What’s not to like about Perry? In a growing time of positionless basketball, Perry is a traditional big man rooted in the basics of playing center and power forward. Yet his size, skill and athleticism allows him to dominate beyond the paint on both ends of the floor and stretch the defenses out with a blossoming mid-range and perimeter game. He’s drawn comparisons to former Zags now in the NBA, most notably, Brandon Clarke, a first-round draft pick by Memphis in June’s NBA Draft.
“He does stuff no other kid in this area does,” Melo said. “The stuff almost looks so crazy that it can’t be real.”
A nightmare matchup
Last season, when Battle Ground reached the state tournament for the first time since 2002, Perry averaged 16 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks per game. In its state-game loss to Kentridge in the Tacoma Dome, Perry scored 20 points, grabbed 17 rebounds and blocked seven shots.
Most game nights, the Tigers have a tactical advantage on every team by having their tallest player playing 12 feet and in from the basket, where Perry is the strongest.
This possesses an extra wrinkle in game playing for opposing coaches. Skyview’s Matt Gruhler and Blake Conley of Union echo similar statements on what makes Perry a difficult matchup.
How do you game plan a player whose combined size, speed and athleticism makes for a tall task?
“That’s the challenge for the coaches in this league,” Gruhler said. “A player like that, you have to gameplan for offensively and defensively, is pretty special.”
Perry’s already off to a big start. In Battle Ground’s season opener this month, he posted 29 points, 26 rebounds and five blocks.
But Perry continues works on broadening his versatility. He understands the shift at his game’s position, but also knows what’s best for the Tigers. The junior doesn’t face many opponents that can measure up to his size and skill level down low; BG’s offense is generated a lot through Perry, and less of a pace-and-space offenses that take over today’s positionless basketball.
There’s still great value having a polished, traditional big-man skill set, and Perry appreciates his rooted style of play in the paint.
“I feel like everyone is trying to be that point guard or that wing that shoots the lights out for outside,” he said. “It’s nice that I’m a big, strong dude in the middle of the key. I like that.”
Gruhler points to analytics as to why Perry makes the traditional, low-post game goes against a dying trend: effectiveness.
“He breaks those mathematics,” Gruhler said. “He makes the mathematics not look so good because the post-up isn’t efficient if you’re only scoring the ball 50 percent of the time, but it is efficient if you’re shooting at the rim and scoring 80 percent of the time.”
In two years, Perry’s turned from tall, lengthy ninth grader, into a force on both ends of the floor with as much upside to match.
While his game continues to evolve, maturity came first.
A mother’s helper
Melo returned to coach his alma mater at the same time Perry entered high school. He put one freshman on the varsity roster in 2017-18.
That season came with adjustments in basketball and away from it for Perry. In the midst of the season, Perry’s mother, DeLena, was hospitalized and diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a condition in which the immune system attacks the nerves.
Perry describes his relationship with his mother, a single mom, as very close. DeLena Perry is still recovering and has daily caregiving, but her eldest son assists with mom’s needs at every opportunity, he said.
This experience changed him for the better, too.
“The person whose cared for me all my life,” Perry said, “I’m needing to help her and she needs me. It’s made me step up to the plate, and realize how I need to pick up stuff and mature more for her sake. I’m still trying to find that balance.”
That also goes with basketball.
Over a four-week stretch this fall, Perry took his official Gonzaga visit and played in USA Basketball’s Junior National Team’s minicamp in Colorado Springs, Colo. It’s a three-day, invite-only event showcasing 80 elite-level high school recruits and prospects nationwide.
Perry, accompanied by Melo, took more away from that camp than he ever imagined. Patience is one of them.
“The competition there is unbelievable,” he said. “Seeing that high-level of basketball can change the way you look at things.
“Going there to have guys match or even surpass my ability, I learned I can’t big-body them.”
Better each season
By age 13, Perry stood 6-5 and played in the high school’s summer league program. His parents never wanted their oldest son’s size to go to waste. Younger brother, Kyren, is a freshman at Prairie.
Longtime friend and teammate Brendan Beall is Battle Ground’s second-leading scorer returning off last year’s 18-10 team that reached the Tacoma Dome.
Beall said Perry’s work ethic goes unmatched. While that’s never changed, his game has.
“From season to season, he just grows and becomes a better player,” said Beall, a senior guard. “You know he could be something, but it was a matter of him wanting to be good at basketball. I knew Kaden would want to put the time in; he’s a hard worker like that.”
That work ethic, motor and fundamentals are aspects of Perry’ game that Melo, BG’s head coach, had Gonzaga coaches high on the teen.
Perry has always called Gonzaga his dream school. Perry said Gonzaga’s track record of developing big men, including many who have made the NBA, is a sticking point.
“I love how they develop their guys,” he said.
Gonzaga had been in contact with Perry prior to the scholarship offer, so it didn’t come out of the blue. But a talk with head coach Mark Few and assistant coaches Brian Michaelson and Tommy Lloyd following Battle Ground’s team camp in June came as a surprise by Perry.
He committed on the spot.
“It was the first time I ever thought I was going to pass out,” he said of the offer.
By verbally committing, Perry became the Zags’ first verbal commit for the class of 2021 in a class statewide that features Olympia’s Jackson Grant (UW commit) and O’Dea’s Paolo Banchero, a five-star recruit considered one of the nation’s top prospects.
Leaving a legacy
If a future in basketball doesn’t pan out, Perry has a back-up plan.
“If I can’t be an NBA player,” he said, “then I’m going to be a singer. I sing all the time.”
Perry isn’t fazed by crowds of students’ stares in the Battle Ground hallways by his stature or vocal chords.
Neither does drawing a crowd of defenders every game.
Perry walks the same Battle Ground hallways as ex-Tigers Mike Brotherton, the state player of the year on BG’s 1990 state title team, and Frahm, who played at Gonzaga from 1996-00.
He also knows the storied past of John McKnight, the Greater St. Helens League’s all-time leading scorer.
McKnight, a 6-2 guard, scored 1,572 career points in three seasons at Battle Ground from 1969-72 during a time when freshmen didn’t play varsity, and the 3-point line was 16 years away from being adopted in the high school game. After graduation, McKnight played at Washington.
Perry knows his legacy is far from over, but he wants it to begin by adding to the boys basketball banner of team accomplishments that hangs in the gymnasium.
“Hopefully, we can put something up there,” he said.
“That’s the dream.”
This story is part of The Columbian’s High School Winter Sports 2019-20 preview section. Read it here: https://issuu.com/360preps/docs/winter_preview