Perry’s return changes UAlbany men’s basketball postseason outlook

University at Albany's De'Vondre Perry goes after the loose ball against Hartford Tuesday, March 1, 2022.
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University at Albany's De'Vondre Perry goes after the loose ball against Hartford Tuesday, March 1, 2022.

ALBANY — De’Vondre Perry’s return raises the ceiling for the Great Danes.

It necessitates they make significant changes, too.

But that’s something first-year head coach Dwayne Killings and his UAlbany men’s basketball coaching staff don’t mind needing to do, even with the America East Conference’s single-elimination playoffs starting Sunday for the Great Danes on the road against a to-be-determined opponent. As senior guard Jamel Horton said after Tuesday’s regular-season finale, UAlbany knows it’s a “better team with [Perry] out there,” and the 6-foot-7 graduate student’s unexpected return to the court for the club provided a morale boost despite the night’s loss to Hartford.

Perry had been out since mid-January, and the meniscectomy performed Jan. 21 on his right knee was described as a season-ending procedure — but Perry said he started to challenge that designation just days after the operation, and Killings said he’d been told to expect the player back this season.

“His mother said to me, ‘My son’s not a quitter,’” Killings said. “And I never once thought he was, but I think her message and her point was [that] he’s going to find a way back on the court because he likes a challenge. He’s a tough kid. He’s been from a tough environment. He’s overcome a lot in his life. And I think [this injury] is just another thing, another notch in the belt. I think [overcoming challenges] is what gives him confidence.”

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And?

“He oozes with confidence,” Killings said of Perry.

UAlbany — the fifth seed for this year’s America East tournament — relied heavily on Perry’s confidence and scoring ability to lead it during the first half of the season. Before missing 14 consecutive games, Perry was the Great Danes’ leading scorer — and the only player on the team averaging double-digit scoring. When Perry suffered his injury, Killings remarked that the graduate student, “was helping our program more than we were helping him,” in reference to how much the forward had provided the Great Danes in Killings’ first season leading them.

Now?

UAlbany certainly will benefit from Perry’s return, on both ends of the court, but the Great Danes need to figure out how to incorporate the player back into their mix as their season reaches its most-important games. UAlbany now has three double-digit scorers in its lineup, and the Great Danes’ offense evolved to include more ball movement once it lost the 1-on-1 scoring ability of Perry to utilize. 

Even after missing nearly half of UAlbany’s 13-17 regular season, Perry ranks fourth on the Great Danes in shot attempts. In his return this week, Perry scored six points in 23 minutes, but it’s safe to expect both of those numbers will go up when the Great Danes play Sunday — and that means other UAlbany players will see their minutes and shots go down as the postseason arrives. 

“It’s hard,” Killings said. “We’re asking college basketball players at the end of the season — for some guys, the end of their career — to take less; you know, less shots, less minutes. That’s really, really hard. And I think it was hard for some guys [against Hartford] because everything changed for them. So we have to talk to them, talk them through it. Our guys are not selfish guys, but they want to play, you know? They want to score, they want to defend, they want to make plays. So we have to talk about it, look at it, and I think the biggest thing is [that] everybody, to a man, has to sacrifice something to do what we’re trying to do moving into the conference tournament — even Dre.”

Perry seems OK with that. After Tuesday’s game, Perry said he had tried to “downplay” it whenever his teammates tried to “hype” up his on-court return in the days leading up to the contest.

“I didn’t want the team to think this game was about me,” Perry said.

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Perry came off the bench against Hartford, and he stayed in UAlbany’s lineup for 10-plus minutes before checking back out. Shortly before he took a break, Perry missed a dunk, and he smiled when he acknowledged that, “for sure,” he was fatigued after an extended stay on the court.

“I was definitely tired — but I wasn’t exhausted,” Perry said. “I wasn’t as tired as I thought I was going to be.”

Playing less than six weeks after his surgery, Perry said he tried to use Tuesday’s game to regain some on-court “rhythm,” and Killings said the forward likely needed to appear in UAlbany’s regular-season finale for the club’s coaching staff to be confident in playing the Baltimore native in the playoffs. 

With that hurdle cleared, UAlbany’s postseason outlook looks a lot different than it did at week’s start — and much different from a normal fifth-seeded club — because of the leadership and talent Perry brings to the court.

“He’s a winner,” Killings said.

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