- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The text messages still come in waves.

Virginia freshman point guard London Perrantes is a long way from his native Santa Monica, Calif., where the weather is always fabulous and his friends back home wouldn’t let him forget it during his first year in snowy, freezing Charlottesville.

Those texts now say something different: Congratulations and keep making us proud.

Perrantes has become a steady, vital part of a Cavaliers team that has advanced to the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16 for the first time in 19 years. On Friday night at Madison Square Garden in New York, they will face Michigan State, the college team of Perrantes‘ boyhood hero, Magic Johnson.

It’s all part of the most memorable Virginia basketball season in a generation. The Cavaliers, expected to be a solid team, but nothing more, instead finished first in the ACC during the regular season, won the conference tournament for the first time in 38 years and earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

“It’s completely different [in Virginia],” Perrantes said. “But it’s good to see that they’re noticing what’s going on out here and it’s making them proud as well.”

That Perrantes is even part of this is a surprise. Not many California kids find their way to Charlottesville. It’s not like he was an unknown player. Perrantes was a consensus Top 100 recruit by national scouting sites like ESPN and he played at a prominent Catholic high school in Encino, Crespi Carmelite.

But after an early adjustment period, Perrantes has started 32 of 36 games and is third on the team in minutes played. He was instrumental in his team weathering a challenge from No. 16 seed Coastal Carolina in a second-round win last Friday and then the Cavaliers’ blowout victory over Memphis two days later.

“Once you’re on the floor you’re not a freshman any more,” redshirt sophomore guard Malcolm Brogdon said. “You’re part of the team. There is no classification. You play your role to the best of your ability…and if you don’t you’re time is gonna go down.”

Perrantes‘ time has only gone up in large part because he takes care of the basketball. He has good size, but he isn’t the biggest point guard around at 6-foot-2 and 189 pounds. He’s not a speed demon and yet was never rattled last weekend in the third round against Memphis’ quick guards.

Perrantes can shoot. He made 44 percent of his 3-pointers this season. But he didn’t take many, hitting 37 of just 84 attempts. Teammate Joe Harris made 70 alone. He’s an excellent free throw shooter (85.4 percent), but only got to the line 48 times.

But that 3.8-to-1.1 assists-to-turnovers ratio stands out. It was the second-best mark in the ACC for a player who wasn’t guaranteed a starting job when he arrived on campus. In 69 minutes over the weekend in Raleigh, Perrantes had eight assists and zero turnovers, handling Memphis’ quick guards and pressure defense like a senior.

“He doesn’t get sped up. It’s hard to speed him up regardless of how quick you might be up front or athletic, long, whatever,” Harris said. “London just has a good feel for the game. He understands what he needs to do and he doesn’t force things. He’s just a very heady player. “

Perrantes didn’t start two of the final three games before New Year’s Day, including a 35-point blowout loss at Tennessee. He hasn’t missed a start since. From a four-turnover game in a disappointing loss to VCU on Nov. 12, the freshman has had just four other games with three turnovers or more.

“He’s continued to improve. He’s looking to score a little more,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “Deceptively quick. Real important. He’s a true freshman. To see him in these settings have the composure and the poise he does is rather remarkable and I think we got a good one. I know we do. Everybody else is starting to see that.”

Now comes the biggest test of all on a national stage against a prominent program with one of the best backcourts in the country. Michigan State is a No. 4 seed, but is healthier now than it has been all season and is a trendy pick to win a national title. Can the California cool point guard from Santa Monica keep his poise one more weekend? The Cavaliers need him to if they want to take one more step towards the program’s first Final Four since 1984.

“[Friends] text me all the time saying it seems just like yesterday you were in class with me in high school,” Perrantes said. “It’s a crazy feeling for me, for everybody that supported me. It’s a crazy ride and I hope that it’s not stopping any time soon.”

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