Perry expected to inject Upstate with major dose of positive energy
By Cierra Mills
Kyle Perry dropped interim from his title and signed on Friday as the new head men’s basketball coach at USC Upstate. The announcement was made at the Hodge Center with the basketball team, athletic and administration officials and Spartans supporters attending.
Perry’s son, Kolton, presented his dad with a basketball dated to mark Perry’s first day as head coach.
Perry begins his ninth year at Upstate as the ninth head coach of the University’s men’s basketball program. The Spartans open their season at Minnesota in just three weeks (Nov. 10). “I’m sure I will have a lot of butterflies. I think I will be ready,” Perry said.
Eddie Payne announced his retirement as practice began, Oct. 3, and Perry was given the interim title. That lasted 17 days.
“We were attempting to inject USC Upstate athletics with a major dose of positive energy at a quicker pace,” Chancellor Brendan Kelly said. “That’s what we’re trying to create, a sense of positive momentum.”
Athletic Director Julio Freire said Perry was given a five-year contract, salary undisclosed, after receiving support throughout the University, alumni and Spartan supporters.
The length of the contract was as important to Freire as the continuity of the basketball program. “If you give (Perry) a two-year contract he would not have a chance to recruit,” Freire said. “Everybody who is recruiting against him will say ‘you’re not even going to be there when you’re a junior.’ You’re handcuffing him.”
Perry said he was appreciative of all his family, administration, and staff for helping him accomplish a network where he can serve as a caring mentor to students to ultimately obtain their degrees and move on to better lives.
Special thanks were given to Payne. “Fundamentals and being prepared on a daily basis are two of the biggest things I learned from Coach Payne,” Perry said. “He was a footprint in my coaching career. He taught me how to run a program the right way and to care about the kids.”
Perry said he’s looking forward to the challenge. “I think where I can go with it, and see what I can do with (head coach) is challenging.
“I know it’s going to be a process, pushing our kids to a level they have never been to and figuring how to do that and work my way forward,” Perry said. “It’s a challenge and will be a learning curve, so to speak, but I’m excited for the challenge.”
Friday’s announcement calmed some of the players’ anxiety.
Mike Cunningham, a junior, is the top returning scorer for Upstate and is a preseason all-Sun Conference, described Perry as being a young (39), active, and aggressive coach. Cunningham said he’s looking forward to his goal of making the NCAA tournament, and winning the Atlantic Sun Championship.
Those are also among Perry’s stated goals for the team. Eight players return from a team that won 17 games last season and went 7-7 in the Atlantic Sun Conference.
Perry said several players have been asking what is going on. “I didn’t have a lot of answers for them. I just told them we are just going to stay the course and continue doing what we are doing. That’s why I was so appreciative that those kids continued to practice hard. I told them we will continue to move forward but also coach them.”
Freire described criteria that Perry checked all the boxes. “The first one is always non-negotiable, impeccable character,” Freire said. The others are relentless recruiter, developer of the student athletes, a master coach, and a great fit for Spartan Nation.
A master coach, according to Freire, is “Somebody who knows when to call a timeout. Why you call a timeout. Someone who can out-coach the opposition. I assure you that in every sport there a certain number of games that will be won or lost on the decisions a coach makes and does not make. The margin is so slim in Division I that we would rather have a coach that can lead us to victory.”
Cierra Mills, Erika Hollis, and Frances Julian contributed to this report.