Virginia vs. Wake Forest: London Perrantes brings ‘that Cali swag’ to the Cavaliers


“He’s just a cool, calm individual. He knows how to play ball,” Akil Mitchell said of freshman teammate London Perrantes, above, who came to Virginia all the way from Southern California. (Steve Helber/AP)

Virginia freshman London Perrantes’s path to Charlottesville began with a phone call from a former Washington State place kicker.

Nico Grasu first heard about Perrantes in 2009, when Grasu was still in Pullman, Wash., and his younger brother played alongside Perrantes on Crespi Carmelite High’s state championship basketball team in Southern California.

Once Grasu’s college kicking career ended a year later, he landed back at Crespi as a special teams coach on the football team and was able to watch Perrantes, now a star as a junior, on the hardwood. Soon, he picked up the phone to call Virginia Coach Tony Bennett, formerly of Washington State, about a point guard who might interest him.

“I was really close with a lot of his players [at Washington State]. When I saw this kid, I was like, ‘He’s just like these guys,’ ” Grasu said in a telephone interview. “He was in love with the game and he was in love with getting better, and I think that’s what Coach Bennett is about. They aren’t always the most talented kids by nature, but they just maximize all their ability, and I feel like London had always done that.”

Bennett recounted the story this week with a laugh because it all worked out so well.

Following Grasu’s call, Bennett dispatched associate head coach Ritchie McKay across the country to scout Perrantes. “I guess they fell in love with him,” Grasu said.

Though Perrantes has been shuttled in and out of the starting lineup recently, the native of Santa Monica, Calif., had a breakthrough moment in Virginia’s win at Florida State on Saturday, scoring a career-high 14 points and committing zero turnovers over 35 minutes. Only guard Malcolm Brogdon has played more minutes than Perrantes this year for Virginia (10-4, 1-0 ACC), which hosts Wake Forest (11-3, 1-0) on Wednesday night.

But it’s rare that a Los Angeles area prospect comes all the way to Virginia for college basketball, and even more odd that it’s one who dreamed all along of playing on the East Coast and in the ACC like Perrantes did. The Cavaliers, though, were the only Division I program east of Illinois that offered him a scholarship.

“Coach Bennett’s always had faith in me and he listens to me,” Perrantes said. “He’s definitely harder on the point guards, and I knew that coming here. That’s one of the reasons I came, because he was a point guard at the highest level.”

Perrantes’s basketball career started at age 5 when he first put a ball in his hands, and he idolized Magic Johnson.

It wasn’t long before Perrantes and his two best friends began spending many of their days riding bikes to the plethora of pickup basketball courts in Santa Monica and nearby Venice Beach to face men more twice their age. Perrantes was always the point guard.

“It’s just that California thing. You get that from movies like ‘White Men Can’t Jump.’ You can just find any place to play basketball because the weather is so nice all the time,” Perrantes said.

“I’ve been playing with adults my whole life, basically. You weren’t gonna blow by them. You weren’t gonna out-muscle them. So you had to find different ways to get your shot and get other people involved and be creative. It definitely helps me now because people are gonna be bigger than me. People are gonna be quicker, stronger than me. But you just got to find a way to do what you want to do and not have them dictate what I’m gonna do.”

Virginia’s coaches have noticed after mistakenly thinking Perrantes was being lackadaisical in his efforts. Forward Akil Mitchell referred to his style of play as “That Cali swag,” marveling at the poise with which the 6-foot-2 Perrantes has played as a freshman.

“He’s just a cool, calm individual. He knows how to play ball,” Mitchell added. “He’s not super athletic, he’s a decent shooter, but he doesn’t let anybody speed him up, and that’s the best thing about his offensive game and the best thing about him being a point guard for us. He sets the tone.”

Perrantes is averaging 3.1 assists and just 1.1 turnovers per game so far and finally found his shooting touch in the Cavaliers’ road win over the Seminoles. He hit 3 of 5 three-point attempts, including two right after standout guard Joe Harris left the game early in the first half with a concussion.

Perrantes is still shooting just 27.6 percent and averaging 4.5 points. He finished his high school career as Crespi High’s all-time leader in scoring and assists, averaging 19.9 points as a senior.

“I know his percentages don’t show it, but he’s a capable shooter,” Bennett said Saturday. “And his ability to play without a turnover — against length, athleticism — was impressive. . . . It was a great start for him for his first ACC game.”

Being so far from their son has been rough on Perrantes’s parents. They surprised him by traveling to Charlottesville for his college debut and drove 25 hours to Corpus Christi, Tex. — Virginia’s closest road trip to the West Coast — when the Cavaliers played there in a tournament over Thanksgiving weekend.

But Perrantes is already comfortable enough with his standing on the team to take Harris aside to remind him he tends to force the action too much when his shot isn’t falling. Harris said after Virginia’s loss to No. 4 Wisconsin earlier this year that he took no offense because “when London talks, guys listen.”

“I feel like they’ve responded to me well because of that Cali cool,” Perrantes said. “I’m laid back, but I also know what I’m doing.”

Mark Giannotto covers Virginia and Virginia Tech for The Washington Post.
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