Gonzaga has established its men’s basketball team as one of the premier programs in the NCAA, in big part due to their strong recruiting pipeline both nationally and internationally. As far reaching as their recruiting has become, some of their best and most valuable players come from inside the state of Washington. First team All-American Corey Kispert of Edmonds further cemented that fact, this season; additionally, another valuable player on this year’s team, sophomore Anton Watson, played four years at Gonzaga Prep in the Zags’ backyard. Kaden Perry out of Battle Ground High School (WA) is likely to add to Gonzaga’s in-state success rate as he gets to campus in the fall as part of the 2021 recruiting class.
At 6’8+ with a college-ready frame that should add quite a bit more muscle once he’s exposed to a college strength program, Perry brings above the rim explosive athleticism. He should be a factor as a rebounder immediately, while bringing timing as a rim protector and some versatility as an interior defender, as well. A skilled passer and finisher near the basket, the intangible things you can’t help but notice when you watch Perry play are his attitude and communication skills. His intensity and motor on the floor is often infectious and he certainly has potential in terms of continuing to add to his budding offensive arsenal.
A relatively last-minute addition to the 2019 USA Basketball October minicamp, Perry impressed and has shown enough improvement to garner the recognition of being named as a 2021 Nike Hoop Summit USA team honoree. While the event will not be taking place this year, it is still a great honor and shows that the work he has been putting in is being noticed. Player development has been an absolute calling card for Gonzaga and with Kaden Perry, they have a top-level athlete who is willing to work and learn. This projects as another win for Gonzaga, which should help maintain their perch toward the top of the national landscape.
In this interview, we discuss the latest with Kaden Perry’s season and development, his response to his selection to the Nike Hoop Summit, his take on his place in the rankings, how he feels about Gonzaga’s past season, what might happen with the rest of their 2021 recruitment, and much more.
For the next installment of the Pro Insight Q&A series, we present 2021 prospect Kaden Perry, from Battle Ground, Washington:
PI: Since our last interview together last spring, how has your game developed?
KP: Confidence. I’ve always been confident in the post and I feel like if I get the ball in the paint I’m going to be the best guy and no one’s stopping me, but recently with COVID, I’ve been working a lot on my shot. Now when I catch the ball on the court I just feel like I can do anything, from anywhere. I’ve just skyrocketed with my confidence on the court.
PI: Where do you still need to make the biggest strides before stepping onto the floor in The Kennel?
KP: Honestly, I think everything can improve. I don’t want to sell myself short — I still think I’m a great player — but with the way that the Zags are playing right now (note: interview was filmed after Gonzaga’s Elite 8 win), I just want to keep elevating everything. I don’t want to settle in any category. I just want to keep being the best player I can be and be ready for Mark Few when I get there.
PI: You recently received a pretty big honor in being named to the 2021 Nike Hoop Summit USA Team. How does that feel?
KP: It’s honestly amazing. I was added to the JNT minicamp roster last second in 2019, only getting a couple days notice. So to be a part of the USA team now is truly incredible. It really adds on to my confidence as a player and I just want to keep building on it until college.
PI: How would you personally define ‘confidence?’
KP: Just my ability to play my game. My freshman year, I was terrified to put the ball on the court! I’d only dribble once or twice and it’d be for a spin move. So, seeing the player I am from there to now, where I’ll even take the ball up the court if I need to — my ability to play the game the way I know how to play it and do what I know I need to do. That’s how I’d describe my confidence [on the court].
PI: Do you feel like you’re underrated nationally in the 2021 class?
KP: I don’t want to say ‘underrated’ because I’ve gotten attention. I don’t think I’m super well known, but I’m not even really big on rankings, or anything. I think when people see me play, people take notice. So I’m not super worried about it. People will know once I get where I’m going.
PI: What is your take on ‘rankings’ in general? Are they important?
KP: I think rankings are important. I know I have guys ahead of me that I want to beat ‘em...I want to be number-one. So I think they’re good for competition. It pushes a lot of guys...and that might be all they push for...they aren’t super important to me. I haven’t always had the opportunity to be in the spotlight, but I’m gifted with what I was given and I’ve gotten the attention I needed to get to Gonzaga, so, yeah.
PI: What are your hopes and expectations going into your delayed senior season with Battle Ground?
KP: Honestly, I just want to seem like a different player when I step onto the court. I hit zero threes last season. I was ‘0-for’ a decent amount of three-pointers. But I’m shooting with confidence, now. I want people to see me on the three-point line and just be like “oh, let him shoot,” and then I just hit three or four of them in their face and then make them respect me from the perimeter.
PI: When you guys are in the gym together, what’s the one thing you hear Coach [Manny] Melo tell you most often while he’s coaching you up?
KP: There’s a lot of things that he says to me [laughs]. If I had to say one thing, though, I’d say “focus.” That just kind of rounds up everything he says. I mean, there are times where I’m tired in a workout and he’ll just tell me to focus, tighten up, go a little harder. He knows the way that I shoot when I get lackadaisical and my body’s getting tired, so he’s there to snap be back into focus and correct those little things that are affecting my shot.
PI: You played a handful of tournaments and events with Seattle Rotary throughout COVID. What was that like?
KP: I mean, that was awesome...you know, playing with Paolo [Banchero] and all them. I had always heard of Paolo, but for a while all I knew about him was that he was the guy that was above me [in the rankings] in Washington. I used to be like “maybe I’ll pass him!” But, playing with him, he’s a different type of player than me, he’s earned everything that he’s gotten. When we had Nolan [Hickman] and all these other high-level guys, we were a good squad! It was awesome to go and play against a higher level of competition and even playing a different role. I feel like with Rotary I’m more of a defensive guy — I don’t have to worry about being the guy that has to get the ball and score every time. I can get the ball and just kick it out or whatever and go to work on the defensive end. So it’s awesome to see how my game changes and how I’m able to adapt to playing with higher level players like I’ll be seeing in college.
PI: Have you watched much Gonzaga basketball this season?
KP: Oh yeah, of course! It’s been really exciting. I’m pretty sure [Jalen] Suggs will be one-and-done, but it’d be awesome to play with him. I know we just got Hunter [Sallis], so we’ll have a fill-in if Suggs ends up going [laughs]. But I just think it’s awesome to see the motor they play with...I love watching them play. I wish I was out there. I’m honestly a little bit jealous of my friend Ben Gregg who was lucky enough to be up there and go be with the guys up there early...so there’s a little bit of jealousy with all of it [laughs] but I’m super excited and can’t wait to be part of the program.
PI: How do you feel you’ll fit into their schemes next year?
KP: Looking at them play, I know they love running the floor...and that’s part of what I’ve always been known for is my motor and being able to run and push through that tiredness and be athletic. So I think I’ll blend in really well with that. I’ve been compared to Brandon Clarke quite a bit, so hopefully I can try and fill a similar role to him.
PI: In your opinion, what makes the Gonzaga program so special?
KP: I think they’re all just a really closely-knit group. Even when I took my official visit, I could see how close everyone was to each other. Drew Timme ended up showing me around and stuff like that...and I think I heard [Corey] Kispert say this, but they play for each other. I don’t think there’s one selfish guy on the court. Everyone kicks it out, everyone plays for everyone...it’s a team game and they play it really well.
PI: What type of role do you feel you’ll be able to fill for them, next season?
KP: Everyone hopes to start. I’m not sure how that’s going to look like, depending on who stays and who goes. I mean, I hope to just make an impact every time I get in. Even if it’s the last two minutes of a [blowout] game...maybe not offensively, but just be the guy that goes for that super high up block, just showing my energy and intensity and hopefully I earn my spot.
PI: They just picked up a big commitment from five-star prospect Hunter Sallis. Any other available players out there you hope they can sign?
KP: I mean I think every Zags fan is hoping for Chet [Holmgren] to come on over. I mean that’s no secret [laughs], everyone wants him! That’d be awesome. We already have a dominant team and I think if we added Chet to to whoever stays or goes from this year, that’d be a pretty damn solid team, as well!
PI: How do you feel like you and Chet would complement each other on the court?
KP: I think really well. I played with Chet at USA Basketball [Junior National Team minicamp], and he’s just an animal. He can play both inside and outside. So I think it’d just be really nice to have that dynamic — just switching back and forth and keeping the defense on their toes, allowing us to get the mismatch.
PI: Any idea on what you’d like to study, there?
KP: Right now, I’m just planning on going for my business major. I haven’t thought too much about it, I mean it’s always subject to change. Up to this point, I’ve always just been focusing on basketball. Maybe I’ll focus a lot more on school once I get up there, since they have a great educational program. I know they’ll be able to help me plan for life after basketball.
PI: If you weren’t pursuing a career in basketball, what would you do for a career?
KP: I mean everyone wants to go pro and play in the NBA. If I’m thinking of anything else...I’ve always loved the game of basketball, so I’d like to stick around, even if it’s not being a pro player. Just being around athletes, maybe being a coach somewhere — I’d hate for it not to be a part of my life. So I’d like to stay around the game and share the knowledge I’ve gained.
PI: What’s your biggest pet peeve?
KP: [laughs] One thing that really gets on my nerves is really obvious questions…I don’t really know how to explain it, but like, if someone asks me something [where the answer is] that’s just like right in front of their face, it drives me crazy [laughs]. I have a really close friend that just does that all the time and I get on him sometimes, I feel bad, but, yeah [laughs].
PI: What would you say is the smartest purchase you’ve ever made?
KP: I’m not very smart with my money, I’m not even going to lie. Probably my Xbox, I’m not even going to lie! When I’m not on the court and I’m all beat up, I’m at home playing Xbox [laughs].
PI: Which games are you getting into on Xbox?
KP: I’ve been playing classics, like Halo. My friends have been trying to get me to play Minecraft, even though I haven’t played that game in forever. A real variety, really...I’m a man of the people, so whatever my friends want to migrate to is normally what I stick to.
PI: If you were forced to choose just one type of food to eat for every meal for the rest of your life, what would you choose?
KP: Panda Express, baby! Anything at Panda.
PI: You’re down with anything on the menu there? KP: I love Panda. I think there was a point where I was getting it every day after school. I’ve been trying to maybe see if somehow I can get a sponsorship! Naw, I’m kidding. That’s also a little inside joke I have with Manny [Melo, the Battle Ground High School Head Coach]. I probably have like sixty dollars worth of Panda Express gift cards on me right now, cause of my birthday and everything. So, I like it a decent amount [laughs].
PI: Last time we chatted, you mentioned how much your mom and brother mean to you. Can you expand a little bit more on your family dynamic and why they’re so important?
KP: Yeah, I mean, my mom’s always been a big part of my life. She got really sick a couple years ago, and so that changed my family dynamic a lot. It was just me and my brother and my dad...and I don’t have the best relationship with my dad, so mostly it just felt like me and my brother. He [dad] was gone all the time. So, I went from seeing my mom every day — and I’m kind of a mama’s boy — so we didn’t have her here for like a year, cause she was in the hospital. She came home, but she has limited mobility from being paralyzed...it’s brought us all a lot closer — me and my brother, I feel like we’ve really matured from that. And then my brother, he was my best friend growing up. My family’s always been close, and because of unfortunate circumstances with my mom, it sucks, but we’ve gotten even closer. I love my family — there’s no secret about that.
PI: How old is your little brother? KP: [Shouts over to his brother] Kyren, how old are you, I don’t remember? 16, there you go!
PI: Does he hoop, as well?
KP: No, he does not. He’s a big gamer, though.
PI: Who’s getting more kills in Halo?
KP: Probably Kyren. I mean, he has a lot more free time, he’s not going out to those early morning workouts like I am, so he’s pent up in his room just grinding [laughs].
PI: Despite picking up quite a bit of noteriery the last year or two, you seem to have kept a pretty small circle. Can you speak to that? Was that pretty intentional?
KP: Yeah, it has been really intentional. I’ve always been told, even from Gonzaga, “keep your circle small.” You know, there’s a lot of people that want to have a piece of what you’re getting. A bunch of the people that I’m really close with, we’ve been close way before anyone knew me for basketball. Most of my friends have known me since fifth grade, or whatever. I don’t feel like they’re friends with me because of basketball, I don’t feel like I only got their attention for that. So, keeping my circle small has been really great for me. I don’t feel like I have to worry about people being fake, or whatever — it’s really nice.
PI: Aside from family members and coaches, who’s someone else that you really look up to?
KP: That’s a really tough one. Honestly, I’m not even sure if I can really answer that, because a bunch of my life has just been with family and coaches...and I’ve always looked up to them. I mean, Coach Manny for example — my dad is not really my favorite person or whatever and he was a real deterrent for basketball for me. There was a point where I almost quit playing basketball because my dad was so hard on me and he didn’t make it fun. So, playing in high school for Coach Manny, he’s part of the reason why I love basketball. He’s exciting, he’s one of the younger guys — he almost feels like a player-coach. He’s always joking around. But, yeah, that’s really hard for me [to answer] because family and coaches have been really what’s got me to where I am. And they’re honestly the people I look up to, so I’m not sure if I can really answer that.
PI: Lastly, what can Zags fans expect to see from you and the team next season?
KP: A lot of energy, baby! I love the energy the Zags play with. I love the excitement of the fans, and all that. I want to try and capture that. I want to try and be one of those energy guys that’s running up and down the floor. That’s one thing I’ll make sure I’m a part of. If I’m missing buckets or a guy gets by me, I’m making sure that on the next play I’m going 100% — I’m going to make something happen.
Watch the full interview with Kaden, here