Asked to name the highlight of his basketball career, Jason Perez is immoderately, well, modest: "Being able to play Division I basketball. It was an accomplishment I wanted to do for a long time."
Perez did more than just play, of course. He was the Shockers’ best player from the day he stepped onto campus until the day he left, the four-year period from 1997-2000. He remains the program's all-time leader in steals and is sixth in points, landing him a spot in the Shocker Sports Hall of Fame earlier this year. He went on to play professionally in Europe for several years.
But Perez remembers how unlikely his story once seemed. As a high school star in San Antonio, he read in the local newspaper that few Hispanic players succeeded at the major college level.
"I didn't want to be another statistic," he said. "I wanted to be able to prove that wrong."
So he put in the work – with his parents’ help, he’s quick to add. “My parents supported me and everything I needed to do, traveling to out-of-state camps and tournaments.”
In accepting his Shocker Hall of Fame award (becoming the 27th player honored), Perez was similarly eager to share the glory with his teammates and coaches. Keep in mind that these were the not-so-great, pre-Turgeon and -Marshall years at WSU. Perez's teams twice finished under .500 and never played in the NCAA tournament.
Perez just kept playing as hard as he could in all phases of the game. As a senior, he average 20.2 points and seven rebounds a game, totaling 67 steals that year and 298 assists over his career.
He didn't make it to the NBA, but he did play professionally in Belgium and Germany, an experience he treasures.
“I've seen more of Europe than some people do in their lifetime,” he said. “I don't take that for granted.”
These days, Perez is working on a new highlight in his basketball career: that of mentor to younger players.
Four years ago, he started Next Level Hoops Academy, designed to help basketball players reach their potential, whatever that might be.
The academy has led a somewhat nomadic existence, moving from gym to gym, but this month it's taking a big step to a permanent home.
The new academy, opening Nov. 15, is located at 5260 N. Toler Drive in Bel Aire. The 50,000-square-foot facility has six basketball courts, with hoops that descend from the ceiling at the touch of a button, and plenty more besides. There are eight volleyball courts, a concession area and retail store, conference room, offices and two tenants – Blue Chip Spine physical therapy and Pureformance, which specializes in strength and conditioning.
"We're all working together as one" to offer a comprehensive training facility, Perez said.
Perez directs the boys basketball operation. Gayla Soyez, a former Kansas State standout and coach at Friends, runs the girls’ side. The ICT Mavs volleyball team is using the volleyball facility.
Perez believes sports offer important lessons for youth.
“Communication, you're going to need that in your career,” he said. “Work ethic, you've gotta be self disciplined, able to set goals, have good working habits. You've got to be a team player."
Maybe most important is "having a positive attitude,” Perez said. “It's life; things are going to happen. Adversity is going to happen. It's what you do when adversity happens – that's what's going to define you."
The Perez File
• Three-time All-Missouri Valley player
• Runner-up for Valley player of the year in 2000
• Shocker career leader in steals – 222
• Sixth on Shocker list in points – 1,839
• Only four-time Wichita Eagle MVP winner
• Two-time Cessna Classic MVP