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  • Writer's pictureTony Jimenez

Isaiah Perry Hopes His Game Sings in the Volunteer State

When he was a junior at Bolivar Central high school in Bolivar, Tenn., Isaiah Perry was a non-descript 5-11, 240-pounder who wasn’t very fast and not in the best basketball shape. He wasn’t even a member of his school’s varsity team, seeming more suited physically to play defense on the school’s football team.


But it doesn’t really matter because if he doesn’t cut it in collegiate basketball. He has plenty of other interests. He had a 3.5 grade point average in high school and has taken a liking to mechanical engineering. In other words, the kid is smart with a capital S.


Just as important, he has been a licensed minister since age 13 and a singer in the gospel group Fred Perry & 2nd Generation, which has taken him to “about 28 states” in the country, according to his mother Tonya. But he shot up to 6-foot-4 when he was a senior in high school and that spurt brought a future in hoops. When the not-so-tall varsity team wasn’t progressing as well as it could have, Perry joined and later moved into the starting lineup.


He helped his team eventually get to the state tournament. Not bad considering he was still figuring the game out. “He barely got playing time up until then,” said Tonya. “When he got in, people asked, ‘Who is he?’ and ‘Where has he been?’ I told him that whatever will be, will be.” Perry went on to have a fruitful campaign, averaging 8 points and 10 rebounds. And when the season was over, he contacted coaches in the area about playing hoops and about his future in the sport. “I wish I had played a lot more a lot sooner,” said Perry. “I could have done a lot better with more experience.”


In the last off-season Perry spent a good amount of his time contacting two- and four-year schools about his game; he occasionally got contacted by them. The only problem was that virtually all of them had him penciled in as a walk on.


A scholarship? Each school seemed to say, "Prove yourself first." How, he wondered, could he prove himself if he didn't play? Perry had other ideas. “I wanted to go to a school where I could play,” said Perry. “I wanted to go where I was needed and wanted.”


All of the ups and downs of the high school senior season made Perry write down his thoughts about his experiences in the sometimes daffy world of hoops. He started doing that last spring and hopes it culminates with a book this spring. Whatever the case, along the way he decided to attend Volunteer State, located in Gallatin, about 185 miles from his home. In the first month of the season Volunteer St. (3-7) has struggled with Perry coming off the bench. He has started one game but has played in all nine games and averages 5.2 points and 3.8 rebounds as of early December.


Volunteer St., with just one win and 14 losses last season, is far from a sexy name in the national juco ranks. It Isn't a Chipola, Fla., Coffeyville, Kans., Indian Hills, Iowa or South Plains, Texas.


Perry and Volunteer St. are going the juco route together with one hand tied behind their backs, so to speak. The school has no scholarships and no housing. All 15 players on the roster are from Tennessee – 12 within an hour’s drive of the campus with no player hailing from outside the state.


It plays in the 10-team Tennessee Athletic Association/Region 7 in the NJCAA with the likes of Walters St., Southwest Tennessee, and Columbia St. They're all good teams, so Volunteer St. has had to struggle each season just to get out of its region and move on to the NJCAA’s Big Show. The state of Tennessee has only won one National JC Athletic Association Tournament championship, Aquinas having turned the trick in 1991. “It bothers me not being at the (NJCAA) Tournament,” said Coach Rusty Melvin, who is beginning season 16 at Volunteer St. “After a game when people say we played well, especially against a ranked team, I appreciate that. But did we win?”


Still, whether Perry does well or not with his game on the floor, he can always come back to ministry and gospel singing, something he has done since he was about 3 years old, according to Tonya. “He’s been around it his whole life,” she said. “He has always loved to sing.”

The group, which signed its first national distribution deal with Central South Distribution out of Nashville, also includes Isaiah’s father Fred, 52, as the lead singer; Frederick, 29, who sings and plays the keyboard; Jacob Girley, a godson, 25, and a background singer; Jordan, 23, a background singer; and Isaiah. At age 15, according to Isaiah, he became even more of a key singer for the group, often tagged gospel’s The Jackson 5; Isaiah was in the Michael Jackson role.


“He has a high voice and he’s very noticeable,” said Tonya. “He’s gifted. When he opens his mouth to sing it gives you the chills.” The group has not been stopped by the pandemic. It's still traveling all over the USA performing, primarily in the south. “People know about Isaiah when we come to town,” said Tonya. “He’s a crowd favorite. The younger generation in particular loves him.”

The group won the Lisa Knowles' Evolution of Quartet Showcase in 2014, the Esther Wooten's Exclesisa Showcase in 2015, a Triangle Award in 2017 and was nominated for six Rhythm of Gospel Awards in 2016.


For now, Perry has his eyes laser-focused on hoops. Ditto for his heart and mind.


He is now all of 6-5, 240 pounds but wants to slim down to 225 pounds so he can be svelte both on the basketball floor and while singing on the stage. “That,” he said, “would be great for me in basketball in particular. It would help my quickness, for sure.” No matter what happens, Perry has a good future, says Coach Melvin of the under-sized post. “I saw some video of him while I was recruiting and he had a good outlet baseball-like pass up the floor,” said Melvin. “When Isaiah throws the long pass to mid-court I haven’t seen it thrown like that since the days of Wes Unseld. And he went after it on the offensive boards. His coach (Rick Rudesill) on the varsity team in high school says he made himself into a player. He hustles and thinks he can do it all. He says Isaiah will shock a lot of people.”


Perry, said Cameron Crisp, then an assistant coach at Bolivar Central, played a big role in any success he has had. Today Crisp is in his first season as the varsity head coach at Bolivar Central. He also played at Tennessee Tech and then professionally overseas, so he knows the game well. He worked with Perry mostly on his inside game but he worked on all aspects of the game with him after having, Crisp said, “a come-to-truth moment. It was his freshman season. One time he said, ‘I can’t do it.’ But I told him he had to get that word ‘can’t’ out of there. He had to work hard and he did. He turned himself into a player. And he has also turned himself into a gym rat.” That, in turn, has made him a player of note and a good teammate. “He never talks negative to a teammate,” said Crisp. “He’s a great overall kid. Basketball and having a tight-knit family like he does has done wonders for him.” And so what if he doesn’t make it in hoops? While the verdict is still out on him as a collegiate player he can do other things outside of basketball.


2021-22 THIRTEEN New Coaches

National JC Athletic Association


JUCO / New Coach / Former Coach

Arizona Western / Kyle Isaacs / Charles Harrell

Cowley, Kans. / Donnie Jackson / Tommy DeSalme

Daytona St., Fla. / Joey Cantens / Martin McCann

Garden City Kans. / Bill Morosco / Cole Dewey

Hutchinson, Kans. / Tommy DeSalme / Steve Eck

Lee, Texas / Nick Wade / Roy Champagne

Lincoln Trail, Ill. / Junsie Cotton / Luke Stuckey

Northern Oklahoma-Tonkawa / Brad Witherspoon / Donnie Jackson

Northwest Florida St. / Greg Heiar / Butch Pierre

Seward County, Kans. / Rylee Hernandez / Jason Sautter

Tallahassee, Fla. / Rick Cabrera / Zach Settembre

Triton, Ill. / John Clancy / Steve Christansen

Williston, N.D. / Shawn Neary / Rylee Hernandez

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