At the end of a triple-overtime thriller, when players from both teams were physically and emotionally exhausted and fans from Torrance Bishop Montgomery had expended all their energy and resourcefulness rooting against Studio City Harvard-Westlake last month, there stood smiling junior point guard Trent Perry offering a friendly goodbye wave to his new-found admirers.
It was a masterful reaction, all good-natured and playful, never reaching the level of taunting. It was vintage Perry, a teenager who sometimes becomes nervous in class giving a speech in front of 15 classmates but exudes confidence, calmness and comfort performing before hundreds on a basketball court.
“It’s all real. It’s all me,” he said of his expressions. “Whatever you see on the court, it’s coming from passion, it’s coming from love.”
With a curly brown afro and teeth so perfect he could receive an NIL deal for his favorite toothpaste, Perry is a charismatic court presence who lifts teammates and tests the resolve of opposing fans trying to disrupt his focus on having fun.
As a player, the 6-foot-4 Perry has become a revelation for the 29-1 Wolverines, averaging 16.6 points, 6.2 rebounds and 5.2 assists. He entered last summer with one scholarship offer. Now he’s up to 14 and growing, with UCLA the latest to make an offer this past week.
“Through the years, I’ve kept my head down and kept working,” he said. “I just have to keep improving. It doesn’t stop for me.”
Every week, Perry seemingly adds a new dimension to his game. His physicality keeps improving, allowing him to drive, absorb contact down the lane and finish. His three-point shooting range is expanding. His midrange jumper is thriving. He’s making free throws at clutch moments. All the while he’s doing it with a smile and a comfort level rarely seen at the high school level. It’s as if he were an actor performing before an audience of hundreds and feeling at ease as they watch him play his role. There’s no shyness, no hesitation and no reluctance to embrace the moments.
“No one has told me to act a certain way,” he said. “It’s natural.”
Body language has become an important part of sports culture. Harvard-Westlake coach David Rebibo said what Perry offers is invaluable in his positiveness and ability to have fun during pressure times.
“It’s huge,” Rebibo said. “It’s something he’s worked on. It’s something we talk about in practice and something we address all the time. How you handle bad plays, how you handle when you lose a drill. Are you going to pout, sulk, drop your shoulders and drop your head or are you going to keep your head up and fix it?
“I think he embraces the moment. He embraces the opportunity ahead. Sometimes you get lost in the moment if you’re not mature. He’s a mature kid. I remember a couple college coaches in the summer were like, ‘Hey, great game. You scored XYZ.’ He was, ‘Coach, I had eight rebounds and nine assists. How about that?’ That was his response. Seeing that is a testament to his upbringing, his character, his buy-in. Most kids don’t buy in and want to be a pass-first point guard when they are as gifted a scorer as he is. He’s bought in, ‘What does the team need me to do?’ ”
So what’s the story behind Perry’s facial expressions?
“I think it’s a combination of my coach and my dad because they always say be positive, show enthusiasm when you’re playing,” he said. “I feel whenever I’m doing those kind of things, I’m having success on the court, whether scoring or getting my teammates involved.”
Perry is around the ball so often and expressing himself so much that photographers find him everywhere on their digital memory card after games. He was the one hugging teammate Brady Dunlap after Harvard-Westlake’s double-overtime win over Sherman Oaks Notre Dame. He was waving to Harvard-Westlake students after making a three just before halftime in the Mission League tournament final. He was the one taking a charge in another game.
If only opponents can find a way to make Perry give a speech they might be able to cause some discomfort.
“It’s tough giving a speech in front of a class,” he said with a smile.