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The Underappreciated Greatness of London Perrantes

The soon-to-be winningest player in Virginia basketball history isn’t getting enough shine

(Getty Images/Ringer illustration)
(Getty Images/Ringer illustration)

In September 2012, a 6-foot, 170-pound point guard from Encino, California, whom rated as a three-star recruit committed to play basketball at the University of Virginia. Six months prior, the Cavaliers had completed head coach Tony Bennett’s third season with the program, which ended with a 22–10 record and a 26-point loss to Florida in the first round of the NCAA tournament. In July of that year, Virginia secured a commitment from Devon Hall, a 6-foot-5 point guard whom Rivals touted as a top-50 prospect in the 2014 class before he reclassified to the class of 2013. Taking all of this into account, it’s easy to understand if you don’t remember hearing about the commitment of the kid from Encino. Even the most passionate college basketball fans don’t care about three-star guys pledging to play for middling ACC teams, especially when a better player at the same position commits to the same school.

Almost four and a half years after the Encino player’s commitment, though, you may have heard his name. If the display copy and article photo didn’t give it away, I’ll spill the beans: He is London Perrantes, and he’s been Virginia’s starting point guard for all of what will soon become the winningest four-year stretch in the 112-year history of the program.

If you think that last sentence sounds shocking, you aren’t alone. Perrantes might not even rank among the five best players whom Bennett has coached at Virginia, let alone one of the greatest Cavaliers of all time. And yet, for those who have followed Virginia closely the past few years, Perrantes’s place in history shouldn’t come as a surprise. As Virginia fans have grown accustomed to Bennett’s unique system, Perrantes has grown with them, serving as an example of what a perfect point guard under Bennett can be. Why, then, in what’s become the year of the point guard in college basketball, is Perrantes so frequently overlooked?

Perrantes has been one of the more fascinating players in the nation over the past couple of years, mostly because you have to watch juuuuust the right amount of Virginia to fully appreciate him. If you ignore the Cavs and look only at box scores, nothing about him stands out. He averages 12.3 points, 3.7 assists, 3.2 rebounds, and 0.6 steals per game, which aren’t jaw-dropping numbers even after you factor in that Virginia plays at the slowest tempo in Division I. If you catch a Virginia game once every few weeks, you probably still haven’t been blown away.

This is a byproduct of Bennett’s brand of basketball. His defensive philosophy emphasizes challenging shots more than forcing turnovers, and thus doesn’t lend itself to impressive individual statistics. And unlike so many other coaches in America, Bennett doesn’t give his point guard 10,000 ball screens every offensive possession, nor does he ask his ball handlers to try to break down defenses in isolation situations. As a result, fans who are accustomed to seeing point guards like Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox, UCLA’s Lonzo Ball, North Carolina’s Joel Berry, and Gonzaga’s Nigel Williams-Goss single-handedly dice up defenses are likely left underwhelmed when Perrantes walks up the court, casually passes to a teammate, and then stands under the basket as he waits for a screen.

That sequence of events has become even more pronounced recently, but not for the reason you might think. It’s not that Bennett wants to take the ball out of Perrantes’s hands because he’s struggling; it’s that Perrantes has been too good when rotating to shooting guard to regularly play the point. Since the beginning of the Cavaliers’ conference schedule, he has shot an absurd 53.8 percent from beyond the arc and has scored 20-plus points in three of eight games. (Reminder: Scoring 20 for Virginia is like scoring 400 for any other team.) On Tuesday night at no. 14 Notre Dame, which entered the game atop the ACC, Perrantes went 5-for-8 from deep and led all scorers with 22 points in a 71–54 Cavs rout. Also worth noting about that game: Perrantes had zero assists.

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

This brings me back to the part about having to watch just the right amount of Virginia to appreciate Perrantes. If you watch too much, it can be frustrating to try to figure out what the hell he is. Sometimes he’s a traditional point guard who dictates tempo, runs the offense, and makes sure the ball gets to the man with the hot hand. Other times, like Tuesday, he’s a shooting guard who lets others bring the ball up the floor so he can do that thing where he lulls defenders to sleep by lethargically walking around before suddenly bursting off a screen for a catch-and-shoot 3. And sometimes he’s content to sort of just be out there, like he doesn’t see the point in making his presence felt if his teammates are taking care of business without him.

That last version of Perrantes is the one that’s driven me crazy over the years. It’s an admittedly dumb thing to get worked up about, especially since he rarely hurts Virginia when he’s on the court. Perrantes’s version of a bad game is typically one where he goes unnoticed. Given how many point guards have games where they go something like 3-for-15 with nine turnovers, that tendency may be worthy of praise.

Still, it’s been maddening to know what he’s capable of and then see him settle into the backseat. Last season he led the ACC in 3-point percentage (48.8) and averaged more than 33 minutes per game, yet also had seven outings in which he tallied five or fewer field goal attempts. Not included in that group is the quintessential passive Perrantes game: In a matchup at Duke last February, he played 39 minutes, went 3-for-6 from the field without shooting a 3, and had just two assists. Virginia lost 63–62 on a Grayson Allen trav — uh, buzzer-beater.

This approach may have been excusable for most of Perrantes’s career, when he had teammates like Joe Harris, Justin Anderson, Malcolm Brogdon, and Anthony Gill to lean on. But coming into his senior season, he had to be assertive for Virginia to have any hope of staying near the top of the ACC. To his credit, he’s risen to the challenge and is playing the best basketball of his career. In related news, Virginia is 16–3, riding a five-game winning streak, and ranked no. 12 in the AP poll.

Average point guards set up an offense, get the ball where it needs to go, and avoid making many mistakes. Good point guards find ways to put stress on a defense. And great point guards know how to create something out of nothing. Perrantes spent the past three seasons fluctuating between average and good before finally qualifying as great during these past few weeks. He’s become the perfect representation of the old-school approach to college basketball: He was a good-but-not-great recruit who worked his ass off and bought into the system from day one, waited his turn as he learned from the great players ahead of him, and then seized his opportunity when the moment came. With so much of the national discussion driven by mock drafts, tweetable highlights, and whatever the hell is going on at Duke, guys like Perrantes are important reminders of who truly makes up the backbone of this sport. I know it makes me sound like a crusty old man to say that, but it’s true.

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

And that’s why I think I’ll miss Perrantes when he graduates. He’s everything I love in a college player, which is to say that he’s a character I’ll never quite be able to figure out. He’s talented despite having obvious shortcomings (size, athleticism, etc.). He’s boring as hell, yet also has a ton of swagger. He can do anything a guard is asked to do on a basketball court, but he can never seem to do it all in the same game. He’s the best point guard who never makes “best point guard in America” lists; he’s the best senior who never makes “best senior in America” lists; and he’s on the best team that never gets mentioned as a national championship contender. He’s somehow so ordinary that he feels extraordinary.

Virginia lost its best player in more than 30 years (Brogdon) to graduation after last season, dismissed maybe its most talented player (Austin Nichols) following a violation of team rules in November, and has struggled to find consistent offense at times this season. But thanks to Perrantes, the team is still in the thick of the ACC race. For the Cavaliers, he has been a godsend.

Oh, and he’s also a four-year starting point guard on the verge of becoming the winningest player in Virginia basketball history. There’s that, too.