Dispatches from overseas; the professional journey of Kendrick Perry

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Photo courtesy of Kendrick Perry

Liga ACB, the top tier of Spanish basketball league system, has long been considered one of the elite European leagues, producing star Olympians, as well as NBA stars over the years. Along with mainstays Real Madrid and Barcelona at the top of the standings sits Unicaja Malaga, which has seen a resurgence in the past couple of years after a handful of seasons struggling in the middle of the ACB table.

Unicaja’s renaissance began in 2022 with the hiring of Andorra’s Ibon Navarro. Searching for new blood in the backcourt, one Navarro’s first signings upon arriving was a former Horizon League player that best suit the direction he wanted to go: Former Youngstown State great Kendrick Perry.

“When I first got to Unicaja, I was the first guy to sign, and I was interested to see the other pieces that we were going to get,” Perry said. “I started seeing the guys we signing, and I realized that I pretty much played against all my teammates that weren’t Spanish…I didn’t really know how those pieces would fit, but I knew that we had some good pieces.”

For Perry, the latest stop in Europe, which included Unicaja winning the Copa Del Rey in 2023, has been a good one, averaging 10 points and 3.6 assists per game across all competitions. By all accounts, he has been a key contributor for a team aspiring to win its first league title since 2006, proof that in spite of his uncertainty how he’d transition to the Spanish game and Navarro’s coaching style, the team was a perfect fit for him.

The impact of his contributions was magnified even further during the Basketball Champions League, which, like the soccer version, features the top club teams throughout Europe. This time around, it was Unicaja that came out victorious, taking its first-ever BCL crown in Belgrade, Serbia with an 80-75 win over a familiar foe in the ACB, Tenerife.

And Perry? His performance, which included 17 points in the championship tilt, was good enough to be recognized as the MVP for the BCL’s Final Four.

Photo courtesy of Kenrick Perry

“It’s always a cumulative of a lot of things,” he said of his recognition. “It’s kind of the journey that we had had started with Unicaja last year, making it to the Final Four, hosting it, but falling short. And then just kind of staying resilient through this year’s Champions League run, then making it back to the Final Four and just having a different approach both individually and as a team, it was a reflection of that.

“Part of it was a reflection of my individual journey as a player from everything I’ve went through since my time at Youngstown until that point,” Perry added. “It’s thoughts of everything. I thought about my family, my wife (Amber, who he married in 2022), who was in the crowd at the time, and all she’s seen me go through, all that she’s sacrificed herself, being able to take care of me while we’re over here.”

For Perry, he felt that the biggest thing for him individually was that it meant he saw him game from that first year Unicaja to this year take a leap. And in his estimation, it didn’t have anything to do with anything on the court.

“It had a lot to do with my approach, my mindset in certain situations, and just play a little more free, a little bit more fun, and not put too much stress on myself,” he said. “That’s what the biggest difference was for me from last year to this year.”

This is just one of the things that is keeping Perry busy. While playing in Montenegro, he received citizenship and as a result, he became eligible to play on that country’s national team. That means, among other things, Perry could very well find himself in Paris this summer…playing in the 2024 Olympics.

With only 12 teams able to advance to the Olympics, Perry’s Montenegro squad, which is ranked 17th in the world and also has current Chicago Bull Nikola Vucevic on its roster, will face the daunting task of winning its qualifier in Latvia, which includes an always tough Brazil team in its group along with Cameroon, and, potentially, Georgia, the Philippines and the host, Latvia.

“I think that would be tremendous,” Perry said of his team’s aspirations. “I think what we’ve been able to do so far in terms of representing the country of Montenegro has been great. We have put ourselves in a position to compete to get to the Olympics.

“But if we’re able to reach that goal,” Perry continued, “It would just do so much wonder for the country and just kind of shed a little more light into that country, which is pretty small, especially when you think of the other Balkan countries that are basketball powerhouses. Montenegro kind of gets lost in that. And so, if we’re able to accomplish that feat, that would make the people of Montenegro really proud.”

These challenges are nothing new to Perry. At YSU, the three-time All-Horizon League first-teamer led the Penguins to the first winning season in 2011-12 since joining the conference. The 2012-13 campaign also resulted in Youngstown State’s first-ever Division I post-season appearance in the CIT, where the Penguins defeated Oakland, who would join the Horizon League months later, before falling to Canisius.

After a Summer League stint with the Orlando Magic after college, Perry’s overseas journey began in Australia, spending a season with the Sydney Kings in the NBL, playing alongside former NBA lottery pick Josh Childress. Perry followed that up with a brief stay with the Iowa Energy (now Iowa Wolves) in the G League, his excursion through Europe began.

Off the court, Perry has delved into the world of podcasting with his show Life Across the Water, posting new episodes as he’s had the time, which understandably has been limited on occasion (for obvious reasons). He’s had fellow overseas players on as guests, discussing the highlights and challenges they’ve collectively had throughout their respective careers.

The origins of the podcast actually come from Instagram Live, which became a source of a wide range of entertainment at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic. After Perry saw IG Live broadcasts from ex-West Virginia player Darryl “Truck” Bryant talking about his experiences, he was inspired to do the same.

“I kind of always wanted to have a platform for myself and other overseas players to tell their story and just taking a page out of Truck’s book,” Perry said. “I was like, ‘Why don’t I got on Instagram Live,” and invite one or two guys in and give whoever’s watching live a perspective of what it’s like overseas.

From there, it grew into a full podcast, posting five episodes in 2020. At the end of his first season with Uniacaja, Perry brought back the podcast, which is now available both in audio format and on his YouTube channel. The striking visuals for the second season episode videos are courtesy of videographer Ruben Torres, who Perry met through Instagram in Spain.

“We started with this one project here, and I saw his work from there,” Perry said of Torres. “I let him know about my vision about what I wanted to see with certain projects, and he just took it from there. And ever since then, we’ve been locked in.”

On his return episode to kick off the second season, he talked specifically about getting married, his stops in Slovenia, Greece and Montenegro, the Copa Del Rey victory with Unicaja, and his journey to dual citizenship in Montenegro, which included his selection to the national team, a Round of 16 appearance in the 2022 FIBA Eurobasket, and a second round appearance in the FIBA Basketball World Cup.

Since then, he’s picked up where the first season left off, sitting down with fellow players and talking about what it’s been like for them overseas. Recent guests have been Unicaja teammate Kameron Taylor, who played his college ball at Division II Seton Hill in Pennsylvania, and Devin Robinson, the ex-Florida player who had multiple stints in the G League before heading overseas and eventually landing at Manresa, coincidentally Unicaja’s quarterfinals match-up in the ACB playoffs.

“I’m glad it’s at the level it’s at now, and I’m trying to keep it going further,” Perry said. “There are a lot of us out there whose stories should be heard. So, I’m just trying to give these guys an open, safe and respectful platform to do it on.” The podcast has also given Perry an opportunity to think about a career after his playing days are done. But for now, his contributions remain critical to the success of both Unicaja and Montenegro’s national team, so as a player, he’ll continue on into the future.

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