ORLANDO, Fla. – When Virginia take the Amway Center floor Saturday night, it will mark the 134th start of London Perrantes career. No one has put on a Cavalier uniform more times as a starter.
Few have won more games. Perrantes has won 108 times in his career overall and helped lift the UVA program back to ACC and national relevance. The Hoos have won 23 or more games in each of his four years, part of a five-year streak with at least that many wins. It had never happened before at Virginia.
During his career, the Cavaliers have won two ACC Regular Season Championships and an ACC Tournament title. Perrantes became the only player in UVA history to win a first round NCAA Tournament game in four straight seasons when the Hoos took down UNC Wilmington on Thursday.
He’s helped the program accomplish those feats in Tony Bennett’s tenure by playing a variety of roles. Here are a few.
From the time he arrived at Virginia, Perrantes carried himself as a confident point guard. He directed things on the floor. He made good decisions and got the ball where it needed to go, allowing other players to shine.
That doesn’t mean he carried a leadership banner all that time, though. That changed this season as the lone senior on the roster. UVA wanted him to take on a larger role on the floor and off of it. Be more vocal. Take more shots. Be assertive.
Redshirt junior Devon Hall has spent his entire career in Charlottesville with Perrantes and he thinks that his teammate has improved in that area over the years at Virginia.
”I think his assertiveness has grown over the years,” Hall said. ”When he first got here, he would defer you know what I mean. He’s stepped forward to more of a leadership role and he’s done a great job with it, being more assertive, taking more shots, and hitting more shots.”
That leadership also comes by example. The UVA program is built on a foundation of good defense and good decisions. Perrantes has improved his defensive ability through the years. He’s also rock solid in taking care of the ball and making sure the offense takes shots in good spots.
”He’s taught me a lot,” Cavalier guard Kyle Guy said. ”Really what he teaches me is to make sound, good basketball plays. Even though he throws some risky stuff, it’s not risky for him because he’s really good at what he does. The type of leader he is is really he walks the walk instead of talks the talk kind of guy. That’s another thing to put in the leadership arsenal.”
The Coach On The Floor
The California native leads in a different way too. In the classic ‘extension of the coach’ point guard role, Perrantes has earned the trust of the coaching staff at Virginia. That allows him to make suggestions and he’s often asked for input during games.
”It’s crazy because I’ve never seen anything like it,” Guy said. “Coach Bennett talks to London like he’s a coach. When we’re in a huddle in a game, he’s like ‘London, what do you see?’ … He treats him like a coach and like a son so it’s really neat to see.”
Bennett noticed early on that Perrantes had a strong understanding of the game and of how the coaches wanted to build Virginia. He made the decision to give Perrantes the keys to the point guard spot as the calendar turned to 2014 with UVA still stinging from a loss at Tennessee. He’s remained the driver since.
“He had that feel right away. You could see that in high school when you watched him,” Bennett said. “Once he was in our starting lineup, you’re like – when he was on the floor, just things started happening. He was pretty quiet at first, but you know it when you see it. It was pretty much his first year. Once he started doing it in games at a competitive level – some guys do it in practice, and then you see them do it in a game, and you realize it’s the real deal.”
Perrantes said his relationship with Bennett is built on what’s best for the team.
”It’s super strong obviously,” Perrantes said. ”We’ve been able to throw ideas off of each other for I don’t know how long. Right now, we just kind of have that same type of mindset. I feel like I know what he wants out of the program and what he wants out of the team. He knows I want what’s best for the team as well. I’m not looking to do stuff for me, I’m doing it for the team so he’s always open to hearing my input.”
Back in those days when Perrantes was a freshman, Hall was a fellow freshman. He had played a lot of point guard at Cape Henry Collegiate and reclassified into the 2013 recruiting class to commit to Virginia. Many thought he might be the guy to come in and take minutes as a point guard or lead guard in the program.
Instead, Hall redshirted that season and watched as Perrantes entrenched himself in the lineup. He never saw Perrantes as a rival or nemesis in pursuit of the point guard spot like in the movie Finding Forrester, though.
”No, it’s funny because I got that question before we left to come here,” Hall said. ”I’ve always wanted to play with good guards. I’ve never seen myself as just a point guard so I can always just play off the ball and that’s fine with me. He’s obviously done a way better job than I would have done.”
In fact, Perrantes became something much different than an adversary. The two bonded quickly and have become close friends. They’re roommates again this year. Hall has been to California to visit and said the families are close as well.
“It turned from a friendship to a brotherhood so quick,” Hall said. “He’s a fun dude. This is going to last way longer than basketball. He’s a fun guy, a funny dude, loves to joke around just like anybody else. He’s a good guy.”
Perrantes echoed those thoughts. As the only player he’s spent all four years with, Perrantes said that they went through the growth process of playing college basketball and being a student-athlete together. That means the good times and bad times, long road trips, and the process of changing from role players to team leaders all came together.
“We’ve been close since my freshman year,” Perrantes said. “If there’s one person I can really think of as family, it’s definitely him. Obviously, everybody on this team is my family but we’ve got a different type of bond in a lot of ways. … Freshman year, you come in and you’re going some stuff in college that no one knows how you feel unless you’re going through it and it was just us two that freshman year. We went through that grind together.”
The Cool Customer
That Perrantes would call it a grind is somewhat surprising, at least if you go by his demeanor. He earned the nickname ‘Cali cool’ way back as a freshman because he never seemed rattled by anything on the court. The fact that he’s grown his hair into a column and kind of cruises around only plays into that fact.
That steadying influence has been a big part of the team’s success in his career. Junior Isaiah Wilkins, a vocal and more intense presence for the Hoos, said the ability to stay in the moment and focused is something he’s learned from his senior point guard.
“Probably composure,” Wilkins said. “He never looks rattled. He never looks frustrated. He really never changes expression. We need a guy like that.”
Perrantes’ place in Virginia lore is secure thanks to all of those roles, but he’s gained the respect of many opponents through these four years as well. Coaches like Mike Krzyzewski at Duke and Roy Williams at North Carolina have praised his play. Bob Knight of Indiana fame sang his praises all the way back as a freshman on national TV.
Coaches have made analogies like the straw that stirs the drink or the that engine that drives the car too. The next opponent is Florida and coach Mike White had similar thoughts, calling him a ‘microcosm’ of how Virginia plays basketball.
“What’s really impressive about him, really he’s a microcosm of all of them, in my opinion, both offensively and defensively, in that they’re just so sound,” White said. “They just take good shots. They make good decisions. They don’t break down defensively. And it’s led by a guy – I don’t know that he’s their leader, their captain, but he lets it come to him. I’ve watched games on TV where it seems like he’s disappeared. He may have six points with ten minutes, and all of a sudden, he finishes the game with 18 and 8 assists and 7 rebounds or whatever. He just makes big plays, plays with a lot of confidence, with a lot of savvy.”