London Perrantes is 'Cali cool' in steering the Virginia Cavaliers' offense

The football player had a good eye for basketball talent.

That's how London Perrantes, from Encino Crespi High, became the point guard for one of college basketball's best teams — located 2,500 miles away at Virginia.

The football player was Nico Grasu, who was the placekicker for Washington State when Virginia Coach Tony Bennett was guiding the Cougars.

Grasu watched a fair share of Bennett-coached teams win more than a fair share of games at Washington State, so he knew a player who fit Bennett's system when he saw one. And when he went to a Crespi basketball game to watch a younger brother, Grasu saw such a player in Perrantes.

Perrantes wasn't superior athletically, but he was smart. He wasn't Steph Curry, but he could shoot. He saw the court well and distributed crisp passes. He was calm, patient. He looked like a Bennett player might look in high school.

So Grasu found the coach's number and dialed.

"I watched you guys play a lot over my years," Grasu told Bennett. "This guy fits."

Grasu's call split the uprights. Perrantes describes his time at Virginia as "a dream come true." The junior has helped guide Virginia — the top-seeded team in the NCAA tournament's Midwest Regional — to a regional semifinal. The Cavaliers (28-7) will play Iowa State (23-11) on Friday at the United Center in Chicago.

Perrantes and the Cavaliers are an ideal match of substance over flash.

Since Bennett arrived on campus, Virginia has operated like a well-oiled machine. Its offense is in the nation's top 10 in efficiency. Its defense is in the top five. The style is methodical and precise — think the opposite of USC Coach Andy Enfield's "Dunk City" improvisation.

Detractors accuse Virginia of playing boring basketball. No team operates at a slower tempo, with the Cavaliers' average possession lasting more than 20 seconds, according to basketball statistician Ken Pomeroy.

Supporters see beauty in the division of tasks and faithful execution.

Bennett is known for adopting the pack-line defense pioneered by his father, longtime college coach Dick Bennett, but the offense has caught up. This season, it has at times been explosive, as it was in a comeback victory over Butler in a second-round NCAA game when the Cavaliers scored on all but eight second-half possessions.

On the court, Perrantes arranges it all like the conductor of a languid symphony. Some coaches initially confused Perrantes' deliberate style as laziness. They eventually learned he was not slacking, just being meticulous. His arrival made the Virginia offense click. Bennett said Perrantes "tied it all together."

"He just stirred the pot," Bennett said. "He made everything kind of work out. He got guys the ball. He understood it."

Teammate Anthony Gill, said Perrantes sees the floor like no one else and can make quick adjustments. Perrantes, Gill said, is "never rushed. He's always under control."

"He's Cali cool," Gill added, laughing.

Perrantes has said his calculated style formed during a childhood in Santa Monica when he scoured beach-side courts for good competition. In an interview with the Washington Post, he compared his experience to the movie 'White Men Can't Jump.'

Often, the best players were grown men, so Perrantes discovered ways to control the game other than with athleticism.

"There can't be too many better than him, shoulders up," said Russell White, Perrantes' coach at Crespi. "It got to the point when he was a senior, I barely coached him anymore."

White said Perrantes wasn't a natural scorer. He averaged fewer than 20 points per game until his senior season, when "I basically made him shoot the ball," White said.

Perrantes traced a similar trajectory at Virginia, where his scoring average inched from 5.5 points when he was a freshman to 6.4 last season before a bump to 10.9 this season as he learned to find his own shots.

Perrantes never drew interest from UCLA, though he said recently he would've considered the Bruins for their proximity to home. He turned down an offer from USC after Kevin O'Neill was fired as coach.

Virginia rarely recruits California prospects but Bennett took a chance, he said, because "I really thought Virginia could draw nationally."

Perrantes said the Virginia snow required an adjustment, as did the lack of In-N-Out Burger. Once, during his freshman season, an opposing crowd taunted him by chanting "cargo pants."

"People don't wear that out here," Perrantes said. "I stopped wearing it."

In Raleigh, for the NCAA tournament's first- and second-round games, Perrantes' entire family made the trip. He said it was the first time everyone had come at once to see him. The distance can make that difficult.

Teammate Evan Nolte said he feels bad for Perrantes during short breaks. Half of his time is spent on airplanes, shuttling to Los Angeles.

It is the one time Perrantes is in a hurry.

Follow Zach Helfand on Twitter @zhelfand

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
A version of this article appeared in print on March 23, 2016, in the Sports section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "Cavalier control - Crespi product Perrantes guides Virginia with a calculated style, displaying what a teammate calls `Cali cool'" — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
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