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Journeyman Jose Perez breathes life into ASU's offense

The Sun Devils have been looking for a go-to scorer and may have found their man in graduate transfer Jose Perez

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ASU graduate student guard Jose Perez (12) goes for a layup at Desert Financial Arena on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2023, in Tempe. ASU won 71-69.

Graduate transfer Jose Perez is the epitome of a journeyman. His six-year college career has included pit stops in the mid-majors and a 10-game stint in the Big East. He now hopes Tempe is the last and most meaningful stop.

Perez earned his last chance at a Power Five program thanks to his mid-range scoring potential and unselfish ball handling. ASU head coach Bobby Hurley will trust him to breathe life into a lackluster offense.

There were a lot of unknowns heading into the fall for Hurley. He didn't know how his transfers would gel together, what his team's identity would be, or how they would stack up against non-conference opponents. 

The Sun Devils' first five games of the season have answered some of those questions. Hurley has been impressed by how his transfers have played, but the team has struggled against respectable opponents mostly due to its lackluster offense.

Statistically, things are not looking good for the Sun Devils. The team is ranked 329th in the NCAA in effective field goal percentage, 332nd in free throw percentage, and 285th in bench points out of 351 programs. ASU certainly has the talent in players like junior guards Frankie Collins and Jamiya Neal, but their production alone is not enough to support a well-rounded offense. 

The poor play warrants concern for the season, but Perez is a glimmer of hope. Well before the season, Hurley had already compiled a talented group of 10 mostly young newcomers. It seemed like Hurley had everything he needed for the season, but he wasn’t done yet.

Perez was still at West Virginia by the time the other newcomers were already on campus. Yet, Hurley seemed to see potential in him as a lifeline for his untested offense, and Perez was ready for the opportunity. 

"The transition has been really good," Perez said. "I took my visit here and enjoyed it. I had a scheduled visit to go to Ole Miss but canceled it because I fell in love with coach Hurley right away."

Perez was well acquainted with the portal and coaches' pitches well before coming to Tempe. He started his college career at Gardner-Webb University where he averaged 15 points per game for two seasons. Perez then made a huge leap from a Big South school to Marquette, which is in the Big East.

Unfortunately for him, Perez saw his time on the court dwindle at Marquette as he only appeared in 10 games all season. The Golden Eagles already had two talented guards in the starting lineup, not leaving much playing time for the transfer.

Perez once again went looking for greener grass in the portal. The New Yorker decided to return home to Manhattan College in the Bronx. 

Even years later, much of Perez's offensive potential is based on his breakout 2021-22 season at Manhattan. That year, he saw the most action of his career and led Manhattan in points, field goals, free throws, assists, and minutes. Perez excelled as an inside-the-arc scorer who takes most of his looks near the free-throw line and in the paint. He thinks his team-leading play and veteran presence is why Hurley gave him the call.

"He needed a veteran guy to just come in," Perez said. "He needed facilitating, he needed scoring, and I feel like that's something over my college career that I've done at a very high level, and then get it to the free throw line.”

Yet, Perez’s prospect on a Power Five roster was far from guaranteed after he left Manhattan. At West Virginia, his fourth college in five years, Perez never hit the court because the NCAA denied his waiver, and was only enrolled for the spring semester. 

It was a gamble to go after Perez, but so far it has paid off so far this season. Perez is currently averaging 9.6 points and 4.6 rebounds per game. He’s already become a consistent starter for Hurley and is doing everything he can to improve his play.

"I just took the role where if I say something, they're gonna listen and they tell me something, just taking constructive criticism at some point," Perez said. "We all ride with it. We all look out for one another on and off the court."

Perez’s new role comes in ASU’s new-look offense. So far Hurley has drawn up plays with three guards on the court with Perez, joined by Collins and Neal. The three-guard group gives ASU flexibility on the court, but it takes time to mesh three different styles of play into one offense.

"There's always, you know, role allocation and trying to adjust to a guy that plays a little differently," Hurley said. "Like his style of basketball isn't the same as like Frankie and Jamiya."

Neal and Perez bring some height to the guard-heavy lineup, measuring at 6-feet-6-inches tall and 6-feet-5-inches tall, respectively. Perez uses his height to his advantage by fighting toward closer mid-range shots where he can drain floaters and earn trips to the line. 

On paper, Collins and Neal are one and two in scoring and have both attempted 53 field goals. Perez is averaging just 1.2 points less than Neal even though he’s attempted 19 fewer total shots and 21 fewer threes than his teammate. 

The odd trend exists because he has attempted a team-leading 33 free throws this season. Historically he’s never been perfect at the line, with just a 74.5% career free-throw percentage. He’s already third in team scoring but could climb higher in those rankings if he can start knocking down more free throws.

ASU's offense is still inefficient, but Perez is showing promise as a  distributor. Hurley said that Perez understands spacing on the floor and can dish it out when opponents trap him in the post. Collins may be the man at the point with 16 assists, but Perez is not far behind with 14 of his own. 

"He's a willing passer, so I think that helps a lot," graduate forward Alonzo Gaffney said. "When he first came in, we had probably one of our best passing practices. So all credit to him for that so he helps our team a lot."

His teammates believe he's already great, but Perez knows he's got more in the tank. He has been off and on so far and struggled to score sometimes like when he scored just three points against BYU. Nonetheless, he is still coming off a year in which he never played and believes he’ll get better soon.

"It is what it is," Perez said. "I'm here now, and I’ll knock it off. I feel like it's a good step in the right direction."

Edited by Vinny DeAngelis, Angelina Steel, Grace Copperthite and Shane Brennan.

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