Perez-Laham gets the point for HPU men
Getting the word in early January that he was going to be High Point University’s primary option at point guard, freshman Jorge Perez-Laham knew the challenge that awaited.
“The starting point guard (Dejuan McGaughty) went down and I hadn’t been getting a lot of minutes,” Perez-Laham said earlier this week. “So I had to mature real quick, I think coach trusted me and thought I could do the job.’
He has done the job well enough for the Panthers to win 12 of the 14 games since, win the regular season and earn a bye into the Big South Conference tournament quarterfinals, where they will face at Winthrop at noon at Coastal Carolina’s HTC Center near Conway, S.C.
“He’s a guy who can find people,” HPU coach Scott Cherry said. “Point-guard play is huge and for him to do the things that he’s done — make open shots and break down the defense and get to the rim — we wouldn’t be in this position for it weren’t for him and a lot of guys.”
He got the call when McGaughy broke his hand in practice in mid-January, just after the Panthers had dropped to 0-2 in the Big South with a 81-72 nationally televised loss to Radford.
When looking at his options, Cherry determined that Puerto Rico native Perez-Laham, just months out of high school in Miami, was the only alternative.
“I told Perez-Laham, ‘You’re the point guard. I’ve got nobody else. So you are going to stay in the game and we’re going to play through your mistakes.” We gave him an opportunity and he took advantage.”
Cherry stressed from the beginning that Perez-Laham’s main job was to get the ball to Big South Conference player of the year John Brown in the paint, and to shooters Devante Wallace, Adam Weary, Lorenzo Cugini and Adam Weary on the wings. The third option was for Perez-Laham to go to the basket.
“There was a confidence in him there from the beginning,” Cherry said. “John felt good about Jorge and we knew he was talented. He just needed the reassurance that ‘hey, you are going to make mistakes and we’re going to live with it.’
“But he came from being the primary scorer to a guy trying to find the primary scorers. It’s been an adjustment period for him. But he’s started looking and making plays for John. Even the mistakes he made, like trying to throw a home-run pass, he was still trying to be aggressive and trying to the get the ball to the right people.”
The positives have outweighed the negatives for the most part. Since becoming starter at point guard, he has averaged 5.2 assists and 1.4 turnovers per game.
“Coach knew I was scared of doing things because I was going to come out of I made a mistake,” Perez-Laham said. “When I began starting, he said ‘if you make a turnover, you are not going to come out, You can play with a lot of confidence.’ So that took a lot of pressure off me. It helped a lot.
“Getting better was all about experience, playing more and more, and getting used to the team. They helped by talking to me and telling me what to do. It got to the point that I felt that I was their leader.”
Cherry made it easier for Perez-Laham by calling offense sets from the sidelines.
“I came up with putting the plays on a white board,” Cherry said. “I said, ‘We’ve got a freshman point guard and he’s never had to do this in his life. I’ve got to make it easier on him So, why don’t I make the calls and put it on the board for him so he doesn’t have to verbalize it and he’s not under pressure while trying to make a play call.’”
Perez-Lahan’s quick development, which includes a 12-assist, no-turnover outing against Presbyterian, is impressing Brown.
“Jorge relaxed knowing that he wasn’t coming out,” Brown said. “He just played. If he made mistakes, we encouraged him and tried to teach him on how to get better and he he did.
“He gets the ball to everybody. It’s amazing to see him develop in this amount of time, He adjusted better than thought he would. I’m very proud of him.”
Notes: Behind 26 points from Brown and 15 from Weary, the Panthers edged Winthrop 65-64 in their only meeting this season. . .Winner plays Radford or UNC Asheville on Saturday at noon. . .Winthrop is No. 4 seed from the South division and defeated Liberty 77-65 in the first round. . .HPU is seeking its sixth straight win over the Eagles.