Perez Plays Way into Rebels' Rotation
Feb. 3, 2015
By Austin Miller, OleMissSports.com
OXFORD, Miss. — A nonfactor for Ole Miss until the last three games, junior forward Anthony Perez couldn’t make a shot, and his confidence waned, but he stayed ready, waiting for an opportunity that may not have come.
In a game against Florida with NCAA Tournament implications for both teams, head coach Andy Kenendy reached deeper into his bench, playing 11 players, looking for a spark, and the opportunity came for Perez.
“He was really struggling early, coming off last year, where he was a starter and a big contributor for us,” Kennedy said. “He got caught up in the mix. We were trying to figure out our top eight or our top nine, as we were getting into a rotation, and he wasn’t in the rotation because of production. To his credit, he stayed the course. He continued to practice hard, and when got his opportunity, he made the most of it against Florida.”
Perez had played the best basketball of career in Southeastern Conference play last season, starting 11 games and upping his scoring average to 9.0 points per game, third on the team behind Marshall Henderson and Jarvis Summers. He recored eight double-digit scoring games, including two 20-point games in league play, and he appeared poised to build on his strong finish going into his junior campaign.
With a deeper roster, bolstered by the addition of five newcomers, Perez was squeezed out by Dwight Coleby, Aaron Jones, M.J. Rhett and Sebastian Saiz for minutes in the post, and then Kennedy moved Perez to the wing, where he wanted to be, but he could not crack a rotation that included Stefan Moody, Martavious Newby and LaDarius White.
“I was trying to get some separation early in the year, and it’s really, really difficult to play 10, 11, 12 guys because you can’t get into a rotation, and you’re not really giving numbers 9 through 12 an opportunity to play with comfort and understanding,” Kennedy said. “Through practice and the receptions they were getting early in the early game, there started to be some separation. Unfortunately for him, he was on the outside looking. He couldn’t break in. There was no opportunity for him.”
When he did play, he played hesitantly, trying not to make mistakes, instead of just playing, as he did during his strong finish to his sophomore season. Through the first 18 games, Perez scored just 14 points in 82 minutes of action, going 3-of-24 from the field and 1-of-10 from 3-point range.
"Being a junior, you just want to play and you will do whatever it takes to help your team to win," Perez said. “At the beginning of the year, when coach put me in the game, I was scared to do something bad and he was going to take me out. That was on my mind every time I was playing.”
Against Florida, Kennedy turned to Perez, among others, looking for a spark, and he responded with six points and five rebounds in 12 minutes of actions, including a big 3-pointer as part of a 13-0 run, where Ole Miss erased a 36-30 halftime deficit and took a 53-46 lead with 11:31 left on the way to a thrilling 72-71 win over the Gators.
"For him to catch it and shoot it, without hesitation, his form was right on point,” Kennedy said. “There was a collective sigh of relief from him, from our bench, from our fans, when that thing went in. That was a huge shot for him and a huge shot for us.”
Perez carried the confidence from that moment and that game include the Rebels’ last two games, scoring seven points in 17 minutes off the bench in a win over Mississippi State, followed by a season-high eight points in a season-high 18 minutes in a win at Missouri. Over the last three games, including the Florida game, Perez has averaged 7.0 points per game in 15.7 minutes per game, going 6-of-13 from the field, including 5-of-11 from 3-point range, to along with 3.0 rebounds per game.
“Coach (Kennedy) always told me to stay ready, and that’s what I did through the season,” Perez said. “I kept putting shots up, and thank God I started making some.”
Ole Miss has found some consistency and has won three in a row, its first three-game winning streak since late November, and whether it’s his energy, versatility, or ability to stretch the floor, Perez has given the Rebels another viable option going forward this season.
“We have had to evolve based on some things I have learned about our team,” Kennedy said. “When (Perez) responds the way he has the last three games, he can really be an important piece for us.”
Austin Miller is a writer and blogger for OleMissSports.com. He joined the staff in June 2013 after serving as sports editor of the Daily Mississippian. Follow him on Twitter @austinkmiller
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