Thursday, July 12, 2007
From opposite ends of the country, Kyle Perry and Jermone Riley were brought together.
At the College of Charleston, Perry just completed his first season as director of basketball opportunities for his college coach at Georgia Tech, Bobby Cremins. It was also Riley's first season as an assistant coach for Northern Arizona, who like the Cougars, was a victory shy of reaching the NCAA Tournament.
Yet in new South Carolina State men's basketball coach Tim Carter, each man saw 'an opportunity too good to pass up' to become two of his three new assistants.
"Coach Cremins and I are very close," Perry said. "I played for him, but this was a wonderful opportunity for me. "I've known Coach Carter for a few years now and ... South Carolina State hit a home run when they hired him and I know what he's doing. I know where he's trying to go with it and I feel like my responsibilities here are going to be more along the lines of really trying from a recruiting and from a basketball standpoint, to really move this program along."
"He's a man of integrity," Riley said. "A family man and someone who I respect dearly. That's first and foremost. He's a guy that if anybody can get this team turned around and competing for some championships (he can)."
Riley knows Carter's capabilities better than anyone, having played for him at the University of Texas at San Antonio as a senior during the 1998-99 season. That year, Riley ranked second on the team in assists and steals in helping the Roadrunners earn their first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance.
He believes Carter can bring out the best in a Bulldogs' team that has posted back-to-back losing seasons and is playing under its fourth head coach in three seasons.
"The biggest thing about Coach Carter is that he lets you play basketball," he said. "As long as you committed yourself to the team and worked hard, he rewarded you on the court during games. He also knew that he was helping prepare young men for the future and we respected him."
While reuniting with Carter was more than enough to convince the Las Vegas, Nev. native to head south, working 'for a great guy' was one of the reasons why Perry made the tough decision to break away from the man who allowed him to work his way from walk-on to a roster spot at Georgia Tech.
There was also the strong pull to return to the sidelines and interacting with recruits which Perry finds more comfortable working in an administrative role.
"I think my biggest strength is recruiting," he said. "I was fortunate enough to play at Georgia Tech for Coach Cremins and develop a lot of relationships through him and was fortunate enough to work for a great guy in Dale Clayton at Carson-Newman. In working with those guys, they really let you work and they really let you develop a lot of relationships on the road and in the profession. That's one of the things I really love about Coach Carter and being able to get back on the road, being able to develop those relationship, being able to recruit was a big part of it."
Cremins more than understood Perry's reasons for leaving the College of Charleston and sees him as a major asset to the Bulldogs.
"His recruiting on campus was great for us," he said in a Tuesday telephone interview. "He was at every coaching meeting. He was at every practice. He couldn't get on the court, but he took notes. But he's great. He'll do a great job at South Carolina State. He thinks the world of Tim. I've never met Tim, but Kyle thinks the world of him. Kyle's excited to be back on the road recruiting and coaching. I miss him already because he did a lot of good things for our program."
Perry's recruiting prowess has already netted a promising prospect for SCSU in 6-1 guard Carrio Bennett out of Berea High School. The 2006-07 S.C. Basketball Coaches Association's Class 3-A Player of the Year and two-time All-State selection, Bennett met with Perry at the College of Charleston at a time when it appeared he was headed to the junior college ranks as Division I-A colleges backed off him for academic reasons.
Interest increased after Bennett's final grades in June showed he had raised his core grade point average to the 3.0 needed to qualify. Once Perry arrived at SCSU, he again contacted Bennett for a visit, and the player chose the Orangeburg school over Colorado State, USC Upstate and Gardner-Webb.
Bennett averaged 28 points per game as a senior, scoring 40 points four times, including a career-high 49 against Daniel on Feb. 2 He finished his career with 1,933 points and earned MVP honors at the inaugural Greenville vs. Spartanburg FCA All-Star Basketball Challenge after scoring 29 points in a 112-99 victory.
Bennett joins shooting guard Wesley Telfare and pre-Carter signees point guard Jessie Burton and forward Everett Spencer (shooting guard Casey Mitchell decided not to enroll at SCSU prior to Carter's arrival) as the newest Bulldogs. Although pleased with the current roster, Perry and Riley acknowledge finding players who work hard, hustle for loose balls and aspire to play for SCSU is not enough to get the program back to the 'Big Dance'.
As they and fellow new assistant Henry 'Hank' Harris hit the recruiting trail, targeting upper Division I-A big men is a top priority.
"We've got to get some kids that are better than our conference," Perry said. "We've got to get some kids that are high major to mid-major players and the way we've got to do is that we've got to turn every rock. We've got to flip every stone and we've got to know what's going on with every kid in the Southeast and South Carolina, in particular, to make sure that we're doing those things to put the best talent on the floor together."
"I definitely look forward to working with players with player development and look to get some local talent and great recruits here at this institution and any other role of responsibility he looks to put me in," Riley said.
Perry and Riley will not have to wait long to return to their old stomping grounds as SCSU is slated to participate in holiday tournaments in Las Vegas (Nov. 23-24) and at the College of Charleston (Dec. 29-30). The Bulldogs open the season Nov. 9 at the University of South Carolina and are tentatively slated to play as many as 14 non-conference games, including four home games against Jacksonville State (Nov. 14), Virginia Military Institute (Dec. 4), Savannah State (Dec. 8) and Florida Atlantic (Dec. 22).
Taking a cue from the head coach, the new assistants have set their goals high.
"We need to get them to understand how hard they have to work and how committed they have to be to this game and this institution and to each other to get the results they want to get which is to get a bid to the NCAA Tournament," Riley said.
"A year from now, I'd like to see us in the NCAA Tournament," Perry said. "That's our goal. We came in here to win. We came in here to turn this program around and we're doing everything right now to try to do that."
T&D Senior Sports Writer Thomas Grant Jr. can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 803-533-5547.