By Ron Martin
Elliot Perry had just signed his letter of intent to play basketball at the University of Memphis when Coach Larry Finch called him into his office. "I'm going to put the ball in your hands," Elliot recalls Finch saying. "Where we go is up to you."
Perry took Finch's words to heart but not just on the basketball court. Perry takes everything to heart. "I realized at a young age growing up in the 'hood that I had decisions to make," says Perry. "Michael Toney [a family friend who mentored Perry when he was younger] exposed me to a life outside my neighborhood, taking me to the University of Memphis and [on a trip] with his family to California.These were things that affected my future. It wasn't much, but it sure meant a lot to me."
When we spoke, Perry had just finished meeting with some kids from today's version of the 'hood. While sportswriters and broadcasters were filing stories about Perry's return to his alma mater as a special assistant in the Tiger Club fund-raising department, Perry was exposing youngsters to the stumbling blocks that lay before them: "Develop character. Choose your battles. You can't fight every one; it may not be yours to fight," he said in a tone suggesting the words might be his creed.
Perry was born with enough talent to be good. He became great because he worked hard. Each step of his basketball career presented new hurdles, but Perry used those hurdles as stepladders. Each step of his personal life has followed the same path. "We all make mistakes, do things we wish we could take back," he says. "Which is why I tell kids to map out their lives. Young players look at guys like Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett and think it's easy."
Perry seldom strays far from the point that basketball should be used by youngsters to develop opportunities. "It's important to develop relationships. That's what it's all about," says Perry. "I try to tell kids that good relationships last a lifetime."
He remembers the mornings Coach Dorsey Sims pulled him out of bed to make class. The prodding of coaches Sims and Finch is the foundation Perry uses today as he creates relationships with the next generation. Of course, along the way, he could also be creating relationships to generate money for the U of M athletic department, his new role in life.
But Perry keeps it all in perspective. He realized the definition of the term "student-athlete" by earning his degree in four years. "I thank the Lord every day for the consistent opportunities He gives me," he says. "I try to tell kids that it's too hard to come back and get a degree after they leave school."
It seems a lifetime ago when it was unusual for a collegiate star to turn pro before his eligibility expired. Today, coaches recruit with the knowledge that star athletes may stick around for a year at most.
High above the basketball court at The Pyramid hangs Perry's number 34 jersey. Maybe they should hang his cap and gown up there as well, symbols of how to map out a life.
Flyers The annual C-USA football media days were held in Memphis this week. After a golf tournament, coaches and select players answered insightful questions such as "What do you expect this season?" Another question making the rounds concerned filling the C-USA commissioner's office. It was a question left unanswered and one that could remain unanswered for some time ... Bowling for dollars: The Professional Women's Bowlers Association is in Collierville this week at FunQuest Lanes.
Ramblings Archie Manning's request for Ole Miss not to hype son Eli's Heisman Trophy candidacy will probably win the trophy for him ... Hats off to R.C. Johnson for his desire to create a U of M athletic department that doesn't depend on playing Tennessee ... Will Albert Means be the only Tiger on the sidelines because of academics?
By James P. Hill
Jerry West, the Grizzlies' president of basketball operations, is continuing his efforts to rebuild the Grizzlies into a team that can compete with the NBA's elite. It's a simple plan: Get more talent.
"We need to get as many talented players as we can," says West. "Hopefully, we'll have an opportunity some time in the future to have a team where we have talent at all positions."
The 2002 NBA draft and off-season trading spree is already yielding results, if summer-league basketball competition can be used as a measuring stick. New players such as Drew Gooden, Robert Archibald, and Gordan Giracek, a 6'6" shooting guard (CSKA Moscow, Russia) who was the 29th overall selection by the San Antonio Spurs in 1999, offer youth and talent.
Giracek, who was acquired from San Antonio for a second-round pick in the 2004 draft, is already playing, knocking down jump shots, hitting free throws, and fitting in. In a recent loss to the Portland Trailblazers, Giracek led the Grizzlies in scoring with 17 points.
"We feel that Giracek is a terrific, experienced player who has played professionally for a number of years," says West. "He is a sharpshooter who is athletic and will bring additional quality depth to our outside shooting positions."
In the latest attempt to help solidify the backcourt, the Grizzlies have signed former Seattle Sonics point guard Earl Watson (6'1", UCLA) to a free-agent contract. Seattle has 15 days to match the offer, but at this point, it appears Watson is coming to Memphis. As a Sonics rookie (2001-02), Watson averaged 3.6 points, 2 assists, 1.3 rebounds, and .94 steals in 15 minutes per contest. Watson seems happy to be coming to Memphis. "I am excited about the opportunity to play for the Grizzlies for several reasons," he says. "I grew up in Kansas City, which is close to Memphis, and I consider it a privilege to have a chance to play for Jerry West."
The Grizzlies have also signed Cezary Trybanski, a 22-year-old, 7'1", 254-pound center. Cezary, who comes to Memphis after three years of professional basketball in Poland, is expected to provide rebounding and size. Cezary will test his skills immediately in the Rocky Mountain Revue. (You can watch the new-look Grizzlies play the Chicago Bulls on ESPN Thursday, July 25th, at 7p.m.)
West believes the new mix can only benefit the team. "I've always felt that competition brings out the best in all players, and we're gonna have some very competitive times in our training camp," he says. "It really remains to be seen who's going to win those minutes, but it wouldn't surprise me if this kid Gooden would get an opportunity to play more minutes than any other rookie in the league."