Credit: xkolbert-press/UlrichxGamelx
Credit xkolbert-press/UlrichxGamelx

During his recent presentation with Unicaja Malaga, Kendrick Perry joked that he could play at center if he were asked to do so by his coach.

Kendrick Perry

Kendrick  Perry
Position: PG
Age: 29
Height: 183 cm
Weight: 82 kg
Birth place: Florida, United States of America

"I will do whatever it takes, that's what I've done throughout my whole career," the Spanish team's new signing argued. Of course, that's far from the best-case scenario for the 29-year-old guard who's going to make his ACB League debut next season. 

"It's not going to be my ideal situation, but if I need to and that's what's best to do, I will do it," he now tells BasketNews from Bar, Montenegro, where the Montenegrin national team is getting ready for the 2023 World Cup Qualifiers and the subsequent EuroBasket. 

So far, Perry hasn't been asked to do anything way beyond his skillset or size.

"I don't know how I'm labeled, but I read things from time to time. I guess I'm labeled as more of a scoring guard. It's funny because through high school up until my sophomore year at college, I was always a pass-first point guard," he recalls.

Perry came to Europe when he was still was 22 to play for Kormend in Hungary. He's been a European basketball regular ever since. Regardless of whether certain teams have signed him as a point guard, the Florida-born athlete underwent a drastic transformation while in college that also changed his priorities and orientation on the basketball court. According to him, all it took was complying with his Youngstown State coach's directions.

"One day, during the summer going into my sophomore year at college, my head coach at the time, Jerry Slocum, came in and said, 'Look, I need you to be selfish, to be a scorer.' He just walked out after that."

Perry says that since then, his game took another turn and that's what got him in the position to play with teams like Panathinaikos OPAP Athens, Buducnost Podgorica, Cedevita Olimpija and -now- Unicaja Malaga.

"I focus more on scoring in different ways: off the dribble, catch-and-shoot, pick'n'roll. But at the time, it was shocking to me because I had never really been used to that growing up. If I had a shot, maybe I would take it. Now it's funny because being a scoring guard wasn't my foundation. I had to learn that on the fly," he adds. 

While growing up in Florida, Perry had two players he looked up to. His prototypes were Allen Iverson and Dwayne Wade.

"It wasn't about them being scoring guards, but about the mentality. I was always the smallest guy on the court. I had the mentality of, 'Ok, you can knock me down however many times you want to, but I guarantee you I'm going to get up every time.'

Of course, we all love the scoring, the highlights, the crossover and the dunks. When I think of those guys, I think about the mentality. For me, that was the biggest thing." 

With Perry standing at 1.85 m. (6''1'), teams know what they're going up against - or what can they expect when signing him. Being undersized "might be frown upon by critics", Perry thinks. "But if you put the ball in the hole, at the end of the day nothing else matters. The biggest thing is production."

Last season, he got to play alongside and against some of the continent's most adept scorers.

"If you look at Mike James and Shane Larkin, we're talking about two of the best guards in Europe. Daryl Macon is a smaller guard but he can fill it up with the best of them," he maintains. 

In the 2022-22 campaign, Perry played for Panathinaikos and Buducnost. Prior to that, he had suited up for Cedevita Olimpija, Mega Basket, Levallois Metropolitans, Nizhny Novgorod, Szolnoki, Karpos, Kormend, Iowa Energy and Sidney Kings. He won five trophies throughout his career with multiple teams.

Up next is Malaga, where he thinks he can be a "great fit, from what people who watch my game have told me." 

"We hope to make a run in the ACB and the Champions League as well. All the conversations I've had with coach Ibon Navarro have been nothing but great. It's going to be tough. The ACB is one of those leagues where every night is going to be a battle," Perry says. 

In a summer to remember, Perry got married to his partner Amber before arriving on the Costa del Sol, settling in a new home, undergoing medical examinations and leaving for Montenegro. Everything happened really fast, as the entire month of August is filled with all sorts of professional obligations for the newlywed player. 

"After last season, I took more time to rest physically and mentally. I spent a few days before coming to Malaga. I'm a Florida guy and I love the heat, the beach. It's a beautiful scenery and the weather's good. I'm excited to get to work," he points out.

American players tend to complain about the never-ending seasons in Europe. If Perry ends up making the cut for the EuroBasket, he'll be heading straight to Unicaja Malaga's camp once the tournament is over. It surely looks like a mixed blessing, but in this case, there's no real dilemma.

"You want to be successful, no matter where it is. Of course, you have those thoughts in the back of your head because it's a lot of basketball and traveling," he admits.

"But I'm one of those guys who has been hit by a lot of reality checks. So, I might complain about a practice, a travel day, or a lot of games. There've been times where I've been down for 8-9 months without being able to play. So, I'd much rather complain about playing too much than not being able to play at all.

At times, we lose perspective of that. It's a long season and you're away from home, from family, from friends and loved ones. It can be mentally, emotionally and physically draining as well.

But I try to be grateful for as many games as I can play because some people are fortunate enough to play 20 or 2-3 years. I'm trying to enjoy it as much as I can," he holds.  

Credit Unicaja Malaga

In terms of basketball in Spain, Perry is trying "not to have too many expectations from the get-go," as he hasn't met a lot of the guys on the team yet. Besides, his last season didn't turn out particularly well. In joining Panathinaikos, Perry made his EuroLeague debut, which was quite underwhelming. 

Over 19 games, he played 16.4 minutes per contest and averaged only 4.8 points, 1.7 rebounds, and 1.6 assists, shooting 32.1% from the field and 32.6% from beyond the three-point arc. Panathinaikos were for the most part one of EuroLeague's worst teams, in addition to losing seven out of their eight clashes with archrivals Olympiacos Piraeus. 

Perry was part of the team until last January, when the two sides split ways by mutual consent.

However, the American-Montenegrin guard can now look back on the whole experience he had in Athens and evaluate the situation. 

"It was a goal of mine to play in the EuroLeague. Although it was a pretty short stint, I still gained a lot," he contends.

"The biggest thing I learned is how to do more with less, in terms of player usage. For the most part of my career, I've been a guy that's played 30 minutes per game. But that's not the case in EuroLeague most of the times. That took me a while to adjust to.

Of course, I had my struggles with Panathinaikos individually. I try to learn from everything and see what I could have done better. Maybe I lacked certain things that I took into the offseason to prepare myself better for the upcoming season." 

One of those things that Perry thinks he lacked while with Panathinaikos, is about "having the game slow down" for him.

"I tried to do things too fast and it ended up hurting my game. So, it's about analyzing film and trying to read situations a little better to see where I can make some adjustments so that I can make plays not only for myself, but for my teammates as well. That's something I made a primary focus on going into this offseason," he says. 

In breaking down how and why Panathinaikos ended up having their worst season in 30 years, Kendrick Perry points to the situation on the team. 

"We kind of panicked a little too early. I mean the whole team, not just the coach. I'm not sure why," he concedes.

Perry's choice of words echoes what Mario Hezonja had told the Urbonus podcast eleven months ago, explaining why he didn't stay with the team.

"I think they (Panathinaikos) went in a bit of panic mode this summer. I was confused."

Of course, Hezonja and Perry are referring to two different periods in PAO's season. The Croatian forward was talking about the offseason and the way the 2021-22 squad was being constructed, while Perry thinks that the lack of EuroLeague experience hurt the team when they all had entered a big losing streak.

"Looking back on it, we had a lot of guys who were in their first year playing EuroLeague. It was also our coach's (editor's note: Dimitris Priftis) first year. A lot of first times in there.

When you have that, you don't really know how it can go. If one thing happens at the right time, it can all go south. Unfortunately for us, it was a year that things went south."

Perry left PAO after seven months, while the Greens were struggling in the EuroLeague but were still holding on to the first place in the domestic league. Eventually, they finished the season empty-handed, for the first time since 1997. 

"I know that hasn't been the trajectory of Panathinaikos in the past," Perry says. "It was disheartening. Obviously, I still got love for the organization, for the fans and the city, but it's also disappointing when you don't get the results that you wish for."

It might look like a peculiar coincidence, but Mario Hezonja was actually one of the persons who recruited Perry to PAO. The two knew each other from Orlando. The current Real Madrid player even texted Perry and wanted to meet him in the US.

"That was pretty early in the summer," Perry remembers.

"I was excited because I'm from Orlando. So, watching him with the Orlando Magic created a first connection between us. I asked a few things about the city of Athens, but not about his situation. He was able to do well with UNICS before the situation with Russia happened.

Back then, I didn't really know what was going on and it wasn't my place to ask him or anyone else. When UNICS came to Athens, we had conversations and it was all love," he goes on to say.  

After his Greek adventure was over, Perry returned to familiar ground. This time, it wasn't Slovenia, but Montenegro. With Buducnost, he averaged 10.5 points, 3.0 assists and 1.1 steals in the ABA League, and 10.1 points, 2.5 rebounds and 3.4 assists in the EuroCup. The country's perennial powerhouse failed to go all the way in either competition. 

But now Perry has a mission ahead of him. Having obtained the Montenegrin passport, he has already made his unofficial debut with the Balkan side in the friendly game against Serbia in Belgrade on August 13. However, there are two challenges he must face in the near future. 

The first one is to play an official game with Montenegro. In doing so, he will no longer occupy an extra-communitarian player's position in Spain. In case Perry competes in the 2023 World Cup Qualifiers, his passport will acquire real value in his next destination. On paper, he's going to have two chances; first, against Bosnia on August 24, and then vs. Lithuania three days later. 

Of course, the biggest challenge for him is to make the final roster for the EuroBasket. Theoretically, especially after Nikola Ivanovic's serious injury, Perry shouldn't be too worried about securing a spot on the team.

Credit xkolbert-press/UlrichxGamelx

But the Unicaja Malaga guard is not the only naturalized player among the 21 that coach Bosko Radovic called up for training camp. Valencia Basket's Jonah Radebaugh is the other strong contender and, since the regulations only allow one naturalized player per team, the two are expected to fight for the open spot. 

Perry and Radebaugh are aware of the situation and will do their best to make the cut. 

"We take it day by day. Jonah is one of those guys that I've met and had good conversations in our short time together. He's a competitor as much as I am," Perry notes, before stoically stressing:

"At the end of the day, the team will be in good hands. Whatever the results may be, you got to live with them. Whatever happens, I'm grateful. I'm sure Jonah is as well." 

Athletes always fight for a spot on any team, but now one's participation precludes the other from staying on the roster. Perry says he's not sure the Colorado-born guard has the upper hand for being the older guy on the team.

"We have different types of familiarity. He's been with the team for a little bit longer, but I've known and played with and against some of these guys in previous years.

Jonah is a hell of a player and I've seen that a lot. We actually had a conversation about it last night. In our wildest dreams, we never thought we would be in this position. Whatever happens from here, is kind of extra, like a 'cherry on top' situation," Perry maintains. 

Montenegro were included in the Tbilisi group along with Georgia, Spain, Turkey, Belgium and Bulgaria. In this vein, it's interesting that David Kravish, Perry's future teammate at Unicaja, is in the same situation with the Bulgarian team. The American-born big man has also been shortlisted and needs to edge out veteran guard Dee Bost to make the EuroBasket and also get his passport validated for Spain. 

Credit EuroLeague Basketball via Getty Images

In a summer when a lot of stories on how Lorenzo Brown's naturalization with Spain came to being, Perry's own story with Montenegro was much more simple.

"It's just familiarity. When I sat down and thought about it, I've spent almost half of my career in this Balkan area. I've played in Northern Macedonia, in Serbia, Slovenia and Montenegro. It was an opportunity I couldn't pass up," the experienced guard explains. 

"A goal of mine when I started to understand European basketball at an early age in my career was hopefully to obtain a European passport. I thought it would be really special since Americans have the opportunity to obtain it. So, when the opportunity came, I had to talk it over with my wife, but I jumped at it. 

I'm grateful to Nikola Pekovic and the federation for giving me that opportunity and I hope to make the most of it."

Credit Euroleague Basketball via Getty Images

Whether Perry forms part of the final roster, he's aware of the hardships Montenegro will face in this upcoming EuroBasket.

"It's going to be tough with a lot of countries having their NBA guys coming back," he acknowledges.

"We all saw what Giannis did with Greece a few nights ago. In terms of Montenegro, all we can control is our effort, our hard work and our mindset. We got to come out with an underdog attitude and play free. We have nothing to lose and if we keep that mentality, maybe we can surprise a few people."

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