Basketball is in his DNA. The 47- year-old coach is passionate about the game and helping his kids succeed on the court and in life. The 1987 Washington Prep graduate is a street-fighter with a clipboard and will not apologize for it.
In games, in locker rooms, in practices and off the hardwood, athletes have to be mentally prepared for whatever obstacles they face. Only the strong survives. That’s his message.
“So many times, kids go to college and don’t get what the coach is trying to give them. I was that kid. My dad didn’t prepare me that way. I’ve seen a lot of players who I’ve played with break down mentally because they take it personally. It’s not personal. It’s passion,’’ said Poncho, who red-shirted at San Jose State, later played JC ball before embarking on a basketball career abroad.
Poncho, however, does credit his father Charles Perry Sr. for putting him and his three other brothers in position to earn NCAA basketball scholarships. Three out of four of his brothers competed at the NCAA Div. I level. One competed at Div. II. His youngest brother didn’t compete.
Poncho and his brothers lived in the gym, watching some of the greatest athletes who have ever laced up sneakers in the Los Angeles area. Perry Sr., who was considered an elite baseball player, oversaw a program which featured legendary players such as Marcus Johnson (UCLA All-American and NBA All-Star forward with the Milwaukee Bucks), Freeman Williams (Portland State standout and NBA player), John Williams (Crenshaw High McDonald’s All-American and LSU All-American point-forward), Darwin Cook (Crenshaw High standout and New Jersey Nets) and Sidney Wicks (UCLA All-American and Boston Celtics All-Star), Swen Nater (UCLA great and NBA journeyman) and Raymond Lewis (Verbum Dei and Cal State LA standout).
In the 1980s, Poncho played against some of the best athletes in the Southern California region. The short list includes Fairfax’s Sean Higgins (Michigan and NBA journeyman) and Crenshaw High’s high-flying Steve Thompson, who played for Syracuse, which lost to Indiana at the 1987 NCAA Finals.
The street-tough Poncho knows the pitfalls of not being mentally prepared for college. He didn’t listen. He did things that were detrimental to his college career.
Today, his mission is to teach athletes how to handle every aspect of the game. The gregarious coach, who is soft-spoken outside the lines, will challenge athletes’ minds, bodies and spirits, and get the results that leads to college scholarships if athletes listen to what he says and not how he says it. Poncho, who played professionally Mexico, Venezuela and Germany, knows that basketball isn’t just a battle between the lines. It’s a war between the ears. He has mastered the art of gamesmanship. He wants his athletes to master it, too.
It takes a strong mind to deal with what Poncho dishes out at WCA, which is one of the top developmental programs in Southern California. You won’t see him do a Bobby Knight — hit your child or throw chairs across the floor during basketball games. You won’t hear him curse your child out during halftime like many coaches, at higher levels, do.
You will hear him get loud to make his point. His voice can wake-up the dead. One time, he told an athlete to “Get the hell off my court!’’
Whether people like him or not, agree with him or not, Perry gets results.
“The mind games that I play with my players are the biggest part of the program,’’ said Perry, whose niche in the high school market is to focus more on developing athletes than showcasing them. To his credit, he has created a pipeline of athletes for mega travel programs such as Cal Sparks, West Coast Premiere, Cal Storm, etc.
“The mind games that I am playing with them are going to prepare them for the next level,’’ he said. “We are very big on discipline. Without discipline, I can’t prepare them to do what they need to do for the next level. To prepare them mentally is to prepare them with discipline. If I have their attention, they are going to do everything that is asked of them.’’
Over 17 years, a plethora of athletes have filtered through his program into high schools, into NCAA men’s and women’s NCAA Div. I, II and III and into NAIA universities. On the boys side, Keala King (Arizona State), Malik Story (Indiana University, Norvell Pele (St. Johns), Alex Carmen (San Francisco Arts Academy), Patrick Rembert (Irvine), Drew Reid (Pacific University, Oregon) are belong on his short list of players who have earned athletic scholarships straight out of high school.
On the girls’ side, this year’s crop of high achievers includes Danae Miller of Poly High. The 5-foot-7 savvy point guard earned an athlete scholarship to UC Santa Barbara. His short list of girls also includes: Poly’s Thaddesia Southall (USC), Bree Alexander-Perry (Northridge), Nicolette Brown (Cal Poly Pomona) and Destiney King (Hawaii); St. Anthony’s Tayler Bennett (Rice University), Cheyenne Allen (Northridge) and Sierra Skiba (Hawaii Pacific); Gardena Serra’s Brianna Johnson (Denver); Brea Olinda’s Alexis Perry (UCLA) and her sister Arin Perry (Grand Canyon University). Alexis and Arin are his nieces.
Other athletes, who didn’t earn scholarships, had the skills and basketball IQ to compete at the NCAA level. However, they didn’t do their part in the classroom. Some play at national JCs, which offers two-year scholarships or financial assistant packages. Others compete at local JCs.
“Most kids don’t want to prepare academically,’’ Perry said. “They don’t want to do homework. But they need to understand that in order to do what they want to do (play at the next level), they need to do what they supposed to do. “They need to understand that this game is extra curricular,’’ he continued. “ No one is asking you to play this game. You can’t play this game for your parents. You can’t play this game for me. You have to want to play this game for yourself.’’
In addition, Perry said that it’s paramount for athletes to separate themselves from the pack. This may require athletes to shoot 500 shots in the morning before school or after practice or after homework at night. They will do 25 push-ups between games and eventually reach 300. They will run extra sprints and suicides and defensive slides.
Perry has run his players ragged so they can be in the best possible condition. If his teams lose, it will not be because of poor conditioning.
“What are you doing to set yourself apart from everyone else?’’’ Perry asked his athletes. This is a part of his mental conditioning.
On the high school and college levels, athletes transfer schools like they change their socks. In the CIF Southern Section, there have been athletes who have transferred nearly all four years of high school.
In college, some times, athletes transfer because they are home sick. Others do it because they don’t get along with coaches or they can’t understand why they can’t crack the line up or they see their minutes reduced when freshmen come in. Their egos get in their ways.
“You have to understand that that coach’s job is on the line. If he can’t get you to do what I need you to do, he can’t feed his family. He is going to lose his job,’’ Poncho said. “I am going to say what I have to say to get you to produce.
“If a coach can’t get his players to do what they supposed to do on the court, it is not the players’ fought.’’
Coaches get fired because they lose control of their programs or their programs aren’t winning. They have a short time to make programs highly competitive. “They lose discipline,’’ he said. “There’s attitude problems, players fighting in the locker room. If I can’t get my players to follow directions on the court, how are they going to follow directions off the court?’’
Poncho said he has never had a college coach call him to tell him his athlete can’t handle the pressure of competing at his or her institution. “Some times coaches play games to see how tough you are mentally,’’ he said. “Some times they do it because they truly didn’t believe players weren’t that good when they arrived and want them to transfer.’’
Players become discontent with their minutes and the atmosphere of the program and decides to asks to be released. No problem. Coaches are off the hook. “At first, players are so excited to get there because coaches sell pipe dreams No. 1,’’ Poncho said. “It’s the used car salesman approach.’’
You have to be prepared for it.
Rightly so, his feats validated the special attention. It inspired me to want to cover track and field. I wanted to see what all the hoopla was about. Later, I did.
On Thursday, Larry, who used track as a vehicle to obtain his bachelors of arts at USC, returned to his track roots to encourage 25 Imani athletes to follow in his footsteps. His message to the group was to do their best at the 2017 Junior Olympics, beginning this upcoming week at the University of Kansas.
Jayhawk’s stadium is where Imani athletes will try to turn their yellow, brick road into gold. Weeks ago, members earned their rite to be there by advancing through the USATF Junior Olympic Track and Field Championships in San Diego.
Larry, a former two-time prep All-American and four-year scholar athlete at Dominguez High, made them aware that the stands will likely be filled with college coaches. Great performances could lead to athletic scholarships down the road, he said.
The current business owner encouraged athletes to supporting each other during the week-long event, to eat and drink the right food and fluids so they can compete at their peak performances.
Who knows better than Larry? College coaches and sportswriters started following him during his days in youth track and field and continued it at Dominguez High.
With the Dons, Larry’s storied career included being named the 2003 Boys Dream Team Track Athlete of the Year. He won the CIF State 200-meter title. He posted a personal best time in the 200 meters (20.73), 100 meters (10.31) and 400 meters (47.73).
So track and field took him from competing in Compton to USC to around the world, and he landed an Adidas endorsement contract that paid him more money than he ever imagined, he said.
Larry’s list of Accomplishments
2009: World Outdoors 4x400m relay gold medalist; ran lead leg in semifinal (3:01.40)...4th at USA Outdoors (45.40)... 6th in semis at World Outdoors (45.85)...1st at Austin (45.27)...
2008: 8th at Olympic Trials (45.82)…NCAA Outdoor 400m runner-up (44.63PR)…1st at Tempe (44.77)...ranked #6 in U.S. by T&FN...best of 44.63.
2007: 3rd at USA Outdoors 400m (44.84)…ran 44.67PR in semifinal at USA Outdoors…runner-up at NCAA Outdoors (44.68)… in qualifying at World Outdoor Champs, injury to right hamstring…NCAA West Region champion (45.59)...PAC-10 Outdoor champion (44.73)…ranked #5 in U.S. by T&FN…best of 44.67.
2006: 6th at NCAA Outdoor Championships (45.43)…Anchor leg for USC’s 4th place 4x400m at NCAA Outdoors…NCAA West Regional champion 400m (45.53)…3rd at Pac-10 Championships 400m (45.85)…NACAC U23 silver medalist (45.38).
2005: 4x100m gold medalist at Pan-American Junior Games.
Here is the 2017 IMANI JR. OLYMPIANS
15-16 GIRLS DIVISION
Saundra Martin (25.20)
15-16 BOYS DIVISION
Anthony Johnson (11.35)
Anthony Johnson (22.81)
Anthony Johnson, Elijah Islam, Jeremiah Gains, Jeremiah Dagnino (44.40)
Others: Stephen Bradford Jr.
13-14 BOYS DIVISION
Gary Morrow Jr., Jalen Johnson, William Pitchford Jr., Damonte Shallowhorn (47.23)
Gary Morrow Jr., Jalen Johnson, William Pitchford Jr., Solomo Islam (3:41.19)13-14
Gary Morrow Jr., Jalen Johnson, William Pitchford Jr., Solomo Islam (9:61.52)
11-12 GIRLS DIVISION
Miah Molette (13.79)
400-METER GIRLS RELAY
Samira Stevenson, Molette, Leondra Amos, Jayana Bryant (53.86)
11-12 BOYS DIVISION
Others: Matthew Gallegos, Takim Raye-Brown Jr., Dametri Cunningham, Jayden Williams
8-UNDER BOYS DIVISION
Benjamin Harris Jr. (29.68)
Benjamin Harris Jr., James Goodman III, Jalen Hunter, Jeromy Powell Jr. (58.99)
Benjamin Harris Jr., Ashton Goodman, Jalen Hunter, Jeromy Powell Jr. (4:59.14)