PANTHER PROFILE: Freshman Carson Perkins making an impact early

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Liberty Hill’s starting freshman point guard Carson Perkins (#5) locks in an opposing guard. According to Perkins, the Panthers’ defense needs to improve significantly in order to win a district title. (Alex Rubio Photo)

Liberty Hill’s starting freshman point guard Carson Perkins (#5) locks in an opposing guard. According to Perkins, the Panthers’ defense needs to improve significantly in order to win a district title. (Alex Rubio Photo)

By KEITH SPARKS

Search high school varsity basketball rosters across the country, and you’ll rarely find a freshman on the team. If you do, you’re even less likely to find one who’s starting. If you find a varsity basketball team starting a freshman, the chances that their freshman is the starting point guard, floor general, and on-court leader are even smaller.

The Panthers have just that in Carson Perkins.

The difference in talent and athleticism between the junior high and varsity levels is typically huge, which is why the vast majority of ninth graders are eased into varsity play by first playing for the freshman team, then the junior varsity before making the jump to varsity. Perkins, however, was fed to the wolves immediately.

Not only did he jump straight from Liberty Hill Junior High to playing for Head Coach Barry Boren on the high school’s varsity team, but he did it after missing virtually his entire eighth grade season with a broken collarbone.

“It’s tough,” Perkins said of coming back from his injury. “You’ve got to get back in the play of basketball. It’s really tough. I was kind of hesitant, but I’ve gotten over it. I think I’m more confident now, and I’m shooting the ball more.”

Coach Boren knew as soon as he saw Perkins at Liberty Hill’s basketball camp that he’d be playing above his grade level for a long time to come.

“When he was a seventh grader going into the eighth grade, he won every contest at our camp,” Boren said. “He was playing against kids that were going into the ninth grade. The Mikan drill, elbow jumpers, free throws; I mean, he won every single contest. He won the one-on-one competition playing against the older kids that are now starting for the JV. I knew he could play with them. I knew he could do it.”

Although Coach Boren has long known that Perkins would make an impact on the varsity team at some point, the plan was not for him to be the team’s starting point guard immediately.

Boren noted that ideally, Perkins would have had the opportunity to play at the JV level, or behind an older point guard, in order to ease him into his current role. Those plans changed, however, when he realized that starting Perkins gave his team the best chance to win.

“We were in a bind for a point guard this year,” Boren said. “For Carson, him playing varsity point guard has been out of necessity. We had to have somebody who could successfully get the ball from point A to point B, and he has shown himself to be the best guy at doing that.”

The biggest adjustment Perkins has had to make during his transition from junior high star to an underclassman on the varsity team has been grasping the concept of sharing the ball.

In junior high, Perkins was able to do essentially whatever he wanted. He scored at will, got into the paint at will, and his team’s best chance to win came with him scoring the ball, which is not necessarily the case at the varsity level.

“Having to be more of a team player,” Perkins said of his toughest adjustment thus far. “Passing the ball, giving it to other people and letting them score.”

Now that Perkins is hyper focused on getting his teammates involved, Coach Boren explained that the freshman point guard’s biggest roadblock is his hesitancy to stay aggressive as a scorer. That tentativeness, according to Coach Boren, is likely due to the fact that Perkins is still finding his role among the upperclassmen on the roster.

“He’s played this year like someone driving with their foot on the clutch,” Boren said. “It’s like he just won’t hit the accelerator. He’s riding the brake. He won’t turn it loose. That tentative play I think is in large part because he doesn’t want to step on anyone’s toes.”

Boren also said that the upperclassmen have nothing but love for their freshman point guard, and that the sentiment that he’d be stepping on anyone’s toes by being more aggressive is self-imposed.

“It’s not that those older guys have persecuted him or anything like that,” Boren said. “They love him, and they’ve said, ‘Shoot it, shoot it,’ but it’s just that fear of making a mistake.”

Perkins has the next three-plus years to learn the ins and outs of varsity basketball. Getting in the weight room during that time in order to compete with the upperclassmen in the paint, where the game becomes more physical, will be one of his main focuses.

“I think I need to get stronger,” Perkins said. “That’s the main thing.”

Over the next three years, Coach Boren expects that his young point guard’s natural progression will allow him take his game to the next level. A lot can happen, both mentally and physically, during the transition from ninth grade to senior year.

“He’s always been able to just do things so naturally and so easily,” Boren said. “He’s going to be a really good player. I think that when he grows, both in maturity and physically, he’s really going to be a force to be reckoned with. He’s got it all. He shoots it, he handles it, he sees the floor. He’s just got to have some time.”

While Perkins goes through some growing pains as a freshman, Boren can’t help but salivate at the prospect of his future.

“When he gets to be a senior playing against kids his age, it’ll be unfair,” Boren said, “because he’ll do whatever he wants to.”

Perkins hasn’t thought quite that far ahead, yet, instead focusing on the team’s current state. He mentioned improvement in their on-ball defense as the biggest factor in accomplishing his goal of winning a district title.

“I think we’re doing good,” Perkins said, “but we could play better…a lot better. We need to play better defense and work the ball on offense, pass the ball more. We’re doing a lot of defensive drills, moving your feet, staying in front of the ball, but I want to win district. That was the main thing. I think we can, but we have to beat Lampasas and Burnet, and we’ve got to play better defense.”

The Panthers begin the second half of their district season this Friday, Jan. 27, against the Ducks at Taylor High School at 6:30 p.m., followed by a home game against Salado next Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.

Sports@LHIndependent.com

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