USF's Chris Perry embracing second chance
The situation called for man-to-man. Chris Perry, possessor of a pretty astute basketball IQ, complied.
USF's brawny junior left the rest of his entourage, including his mother and an aunt, in the waiting room of the Boston doctor's office. Behind a closed door, in a one-on-one setting with his physician, Perry got the news he had spent nearly two months -- an eternity or thereabouts to a 20-year-old -- waiting to hear.
The left-ventricle issue that had shut down his sophomore season in late January possessed low-risk symptoms. Basketball was okay again.
"I gave him a big hug, honestly," Perry said.
The figurative hugs haven't stopped since that blissful second opinion. Perry, now 21, has embraced his role as a Bulls elder statesman, the challenge of expanding his shooting range, and most significantly, his second lease on a basketball life.
"Words can't really describe it," he said. "I don't even know what to tell you."
Perry, whose 6-foot-8 frame is a shade heftier at 250 pounds, was among four Bulls who joined Coach Orlando Antigua at the American Athletic Conference men's basketball media day Tuesday morning at Amway Center. Nine months earlier, some were reasonably speculating whether he had played his last college game.
During a practice the night before a Jan. 25 game at Connecticut, Perry struggled to catch his breath and was taken to a Hartford hospital. He remembers the gym being cold, not to mention the anxiety he felt.
Two days later, USF issued a news release indicating Perry would be sidelined indefinitely with a "health issue." At the time, he was the Bulls' top rebounder (7.1 rpg) and No. 2 scorer (10.8 ppg).
He didn't play the rest of the season.
"I talked to Orlando and (USF assistant) Sergio (Rouco), I didn't know if he was gonna get to play," said Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin, who ironically missed most of the 2014-15 season with an unruptured aneurysm. "I knew they were worried it could go the wrong way."
A searing smorgasbord of emotions, from fear to frustration, ensued. Perry acknowledges he still worked out on his own ("They couldn't keep me out of the gym," he said.) but was medically prohibited from any on-court team activity as he sought more guidance on his condition.
"I can recall back to my own personal incident in high school, having been shot, and the emotions that you get," said Antigua, whose survival of a gunshot wound to the head as a teenager has been well chronicled.
"You're like, 'I'm just starting playing, and starting to have a little bit of success.' You just go through that whole range of emotions of sad, depressed, frustrated. Then you have to learn patience and you have to listen to what your doctors are telling you and you've got to do all those things."
The liberating Boston consultation came in mid-March, ironically around the same time the Bulls were back in Hartford for the AAC tournament. Five months later, he joined the team for its 10-day competitive tour of Spain. In the fourth and final contest, against a low-tier European pro team, he had 17 points and 14 rebounds.
His first formal stateside contest since being sidelined will be Nov. 9 in the Bulls' home exhibition against Eckerd.
"I'm feeling the best I've ever felt," Perry said last week.
"I mean, I'm back in shape. I'm gonna play at like, 250 this year; I was at like, 245 last year. I want to be able to play both inside and out. I feel like I focused a little bit too much on the outside last year, so I'm bringing it more inside again. I love the way I'm feeling right now."
Insert a rejuvenated Perry into USF's frontcourt, and the Bulls -- picked to finish 10th in the AAC coaches preseason poll -- figure to be far better equipped physically for the conference schedule.
Senior Jaleel Cousins, who has dropped roughly 20 pounds (to 250) from his 6-foot-11 frame, was a beast in Spain; and 6-11 sophomore Ruben Guerrero (up from 225 to 235) remains a portrait of boundless upside.
But Perry, whom Antigua suggested has added a bit of menace to his game, is the X-factor. Just how high can a rugged, reborn veteran propel a team?
Words can't really describe it.
"He's a monster, man," UConn coach Kevin Ollie said.
"He's a great player, he's got touch; right or left jump-hooks. Just a big body, can rebound the basketball, his basketball IQ is off the roof. To have him back full-time, I think that's gonna really, really help USF."