By BOB CONDOTTA
The News Tribune
The News Tribune
Like many college students during finals week, University of Washington senior forward Will Perkins has had a lot of all-nighters lately.
His, though, have had a little different spin than most of his classmates.
As Perkins explains, his 16-month old daughter, Jada, has been teething the past few days “and waking up and crying a lot at night.”
There’s no sense of exasperation in Perkins’ voice as he talks. Just pride in how his daughter is growing and how he is growing with her.
“It’s forced me to mature,” Perkins said of getting married and starting a family shortly before arriving at the UW in the fall of 1999. “It’s forced me to be a more responsible person. I’m responsible not only for myself but also for her and for the type of person she is going to grow up to be, and that’s important to me.”
As important, he says, as anything he is doing on the basketball court where he has emerged as Washington’s leading scorer (14.8 points per game) and rebounder (9.0) in his second year after transferring from Iowa Western Community College.
Basketball, though, isn’t unimportant to Perkins as it was the thing that often afforded him some solace during an often trying road to manhood in Omaha, Neb. Perkins never knew his father and his mother, Darnesha Clark, has been in trouble with the law several times. She is currently finishing a 5-7 year jail term for premeditated assault in York, Neb.
Perkins said when times grew the toughest, he often turned to basketball.
“Whenever I was playing basketball, I was always having fun,” he said. “That was my way to get away from everything in life.”
It was on the court where he made a friend, Joe Chambers, who invited Perkins to live with him and his family – his father, Ward Chambers, is a cardiologist in Omaha – on a 700-acre ranch outside of town. But only on the condition that Perkins follow the rules of the household.
“I learned a lot of things from them as far as the things that a man should do,” Perkins said. “Growing up with a woman sometimes can’t teach you a lot of the things that a man can. When you’re 17 years old, it’s hard to get rid of all of your bad habits. But I learned a lot from Ward.”
Among those lessons was figuring out what basketball could do for his future. Perkins hadn’t always been a great basketball player. In fact, he was cut from his eighth-grade team at a time when he was about a foot shorter than the 6 feet 8 inches he currently stands.
But Perkins grew quickly while in high school and by his sophomore year he was already a budding star at Omaha South High. He hadn’t paid as much attention to academics early in his high school career, however, which forced him to attend Iowa Western JC, roughly 20 minutes from downtown Omaha.
It was there, during his freshman year, that he met his future wife, Terenza, who played on the women’s team. The two were married in the summer of 1999.
By then, Perkins was already on his way to Washington, deciding to use his basketball skills to see another part of the country.
Last year, though, turned into a bigger adjustment than he thought. He struggled with the rigors of big-time college athletics being used mostly off the bench at the end of the season, though he still ranked as the team’s leading rebounder (5.9 per game).
Perkins stayed in Seattle over the summer, with his wife working to support the family, and said he worked on regaining confidence in his game.
So far, so good. Through six games, Perkins has four double-doubles, meaning he reached double figures in points and rebounds, something no Husky accomplished even once last season.
UW head coach Bob Bender said he now considers Perkins the team’s main go-to player, adding that the team needs to begin running more plays for Perkins beginning with tonight’s game at Florida International in Miami.
“We’ve got to get him the ball,” Bender said.
This season, though, could be it for Perkins and basketball. He’s not sure he wants to go overseas or trudge through the minor leagues, which would either force him to uproot his family at a moment’s notice or be away from them.
Instead, he’s on track to graduate this spring in sociology. His far-out dream isn’t the NBA, but law school.
“It hasn’t been the easiest path for him but he has never allowed it to be a negative or wanted people to feel sorry for him,” Bender said. “He’s handled everything with such an air of responsibility. He knows there’s a lot of people depending on him.”
That includes his mother, who could be released from prison in February, which might allow her to see her son play college basketball for the first time.
Until then, having Jada in the stands is enough.
“She cheers for me and claps even though I don’t think she really knows what’s going on,” Perkins said. “When I come home, she gives me a big hug, and that’s kind of nice.”
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