First family of McCall basketball puts another freshman in Final Four

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 2, 2002

Dr. Donald Perry spins a ball on his finger as he and his wife, Florence, stand on the court at their home near Tallulah. Their son, Donald, honed his skills on that court and at McCall High before going to Indiana, where he will play for the Hoosiers today in the Final Four. Above, Florence Perry shows the button she will be wearing in Atlanta when Indiana takes on Oklahoma for the right to play in the championship game Monday against Kansas or Maryland. Their daughter, Pashala, played for Louisiana Tech in the 1997 Women’s Final Four.(The Vicksburg Post/MELANIE DUNCAN)

[03/30/02]TALLULAH, La. How serious is Donald Perry about basketball?

As a 15-year-old, his father asked him if he wanted a car to make the 7-mile trip from their home on the outskirts of town to McCall High in Tallulah.

He said he’d rather have a basketball court.

“That’s just the type of kid he is,” said Dr. Donald Perry, who moved his family from a house a couple blocks from McCall several years ago. “That shows how much he likes basketball. He has a great passion for the game.”

So there it sits, a full-length blue court with glass backboards at each end and three light standards on each side shining down on the court so Perry could play and practice into the wee hours.

“I used to call him in for dinner and he wouldn’t come,” said his mother, Florence, the principal at Tallulah Junior High. “We’d put it in the microwave, and he’d eat when he came in.”

That hard work on the court seemingly came easy to Donald Perry. He caught college scouts’ eyes in summer ball when he was just 11.

“When he was 11 or 12, and I would take him to a lot of camps, I had a lot of coaches from major schools tell me that he was a special kid,” said Dr. Perry, who is a family physician in Tallulah. “They told me when he gets to 10th or 11th grade, you’ll have recruiters knocking your doors down.”

And so it was, a superstar guard for a small Class 2A school tucked off Interstate 20 was wooed by a host of big-name schools.

Ole Miss wanted him bad after Perry and Rebels’ coach Rod Barnes hit it off.

Then came Indiana and then-coach Bobby Knight. The fired Hoosiers’ coach and then-assistant Mike Davis visited Perry at McCall last June. Davis was in charge of recruiting Perry, and now the first-year coach has his Indiana Hoosiers in the Final Four. They will play Oklahoma today at 5 in Atlanta.

“Before he signed, that’s when they fired Bobby Knight,” Dr. Perry said. “He decided to stay anyway.

“He liked Ole Miss but they are a football school. They’ve made great strides in basketball the past two years, but if you want to go to one of the elite programs in basketball, it’s Indiana.”

Because of his college choice and instant success, Donald Perry is one of the most popular men in Tallulah.

“He could win right now, just put his name on the ballot,” McCall coach Mitchell Riggs said with a smile when asked if his prized pupil could run for mayor.

Perry, whose favorite sports movie is, not surprisingly, “Hoosiers,” started five games this season and averages 2.3 points in about 12 minutes per game. His role changed drastically this week when starting point guard Tom Coverdale went down with an ankle injury.

Perry may get the starting nod in the cavernous Georgia Dome with an expected crowd of 53,000.

“I try not to think about it,” Perry said from his Atlanta hotel on Wednesday night. “I’m just going to try to play like I’ve been playing.”

The Hoosiers won three national championships under Knight (1976, ’81 and ’87), but this will be their first trip to the Final Four since 1992.

“I’m really excited to play,” Perry said. “Right now, we are all relaxed.”

His choice to play at Indiana had plenty to do with tradition and atmosphere, his father said. After the team’s Elite Eight win over Kent State, more than 5,000 people greeted the team in the middle of the night.

The fans were so fired up, when Donald Perry tried to drive away, they began shaking and rattling his truck.

“You can’t describe it unless you go there,” said the elder Perry, who has made all of Indiana’s home games. “They have sold out for something like 19 years and they get 19,000 fans a game. It’s really like a religion.”

Hoosier-mania is slowly taking hold of Tallulah. Although Indiana clothes are hard to find so far from Bloomington, Ind., the Perrys have little trouble outfitting their guests.

Two Indiana flags adorn the entrance to the family’s luxurious house near the Tallulah Country Club. Inside the upstairs den, as Florence searches for an extra shirt for Riggs, one is quickly drawn to a full trophy case not Donald’s, but his sister Pashala’s.

She set the bar for Perry basketball success when she starred at McCall.

She was a three-time all-state player in high school, led her team to three state titles and earned a scholarship to Louisiana Tech in 1997.

As a freshman, she helped the Lady Techsters to the national championship game before losing to Tennessee.

“That’s so coincidental,” Dr. Perry said. “Her freshman year, they go to the Final Four and his freshman year they go to the Final Four.”

Pashala will join younger brother Jarrod and their parents in Atlanta for today’s national semifinal.

Last week, before Indiana played top-ranked Duke, many students told Florence Perry the Hoosiers had no chance.

“Before I left (for the Elite Eight), I got some negative feedback from some of my students,” Florence Perry said. “All the students kept saying (Louisiana native Chris) Duhon and (Jason) Williams are going to get DP. I can’t wait for school to start on Monday to rub it in their faces,” she added with a chuckle.

Monday?

That’s the national championship game.

“Oh, Tuesday,” Florence Perry said, catching herself. “I’m going to be in Atlanta Monday.”

She said several of the teachers and coaches have caught Hoosier-mania as well and it’s certain that the greater part of the basketball-loving Tallulah community will be glued to CBS today.

“Yeah, I’m gonna be at home watching,” said ex-teammate Tony Vaughn, a McCall junior. “I’m not surprised by it at all. I knew he was going to do what he’s doing.”

Vaughn was on the Dragons’ state championship team last season, a year that saw McCall race to a 36-2 record. On that team, Perry averaged 29.6 points, nine assists and 7.5 steals per game in earning Louisiana’s Mr. Basketball award.

“For him to go from his senior year and the state championship to the Final Four is amazing,” Riggs said. “And to come from a small community like he did Indiana’s campus is probably bigger than Tallulah is something.”

It’s hard for the Perrys to suppress their pride. Florence Perry wears a button with Donald’s picture on it that says, “My son is No. 12.”

But it also is hard for them to think of how quickly he has risen to starting point guard in the Final Four.

“I thought he would start, but I never thought it would be this soon,” Florence Perry said. “It’s a big thing for him, but he loves the game so much. I just hope he can stay focused.”

For Dr. Perry, visions of his son’s post-midnight pickup games are vivid.

Seeing his son on the college basketball world’s biggest stage is still a little mind-numbing, though.

“There is no way I would have thought that,” Dr. Perry said. “It’s just unbelievable that it has happened to him.

“I told him years and years ago that you have to be prepared, because you never know what’s going to happen.”

For mom, the thought of a national championship for her son is a bit overwhelming.

“I may pass out,” she said.