By Carter Chapley
St. Louis, MO
At the very beginning of the 2018-2019 season, Travis Ford spoke about one of his transfers saying that it would take till about February or even March before he would be playing his best basketball. That transfer happened to be a graduate transfer and only had that year to play, but he closed his college career on a high note. Tramaine Isabell Jr was slow throughout the season, but late in the year found his role and understanding of Billiken basketball and turned it on, all the way to an A-10 Championship, an A-10 Tournament MVP, and a shot in the NBA Summer League.
The moral of this story is that even for talented, experienced, and high ceiling players it takes some time to adapt to a new team, and for some guys a new caliber of league or division. Javonte Perkins is an excellent example of this type of player.
Coming into SLU billed as a prolific scorer, one of the best in the country at the Junior College ranks, the talk around Perkins being answer to the Billikens offensive needs was abundant. Especially for a team that graduated so much of its scoring, having an older guy step in to fill the role felt more secure than a freshman. He was third in the nation in scoring in the NJCAA at Southwestern Illinois. Billiken alumni and G-League Star Javon Bess called him the best scorer on the team when they worked out together in the preseason. It seemed that the team that lost all of its offense (that already struggled to points on the board) found its sleeper recruit.
But the year did not start with that breakout offensive star. Through the first 6 games of the season Perkins averaged just 5.8 points and had a varying number of minutes, playing 22 minutes against Seton Hall but just 3 against Valparaiso. It wasn’t until the Billikens went to Boston College where Javonte made a long-term mark on the game, playing 32 minutes, and then had his breakout performance in their next matchup with Southern Illinois Carbondale when he scored a team high 18 points.
Part of Javonte’s increased role in the team comes from a further understanding of team defense, a vital point for anyone who wishes to play for Travis Ford. Javonte says that while he was in JUCO he didn’t really prioritize defense but has since learned how vital it is. Not only for getting minutes on the court but also creating opportunities for himself and the team. Javonte has earned the right to play by being solid on defense, he has grown drastically in term of his basketball IQ under Travis Fords system and while he is not yet an elite defender, he does enough to hold his ground and help the team.
Becoming a more complete player certainly helps, but it’s clear why he’s out there and what the coaching staff wants him to do while he’s out there. “Coach Ford knows I’m a scorer, so he always tells me to go out there and look for ways to score.” Javonte has made other similar statements since starting his offensive tear, dating back to that Boston College game. The coaching staff has echoed the same sentiment. They want Javonte to be looking for ways to be creative on the floor and put the ball in the hoop.
What is encouraging about Javonte’s game now is that unlike the beginning of the season, Perkins looks comfortable and relaxed. He is starting to get a far better feel for the Division One game and how to use his skills best to accomplish his goals. “The game is a lot more physical, everything is faster up here” Javonte said about the differences between Junior College and Division One, “There are no real holes from other teams, everyone is good, so you can’t just go after one thing.” Javonte has now adapted to that pace of play and is regularly putting up 20 point in a night, using a combination of midrange jumpers, his length to create quality looks for himself on drives, and high-quality free throw shooting. Being effectively the best Billiken from the charity stripe knocking down 76% of attempts.
The St. Louis native is now third on the Billikens in scoring behind only the tandem of Jordan Goodwin and Hasahn French. Javonte chalks his improvement up to both increased confidence and being more comfortable on the court. “I (feel more comfortable) now yea. It’s like, we’ve now played against teams like Auburn and K-State, played the best of the best. So now it’s like, I’m here. We’ve played the best, we know we can do it, so now we just have to roll.”
The jump to Division One is not an easy one for anyone, and the Billikens are asking a lot from a guy who has only played 17 D1 games. The Billikens scoring options are limited as it is, and since losing a player like Gibson Jimerson the need for Javonte to be a scoring threat has only compounded. Both to get points on the board and be another player to guard. Opening up options for the rest of the team. He has shown an ability to take over the offense for long sequences and when he is attacking the rim, he is hard to stop and has the ability to create opportunities for his teammates.
Javonte is unlike other older transfers in that he will be with this team for two years. He has already developed so much since coming to SLU and he will have the opportunity to fine tune his game even more going into his senior season. In places where he struggles, like three-point shooting and facilitating more offense when he is being heavily guarded, he can grow and blossom even further. Just in time for a 2020-21 squad who could hypothetically compete on a more national stage.
Despite starting the season looking timid and unsure, Javonte Perkins has grown into a confident, assertive, and capable role player for SLU. He knows what he has to do out there, what is expected of him, and is showing signs of improvement with each passing experience. Javonte Perkins has adapted to his circumstance and overcome his obstacle all to the benefit of the Billikens. And considering all that has happened in just 17 games, the potential for the STL kid is sky high moving forward.