With his business degree from Bentley College in hand, Jack Perri headed for New York City. Like so many of his college classmates, he went there looking for a job, going on interviews and passing around his résumé.
But unlike his Bentley classmates who settled into the business world, Perri quickly discovered that was not for him.
“I went on a couple of interviews and I realized that wearing a suit was not for me,” said the former Manalapan High School basketball standout.
So while other young college graduates were getting their start in business, Perri was working at basketball camps that summer and hoping to be asked to join someone’s coaching staff as an assistant.
The prospects were not bright at the time, but 14 years later, his decision to bypass a career in business has taken on a whole new meaning.
Earlier this year, Perri was introduced as the head men’s basketball coach at Long Island University, Brooklyn, N.Y. He will coach the NCAA Division I Blackbirds beginning in the 2012-13 season. He has come a long way since working his first summer hoop camp.
“I am truly thrilled,” Perri said of his new position. “It’s a great opportunity. I want to keep [the program] going at a high level and build upon what we have accomplished.”
LIU has won back-to-back Northeast Conference titles and will return most of the players from last year’s 25-9 team, including the NEC Player of the Year, Julian Boyd.
“The expectations will be high,” said Perri. “We have a good group. They are excited, and the carrot is that three in a row has never been done in this league.”
Perri, who has been a head coach in the past, said his biggest challenge will not be running the day-to-day operation or making pre-game preparations.
His biggest challenge will be the gameday decisions. Assistant coaches make suggestions, but it is the head coach who makes the decisions during a game and takes the heat if plays don’t work and gets credit when they do. The head coach is answerable for everything that happens during a game.
Over the past few seasons, the Blackbirds have been one of the NCAA’s top offensive teams, averaging better than 80 points per game, and Perri does not expect that to change.
“We’ll push the ball up the court,” he said. “We have a lot of versatility.” The Blackbirds’ 80-plus points per game belies the focus the team puts on defense, which is something Perri will continue to stress.
“We tell our players to do the things you can control, play hard and physical and don’t foul,” he said. “There is a method to guarding without fouling.”
The team’s focus on playing tight defense but not fouling has helped the Blackbirds average more free throws taken per game than their opponents and is one of the keys to their becoming an NEC power.
Much of LIU’s offense is predicated on scoring points off turnovers and also on getting second-chance opportunities on offensive rebounds. Rebounding is very important to the Blackbirds, and Perri said rebounding is about discipline.
While he has a ready-made team for the 2012-13 season, Perri will need to continue to bring talented players to the Brooklyn campus. He has six scholarships available for 2013-14. Any successful coach has to be a good recruiter, and Perri, in his previous role as an assistant coach, has had plenty of practice.
“I enjoy evaluating kids,” he said.
The Blackbirds’ new head coach spent part of July in Texas scouting would-be prospects. LIU has established a connection to Texas that has proved to be very beneficial to the program.
“Texas has been a good pipeline for us,” Perri said. “There are so many good players, and the level of talent is getting higher each year. They are excited about [coming to] New York City.”
Boyd, a 6-7 forward, is from San Antonio, as are guards Jason Brickman and Brandon Thompson. Brickman was an All- NEC selection with Boyd last winter.
Perri looks for local talent as well. Last year’s roster included players from the Bronx, N.Y., Bay Shore, N.Y., and Marlboro (Kurt Joseph).
“We still try and recruit New York and local kids,” he said.
Perri believes LIU’s location is a major recruiting asset.
“There is no question that New York [City] is a selling point,” he said. “There are so many things happening. Brooklyn, the downtown area there, is hot and booming. The area is great.”
The Barclays Center (new home of the Brooklyn Nets), which is a stone’s throw from the LIU campus, is another plus when it comes to recruiting players, since Perri can point out that several home games will be played in an NBA arena. The Blackbirds will be playing four games a year at the new building.
LIU will open its 2012-13 season in the Barclays Center Classic on Nov. 9. Kentucky will play Maryland in the first game and LIU will meet Morehead State University in the second game.
The coaching journey that brought Perri to LIU began at the end of his junior year at Bentley when he injured his knee.
Bentley coach Jay Lawson and his staff decided it was in Perri’s best interest for him to sit out his senior year as a redshirt rather than try to come back too quickly and taking the chance of doing further damager to the knee.
The coaches’ decision left the sharpshooting Perri with a lot of time on his hands, which he did not waste.
“I was around the coaches a lot and I watched them,” he said. “It [coaching] was something I could see myself doing.”
Perri had no illusions that it was easy.
“I saw all the hard work,” he said.
Perri came back for his final season of eligibility at Bentley. During his four years, Bentley had a winning record every season and he was a two-time team captain. Perri graduated from the Waltham, Mass., school in 1998.
After his very brief foray into the business world, Perri went looking for an assistant coach’s position and got his first break that summer when a spot opened up on Lawson’s staff at Bentley.
“He [Lawson] was short a full-time assistant,” Perri said. “I got a break. At 23, I was a full-time assistant responsible for recruiting and academics.”
It was a lot of responsibility early, but it was also excellent preparation.
Perri spent six years with Lawson before deciding it was time to move on. He left Bentley to become the head coach at NCAA Division III Rhode Island College. He led his team to an Eastern College Athletic Conference co-championship and a 20-win season and was voted the league’s Coach of the Year.
The next year, Jim Ferry, who had recruited Perri to Bentley and was the assistant coach Perri eventually replaced at his alma mater, asked him to join his staff at LIU.
Over seven seasons, Ferry and Perri led the Blackbirds to a renaissance as LIU became the dominant team in the Northeast Conference over the last two years and earned consecutive bids to the NCAA Tournament.
Perri was the associate head coach over the previous five years.
When Ferry left for Duquesne University following the 2011-12 season, Perri was the logical choice to become the Blackbirds’ head coach.
“We are very fortunate to have someone on staff with such tremendous experience and success throughout his career,” LIU Athletic Director John Suarez said of Perri. “I have complete faith that Jack will continue to bring the Blackbirds to new heights.”
Perri’s new position helped bring him home. Perri and his wife, Julie, have two sons, Sean Patrick and Jackson Richard. They had been living in a two-bedroom apartment near the LIU campus, but with a growing family, it was time to look for a house. The Perri family ended up in Manalapan.
Perri fondly remembers his days in Manalapan. It is where “my obsession with basketball started at a young age.”
His dedication allowed him to overcome exercise-induced asthma and to become one of the Shore Conference’s premier players while he was a member of the Manalapan Braves. He scored more than 1,200 points in high school.
“Coach [Dennis] Simpson was a great coach,” Perri said of the man who led the Braves. “He is very near and dear to me. He prepared me well for college.”