The Super Pit is often dead silent other than the sound of a bounding ball when Tylor Perry arrives for his nightly routine. That’s the way the North Texas senior likes it as he starts firing off shots.
Perry doesn’t leave until he hits 400, including 100 free throws.
There’s no crowd. No cheers. Just Perry working on his craft.
“Being able to be in the gym by myself is a great feeling,” Perry said. “Any time I have the chance to do it, I will. It’s peaceful.”
Perry’s thoughts often drift back as he connects on one shot after another to a man who was one of his biggest influences in life.
Chad Whitfield was Perry’s older cousin, his coach and someone who offered a suggestion when he was in the third grade.
“Chad was the first person to tell me I could shoot 3s,” Perry said. “I was a driver and shot a lot of floaters.
“Ever since then, I took off.”
Perry has been burying 3s since guiding his high school team to the Oklahoma state tournament, his junior college team to a national title and UNT to the Conference USA regular season championship last year. He’s aiming for another milestone this week when the Mean Green play in the C-USA tournament at the Ford Center in Frisco.
UNT is the No. 2 seed in the 11-team event and will play in the winner of a game between Louisiana Tech and Florida International on Thursday night in the quarterfinals.
Before tipoff, Perry will think of Whitfield, who was shot and killed in 2012 in Fort Smith, Arkansas, at the age of 35.
Perry has come a long way since losing his cousin. He was named C-USA’s Player of the Year on Tuesday, which seemed like a foregone conclusion after he hit a host of clutch shots and guided UNT to a second-place finish in the regular season.
Perry ranks fourth in C-USA with an average of 17 points per game, despite playing for a defensively-oriented team. UNT averages 63.7 points per game, by far the lowest total in the league.
Perry is a well-rounded player, but there is little doubt the 3-point shooting ability Whitfield helped him develop all those years ago sets him apart.
Perry ranked 11th nationally in 3-point field goal percentage at 42.58 as of Tuesday night.
“There’s no question that Tylor is one of the better shooters in the country,” UNT coach Grant McCasland said. “He’s elite at scoring and doing it in high pressure moments. He has great touch and some God-given ability, but, boy, does he work hard to develop it.”
A basketball journey
Perry had plenty of mentors growing up. Jeffrey Simpson, another one of his cousins, played for UNT and is one of the greatest shot blockers in program history.
Whitfield served as Perry’s coach as well as a sounding board.
“Chad was a fun-loving guy and a basketball guru,” Perry said. “I looked up to him and took in everything he said to me. I remember I air-balled a free throw once. He made me run for an hour straight in practice the next day.
“He helped get me my start.”
Whitfield didn’t have the opportunity to see Perry grow into a college player and capitalize on his potential. He was shot in his home.
Losing Whitfield was difficult for Perry, but it didn’t prevent him from capitalizing on his cousin’s advice when it came to his basketball career.
Perry has kept shooting 3s and making a name for himself. He made a step-back, buzzer-beating 3 to lift Spiro past Sequoyah-Tahlequah in the quarterfinals of the Oklahoma Class 3A state high school basketball tournament in 2019.
Perry landed at Coffeyville largely because he’s just 5-foot-11 and lacks the elite athleticism college programs look for. He kept hitting big shot after big shot anyway.
Perry averaged 16.2 points per game in the NJCAA national tournament as a sophomore and was named the tournament’s MVP. His options weren’t nearly as abundant as one would assume after displaying the shooting ability that has made him an elite player everywhere he has ever been.
“Shooting is what Tylor has done his whole life,” McCasland said. “He’s committed himself to it since he was a little kid. When you are that committed, all you need is opportunity. That’s the one thing at his size that has been the most difficult, getting the chance to show that he can do it.”
These days McCasland often hears from college coaches who say that they believed Perry would be good at the college level only to qualify their comments.
Some were hesitant about his size. Others with his lack of elite athleticism. Many had reservations on both fronts.
Perry continues to prove those doubters wrong and has won the respect of coaches and teammates alike.
“In the biggest moments, we give Tylor the ball and let him figure it out,” UNT forward Abou Ousmane said. “It’s been amazing to have him these last couple of years. He makes games easy for us and saves us from a lot of disappointments.”
The big shots Perry has hit over the last two years have quickly stacked up. He made five shots in the final four seconds to win or tie games last season, when he hit game-winning 3s to lift UNT past UAB and Louisiana Tech.
Perry hit his game-winner against UAB over 6-foot-11 center Trey Jemison. He has just enough wiggle to find the space he needs to get a perimeter shot off.
Perry’s success goes back to a truth in basketball, one he picked up on while developing under Whitfield.
“You can play anywhere if you can shoot the ball and stretch the floor,” Perry said. “I have been blessed with the ability to shoot and to be in a program that likes me to shoot.”
Working to perfect his craft
McCasland and UNT’s players say there is a whole lot more to Perry’s success than just natural ability and opportunity.
There might not be a player who works harder on the team.
“Tylor’s definitely the best all-around shooter I have played with,” said Tyree Eady, UNT’s sixth-year senior guard. “If you come to practice and see him work, you can see why he’s that good.”
Shooting shot after shot is a big part of Perry’s success, but it’s not the only way he prepares himself.
“An underrated part of it is Tylor’s conditioning,” McCasland said. “When you attract the attention he does and combine it with the way we play defense, it takes a lot. He has dedicated himself to eating better and getting sleep. There is a lot that goes into it to be able to do what he does at the end of games. He prepares in the little areas that give him an edge.”
McCasland can see the difference that work makes. He’s coached players over the years who have believed in their abilities but lacked the work ethic to perfect their skills. Others have had the work ethic but not the belief.
Perry is one of the rare players who has both.
He’s been working to develop that combination ever since Whitfield encouraged him to begin developing his 3-point shot all those years ago.
“I take so much pride in my shot and my work outside of practice,” Perry said. “I have always been told that if you put the work in, the results will happen. I have continued to work on my game and my shot throughout the years and stay in my routine through the down nights.
“You just have to keep shooting.”
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