out Perrantes’ statistical history.
“If I’m not mistaken, he had 61 assists to 22 turnovers coming into the game,” Williams said. “He doesn’t realize he’s a freshman.”
The UNC coach was precise with his numbers. Perrantes ranked No. 33 in the nation in the assist-to-turnover ratio coming into the game and will likely jump higher when the NCAA updates its stats because the UVa rookie dished out nine assists against the Tar Heels and committed only one turnover.
Ol’ Roy couldn’t have paid Perrantes a better compliment than that of he doesn’t play like a freshman.
Akil Mitchell calls it the “Cali Swag,” a certain confidence Perrantes packed in his bags for the cross-coast adventure. The freshmen, who grew up with an eye on playing in the East, admits the swag is always there.
“I get clowned on it a little bit,” Perrantes said. “I remember down at N.C. State, there was a sign that said ‘Perrantes wears Cargos.’ That’s something we wear a lot in California. I just take it. I’m not going to change my ways.”
Teammates have no problem with his swagger, from the way he wears his Cargos (loose fitting trousers with huge pockets down each leg) to the way he zooms through defensive pressure with the ease of a seasoned veteran.
This kid from California’s Crespi High (where he is the all-time leader in scoring and assists) has a certain cool that can’t be coached. It’s a natural feel that allows him to weave through traffic and create.
“He sees you before you know you’re open,” Mitchell said.
Perrantes is almost a throwback point guard, the kind that can handle the ball, make the right pass at the right time, play defense, and occasionally deliver the killer shot. Williams described Perrantes’ 3-pointer from the left corner to end the first half Monday night as a dagger.
With UVa up by six and the ball, the Cavaliers were thinking about going backdoor to All-ACC guard Joe Harris. While setting up the play, one of the Cavaliers’ assistant coaches cautioned that Harris should be aware that Carolina’s James Michael McAdoo might be waiting at the rim for such a play.
Sure enough, Harris finds the ball in his hands, going back door, when he spots McAdoo lurking. In a split second, Harris doesn’t break stride, but whips the ball across the baseline to a wide-open Perrantes in the opposite corner. The freshman buried the 3-pointer for a nine-point halftime lead.
“London has a calming effect on our players,” UVa coach Tony Bennett said. “When he gets the ball he does not get sped up and he sees things that most guys do not. He is very complete.”
If you know Bennett, you know you’ve earned his respect when he describes you as “complete,” a term that he does not overuse.
Against the Tar Heels, that aforementioned term was appropriate for Perrantes linescore: 29 minutes, eight points, nine assists, one turnover, two steals, two rebounds. He took five shots, made three, including both attempts from behind the 3-point arc. His nine dishes were the most by a Cavalier in an ACC game since Sean Singletary’s 10 against Boston College in 2008.
Oh, and he plays good defense, too.
Perrantes held UNC’s Marcus Paige to a 4-for-14 night shooting and nine points, about half his average per game.
“He’s got some toughness to him,” UNC’s Williams said.
Perrantes is a little different cat than Harris, a guy with an aw-shucks kind of nature that deflects praise the way Superman rejects lazer beams. Maybe it’s that Cali swag that always remains present, but not overbearingly so.
“I like to be calm out on the court,” Perrantes said. “A lot of people don’t have two speeds, so being calm at the point guard position helps the whole team. If you’re calm, they see it and say, ‘OK, we’ve got this,’ and that helps everybody.”
Perrantes grew up in the L.A. area and for the most part, was passed on by many of the basketball powers in the west, particularly hometown UCLA. Southern Cal showed a little interest but was going through some coaching change turbulence, which didn’t attract the homegrown Perrantes.
Bennett was actually tipped off to the Californian by a former Washington State football player who used to hang out with some of Bennett’s basketball players when he coached the Cougars prior to taking the Virginia job. The football player had graduated from WSU and was coaching at Perrantes’ high school. He believed the point guard was the type of kid that Bennett liked to recruit and made the phone call.
Bennett sent associate head coach Ritchie McKay to L.A., to check out Perrantes' game. The rest is history.
Coming into UVa over the summer, the Californian wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. He knew he would have to battle a couple of veterans, Malcolm Brogdon and Teven Jones, along with another true freshman, Devon Hall, for court time. He dreamed about coming in and making a sudden impact, whether it was off the bench or starting. He just wanted to contribute.
While Brogdon started the season at the point, Perrantes’ game advanced so quickly that the rookie couldn’t be ignored, which allowed Brogdon to move to the shooting guard slot to where he is more naturally fitted.
“I think the experience of playing and being in these settings, London is showing what a lot of people out West missed on,” Bennett said.
That fact hasn’t escaped Perrantes’ thoughts either.
“Yeah, that motivates me when I sit in a hotel room with teammates,” Perrantes said with a smile that reached to the Pacific time zone. “Malcolm is my roommate on road games and we watched the UCLA game together. In a way, [not being recruited by the Bruins] frustrates me, then again, God has a plan for all of us. This is where he wants me to be. I’m happy where I am.”
As he becomes more comfortable, Perrantes’ offense will likely pick up as well. He’s averaging but 4.3 points per game overall, 6.1 vs. ACC teams. If nothing else, he’s a threat to score, something opponents must respect.
A Cali kid named London, making a name for himself on an opposite coast. The story has a nice ring.