Coach inspires players to higher education
“Basketball is not a game, it’s a lifestyle,” said Charles “Poncho” Perry, 39, head of West Coast Academy Basketball in an interview with The Sentinel.
“Our program uses basketball as a pipeline for inner-city youth to get to college. We stress self-discipline, education, family values and a belief in God (to our players),” said Perry, founder of the youth and college West Coast Academy programs.
This co-ed, yearlong basketball program, was founded by Ron Nota who named Perry head of the program seven years ago. West Coast Academy teams play local teams, but they also journey to the east coast, and southern states to improve their game. Next year, they hope to travel to Europe and China to broaden their horizons and test their abilities.
“We started off with nine high school players, and each year since then we have grown 100 percent by just using word of mouth as our only advertising piece,” said Perry. “We have an added component of diversity within our program with players from all backgrounds and cultures and we use [that as a learning tool] for the players to learn about those who are different from themselves”.
Perry, a graduate of Washington High School, has been a student of the sport his entire life. “My dad coached NBA legends during summer leagues and my brothers and I would watch these guys in person. Basketball was our babysitter. Our dad would take us to the gym and we would stay there for hours because that’s what we loved”. Perry turned his passion into a basketball scholarship to San Jose State and later played overseas. He credits his time spent away from home as the most influential time in his life.
“I grew up around Crenshaw High [School] and at the time L.A. Gangs were just starting, but basketball kept me off the street. That’s what I try to stress to my kids, ‘If I can, you can’”. One of Perry’s players took his words to heart. “Patrick Rembert, a kid who I had coached since middle school, was one of the original guys who helped us start the program. He maintained his grades and continued to develop his skills, now he plays for UC Irvine. Seeing him play on television is one of the biggest joys I’ve had thus far”.
West Coast Academy currently boasts seventeen teams with players ranging from 3-years-old to sophomores in college. Tryouts are not held for a player to be placed on a team, but the philosophy of passion and dedication is instilled into every participant. On a typical day, players will have morning conditioning, and learn about nutrition and wellness. Practice is at least three times a day so that the player can hone their skills. “[In other sports], a player’s weaknesses can be hidden, you can’t hide in basketball,” said Perry. “I made my two eldest boys stop playing because they weren’t serious enough about it. Now they play football, but the difference is that they’re passionate about it”.
Perry attributes his motivation to several NBA players who mentored him during his own childhood. “John Williams, Marcus Johnson, Robert Smith, Darwin Cooke, Wally Rank, Jose Slaughter, Larry Springs, Mike McGhee, and Ozel Jones (deceased); they taught me their work ethic and what I shouldn’t do, and these were extremely humble men who played in the NBA and here they were talking to me”.
When asked about a toddler’s participation in such a rigorous program, Perry responded, “As long as they have advanced motor skills, and show some type of physical activity, be it jumping on the couch, we can teach them how to play basketball. They are sponges at that age and as long as it’s repetitive, they will learn it”.
“It’s not about playing in the NBA, its about achieving an education,” said Perry. Russell Otis, the Head Coach at Dominguez High School, former coach of Tayshawn Prince & Tyson Chandler, is a prominent coach who makes himself accessible to the program’s players. “Our program is housed at Dominguez. Russell loves the kids and supports us. I believe that if you keep [the players] in successful surroundings, it will breed success [in them]”.
Perry lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Latrice and three sons. For more information on West Coast Academy Basketball, please visit wcahoops.com, or email