Freshman Perrantes thrives at point
After uneven start, California native proves he can bridge gap left by Evans
One of the biggest questions lingering throughout the Virginia men’s basketball team’s offseason was who would fill the void at point guard left by now-graduated Jontel “Bub” Evans.
Evans was a fixture in the Cavaliers’ backcourt dating back to the 2009-2010 season, playing in 120 of his team’s 129 games during his four years at Virginia and starting 92. He appeared in every game during his first three years on the team, before missing the beginning of his senior season to heal a stress fracture in his right foot.
Just two days after Evans returned to John Paul Jones Arena to watch his former team take on Florida State, Evans’ heir apparent had his coming-out party.
Freshman point guard London Perrantes, making his 15th start of the season, facilitated an offensive onslaught against North Carolina. He dished out a career-best nine assists — eight in the first half alone — while turning the ball over just once. Perrantes also recorded eight points, shooting a perfect 2-of-2 from long range, and nabbed two steals in the 76-61 win.
“It’s nothing new,” Perrantes said. “I knew I could do stuff like this — I don’t think other people did.”
Though many people may have been caught off-guard by Perrantes’ breakout performance — one reporter asked the freshman where he played college basketball before Virginia — Perrantes’ confidence has never wavered. His “Cali Swag,” as his teammates refer to it, particularly during conference play, is what they believe makes him so effective.
“A lot of people say, a freshman coming into the ACC, you can get bug-eyed a little bit,” senior forward Akil Mitchell said. “But that’s just who he is. He’s very steady, very even-keeled and we expect him to do that every night. I saw it when he came, when he visited. You meet somebody, and I knew he was a point guard.”
It’s almost as if Evans never left the court at all.
“He’s similar to Jontel in that aspect because Jontel always kept his calm,” sophomore guard Justin Anderson said. “A lot of people looked at, maybe Jontel wasn’t able to shoot the ball as well, things like that, but people don’t realize how calm Jontel had us out there … London is a younger version of that, and if you get that at that young an age, the sky’s the limit for him.”
Without a true veteran point guard on the roster to learn from, it may surprise some that Perrantes has been able to adapt so quickly to the rigors of ACC basketball. And while he credits fellow guards such as redshirt sophomore Malcolm Brogdon, sophomore Teven Jones and freshman Devon Hall with pushing him in practice, Perrantes points to someone else as his primary mentor.
“Coach [Tony] Bennett,” Perrantes said. “That’s one of the reasons why I came here, because he played point guard at the highest level. He’s always in the back of my head. He expects a lot from me because he played this position, but he’s definitely a huge mentor for me.”
Like his predecessor Evans, who ranked second last year in the ACC with 5.3 assists per game during league play and fifth with a 2.0 assist-turnover ratio, Perrantes has proven he is highly efficient handling the ball. Averaging 3.7 assists per game for the season, Perrantes has elevated his play during ACC play, upping his average to 4.8 dimes per contest during Virginia’s last six games.
Perhaps even more indicative of his early success, Perrantes ranks third in the ACC with a 4.1 assist-turnover ratio during conference play.
And just like Evans, who was a two-time All-ACC Defensive Team selection, Perrantes can lock down opposing guards.
The freshman has recorded 23 steals this season — good for second-best on the team — and matched up on North Carolina sophomore guard and leading scorer Marcus Paige for much of Monday’s game. Paige, who entered the tilt averaging 17.2 points per game, finished with just nine.
“He sees things that most guys don’t see,” Bennett said. “He was very complete. He was pretty good to start, but I think with the experience of playing and being in these settings he’s shown what a lot of people out West missed on him.”
Perrantes, who hails from Crespi Carmelite High in Los Angeles, Calif., received offers from Pac-12 teams Southern California, Arizona State and Washington State, as well as Illinois and various smaller California schools.
However, the Trojans’ coaching situation was in flux at the time, and UCLA — the state’s premier basketball powerhouse and the offer he truly wanted — didn’t show much interest.
“It motivates me,” Perrantes said. “We watched the UCLA game the other day and it kind of frustrates me. But then again, God has a plan for all of us and this is where he wants me to be. I’m going to take it and go with it.”
It didn’t start out this way. Perrantes began the season adjusting to the college game, as his shooting, particularly, was not up to his expectations. But after beginning the season shooting just 24 percent, Perrantes believes experience, as well as his extra work after practice with Jones, has been paying dividends.
He has been on a scoring tear recently, making 50 percent of his shots from both the floor and 3-point range in conference games. Perrantes appears to be the shooting threat at point guard the team lacked in Evans, as well as the Cavaliers’ second-most reliable free-throw shooter, averaging 81.3 percent from the charity stripe.
“I feel like I was thinking about it too much for my first couple of games,” Perrantes said. “It’s a big stage — a whole lot different than my little high school, we had the smallest gym. But I feel like I stopped thinking about [it] and just started going out and playing.”
Despite his overt confidence, Perrantes admitted he’s still a little surprised by his sudden rise to prominence.
“I mean you always have the dreams of coming in as a freshman and wanting to start and play big time minutes,” Perrantes said. “I just wanted to be able to come in and help the team win, even coming off the bench a little bit. But it’s escalated quickly and I feel like I’ve responded to it.”