Pacific coach Leonard Perry’s basketball journey has helped many
Moscow, Idaho … Logan, Utah … Ames, Iowa … Indianapolis, Indiana … Fort Collins, Colorado.
Leonard Perry has crisscrossed the country for the sport he loves while helping change lives and develop character in young basketball players.
Since 2016, he has coached in Stockton, helping resurrect University of the Pacific’s men’s basketball program as associate head coach, with his passion, caring nature and coaching knowledge.
“After 30 years of moving, my wife is going to enter the transfer portal,” Perry joked. “Seriously, I have been many places for this sport and I am humbled to talk about my experiences.”
Perry was the featured speaker on July 7 for a group called Rising Coaches. The All-Access Coaches Corner session on Zoom brought together many coaches from across the country, many who are just getting their start at high schools, junior colleges or colleges as head coaches or assistant coaches.
“I am humbled to be here to talk about this profession,” Perry said.
Perry has been alongside Head Coach Damon Stoudamire in helping rebuild a Pacific program from NCAA probation, which included a cut in scholarships available. The Tigers are coming off a stellar season—a 23-10 record, including 11-5 in the West Coast Conference. That came after seasons of 8-20 and 14-18.
“Damon and the staff knew we were going to take our lumps,” Perry said. “It was a tough re-build without full scholarships. But we kept our course.”
Perry touched on many other areas of life, coaching and his personal journey during the Zoom call.
- His playing career: After a standout high school career in Texas, he played junior college basketball then transferred to the University of Idaho for his final two years. Perry led the Vandals to a 25-6 record and NCAA Tournament berth in 1990. He was the team’s most outstanding player as a senior and earned his degree in general studies with an emphasis on English.
- The need for a coaching mentor: Larry Eustachy helped kick-start Perry’s career by hiring him as an assistant at Utah State and later Iowa State. “Coach Eustachy had never had a black assistant coach, and he not only brought me on staff but taught me so much about the game,” Perry said. “He probably (symbolically) ‘fired’ me a number of times along the way. But he brought me inside all levels of the program, and helped me learn the profession in so many ways.”
- Head coaching experience: Perry returned to Idaho as head coach of his alma mater. He faced tough sledding, compiling a 48-97 record from 2001-06 before he was fired. “I learned a lot during that head coaching experience. Some of it very difficult,” Perry said. “If you are going to coach in this sport, eventually you probably will be fired somewhere along the way.”
- From fired to the NBA in one week: Perry’s rebound to a new coaching opportunity was rapid. He was fired on a Sunday and then received a phone call from Eustachy the next day. “I was pretty down and Larry called and said ‘You know what I think would be a good fit for you? The Indiana Pacers.’ ” That set in motion a whirlwind few days where Eustachy made a call to the Pacers, Perry flew to Florida for the NBA Summer League and, after some meetings with Pacers’ brass—including the legendary Larry Bird—Perry was hired as an assistant coach. “I went from fired on a Sunday to flying on Mr. Bird’s plane to Indianapolis later in the week,” Perry said. He spent six years with the Pacers as an assistant coaching and scouting director.
- Coaching under a former NBA great: “With Damon Stoudamire, when you meet him, that is exactly who he is. There is nothing false about him. And he is a great listener—which is an area where I am terrible. He also believes in giving people a lot of freedom, while getting the best out of them.”
- Family: Perry and his wife, Christina, have two daughters, Keisha and Kayla, and a son, Justin. Perry also has another son, Leonard III, and daughter Camitri. “Family has meant so much to me during my career,” he said. “I have moved around a lot, and they all have been so supportive.”
- Another head coaching opportunity: “I am an optimist. I truly think I am going to be a head coach in the Final Four. Of course, I also buy Lotto tickets every week convinced that I am going to win. You have to do your due diligence and take jobs for the right reasons. There are many head coaching jobs available, but they might not be the right job. It is so important to get the right fit.”