Holes in the wall

Senior forward Nick Perkins learning to mature

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For most high schoolers, the idea of having to share a room with someone can be daunting. For Nick Perkins, having just one roommate is a relief.

The senior forward grew up in Ypsilanti, Michigan with seven siblings. He has three brothers and four sisters. Perkins is the middle child, a position in families that is often overlooked.

Perkins is also overlooked on the court. He has started just 32 of his 105 career games. Last season, Perkins started 10 games only because of Ikenna Smart’s injury. 

In his time coming off the bench, he has won the Mid-American Conference Six Man of the Year award twice. He was the first to ever do so. 

Perkins never would have won those awards if not for his change in maturity.

“I think my whole life I have been overlooked. It's something I'm used to,” Perkins said. “It's not something that overwhelms me. It's something I take pride in, it drives me to be better and better every year.”

Entering his final season, Perkins will not be the starter again.

Perkins has done everything the coaches have asked of him and been better than most expected him to be. Despite that, senior forward Montell McRae started at center in each of the Bulls opening two games.

During his freshman year, Perkins would not have been able to understand the decision made. He was goofy, immature and not ready to handle his emotions on his own.

Even now, Perkins still has his flare ups. Practices are ultra-competitive, according to head coach Nate Oats and occasionally Perkins will have to deal with his anger.

“We had to call him out, he needed to grow up,” Oats said. “He needed to take life seriously and take the game serious. The game can give back a lot to Nick. He has a body that most people in the world don't have to play this game. If you realize you respect the game and take the game seriously, the game is going to turn around and help you out a lot.”

By ninth grade, Nick was 6-foot-7.

Perkins is officially listed at 6 feet 8 inches tall and 250 pounds. In the past year, he has worked on cutting weight and turning it into more muscle. 

The only problem with being that tall so young, is Perkins did not understand his size. He was a known troublemaker in middle school. He was ineligible to play basketball during the sixth and seventh grades because of maturity issues.

This led to difficulty at home.

Perkins was frustrated, basketball was his outlet and without it, he wasn’t sure what to do. He and his brothers would get in fights. Occasionally, they would punch holes in the wall.

“That’s where I learned how to throw these hands,” Perkins joked.

Nick was the seventh child and by that time his mother had already seen it all. There was nothing she couldn’t handle at that point, according to Perkins.

Perkins admits to not being the best child and says the worst thing he ever did was start throwing plates and put holes in the walls at home.

“I didn't grow up in the household with the most money,” Perkins said. “But when I found basketball I was able to get my mind off of what was going on at home. Basketball really saved me.”

Perkins was good enough to get multiple scholarship offers out of high school. He ultimately decided on Buffalo over his hometown school of Eastern Michigan because he felt he had to grow as a person.

Perkins roomed with senior guard CJ Massinburg their freshman year. Perkins refers to him as an “old man” and claims he hasn’t changed since their first year together.

The competitive spirit and fighting attitude was apparent in Perkins’ first two years. 

Perkins wore number 34 in high school and wanted to continue wearing the number in college. 

Unfortunately for him, Smart was already wearing it. He challenged Smart to a one-on-one game for the number, but Smart never took it. He was scared, Perkins said.

Even while just relaxing, Perkins would walk up with his hands up, ready to play fight, Massinburg reminisced. The two did everything together and Perkins made him a lot tougher.

“He's always been hard on me, always been physical with me,” Massinburg said. “We still have the same friendship, still have each other's back. [He’s] been there when nobody else was there.”

Massinburg and Perkins have accomplished more for the Buffalo men’s basketball program than anyone else in school history. They already have two MAC Championships and an NCAA-tournament win to their resume. 

None of it would have been possible if Perkins did not grow up.

“He’s emotional and a little immature, a few anger management issues in practice, in the games too to be honest with you,” Oats said. “I don't think he’s a bad kid, he’s someone who has had to go through a few things. He’s been getting counseling and help on how to get his emotions more in check.”

Still, Perkins has a desire to be in the starting lineup.

“The six man role is good but you do have to be like, ‘Man, when am I going to finally get my break,’” Perkins said.

All Perkins wanted to do was make the biggest impact he could his freshman year. Three years later, he knows that basketball is less about his own stats. With the seniors that Buffalo has, Perkins is happy to sacrifice for the betterment of the team.

Perkins name won’t be in the starting lineup announcements this year. It’s not the situation he thought he would end up in, but he knows it’s where he belongs.

“He's always genuine,” Oats said. “He's a smart kid that's able to understand what you're trying to tell him. He usually initiates conversations when they have to be had or any type of issue. He's a mature kid now who has grown up a lot and I'm excited to see where it takes him.”

Nathaniel Mendelson is the sports editor and can be reached at nathaniel.mendelson@ubspectrum.com and on Twitter @NateMendelson