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How Iowa signee Tony Perkins has emphatically proved Hawkeye coaches right

Matthew Bain
Hawk Central

Jack Keefer, head basketball coach at Lawrence North in Indianapolis, has a close relationship with Iowa assistant coach Sherman Dillard that dates back to 1994, when Dillard was the head coach at Indiana State. The two have kept in regular contact since then, chatting about Indianapolis prospects at Keefer's school and others.

So, when Dillard attended last summer's NCAA College Basketball Academy in Illinois and noticed Lawrence North shooting guard Tony Perkins, he called Keefer.

"And I said, 'If you want a player, he’s a player,'" Keefer told the Register. "'I said, 'Just get down here and watch him. That was no fluke what you saw.'"

And it turns out it wasn't.

Because, after Dillard and Fran McCaffery watched Perkins at Lawrence North, after they became his first and only high-major offer, and after they signed Perkins despite some wondering if he was a bit of a reach, Perkins emphatically proved his future coaches right during his senior season.

He averaged 18.6 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.8 steals per game while shooting 58% from the field and 35% from 3-point range for arguably the state's best team. He finished second in 2020 Indiana Mr. Basketball voting. And he led Lawrence North to a 25-2 record and a No. 1 ranking for much of the season.

Translation: Perkins made Iowa's evaluation look pretty dang good.

Lawrence North High School senior Tony Perkins (12), left, reacts as the team celebrates defeating Warren Central High School in an IHSAA boys’ sectional championship basketball game, Saturday, March 7, 2020, at Lawrence Central High School. Lawrence North won 61-59.

"He just had an outstanding year," Keefer said. "And what’s good about it is we play the second- or third-hardest schedule in the state, so he did it against the best players. He took a team that was young and put them on his shoulders and took him to the No. 1 ranking for most of the year.

"The biggest thing that he did was to put the team on his back without dominating. He averaged close to 20, but he could have probably averaged 30. He just brought the team along with him."

Before landing his Iowa offer Oct. 11, Perkins only held offers from Bradley, Toledo, Tampa, Morehead State, Purdue-Fort Wayne and Ball State. He was unrated on 247Sports and Rivals.

Relatively speaking, he was an unknown.

Perkins played well as a sophomore and junior at Lawrence North, but his numbers were never eye-popping. He had older, more experienced teammates that led those groups and, as a younger player, Perkins fit into his role.

"He was under the radar. He really was," Keefer said. "We’d won 17 games the year before and everybody looked at him as one of the players, but not the player."

Then, Perkins started garnering more recruiting attention over the summer, both in June high school action with Lawrence North and on the AAU circuit. His best performance came in July at the NCAA College Basketball Academy, where he caught Dillard's eye. Rutgers also called Keefer about Perkins after that event.

At that point, he was on the high-major map.

Lawrence North High School senior Tony Perkins (12) brings the ball up court during the first half of action in an IHSAA boys’ semi-final sectional basketball game against Crispus Attucks High School , Friday, March 6, 2020, at Lawrence Central High School. Lawrence North won 76-73.

Still, going into his senior year, Iowa was the only high-major who actually offered.

"As the season went by, a lot of people saw how much I proved them wrong. It was just about me proving everybody wrong," Perkins said. "I feel like I did. But, at the same time, I’m not too worried about what other people think, as long as I’m at home at Iowa and they know what I can do. That’s all that pretty much matters to me. So whenever I play whatever team that didn't recruit me, I’ll make sure I kick their butt."

Keefer thinks Perkins no doubt proved he's a high-major talent. His ability to use his speed and athleticism to get to the basket at will reminds him of NBA point guard Mike Conley, who Keefer coached at Lawrence North in the mid-2000s.

And, like Conley, because scoring with lay-ups and dunks is much easier, it took Perkins longer to make his 3-point shot a strength, Keefer said. But he did that as a senior.

By midseason, Keefer said, Perkins was shooting about 45% from long range with confidence before a shoulder strain dipped those numbers a bit by season's end.

Beyond the numbers, Keefer said, Perkins was routinely the best player on the floor in the talent-rich city of Indianapolis, where you'd be hard-pressed to find many large-school games that don't feature at least one Division I talent on a given day.

"That’s what Tony goes into every night, and he’s the best one of them," Keefer said. "He’s one of those kind of guys that, when the money’s on the line and you’ve got to have a 3 or you’ve got to have some points, he’ll just jump out and shoot it and it will go in. There’s kids that would miss that shot every time, and there’s kids who will make it every time or close to it. He’s one of those guys. 

"He just does what he’s got to do to make sure you win."

Perkins' plan was to get to Iowa City in June. Obviously, due to the coronavirus, those plans are up in the air. But he's eager to get started with the coaches who believed in him, no matter when that happens.

Matthew Bain covers recruiting, Iowa/Iowa State athletics and Drake basketball for the Des Moines Register and USA TODAY Network. Contact him at mbain@dmreg.com and follow him on Twitter @MatthewBain_.

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