With Perez unable to provide help this season, Huggins bemoans NCAA ruling

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Only a few hours before the start of Wednesday’s game between West Virginia and Baylor, the Mountaineers got word Jose Perez is not eligible to play this season when his appeal for a waiver was denied by the NCAA Committee for Legislative Relief.

Perez, a 6-foot-5 guard, announced his intention to transfer to West Virginia days before the start of this season in the aftermath of Manhattan parting ways with then-head coach Steve Masiello on October 25.

Perez enrolled at WVU on November 17. West Virginia’s waiver request for him to be immediately eligible was denied on December 16. Though he was allowed to begin practicing with the team the next day, nearly a month later, Perez discovered the latest and last attempt for him to play this season wasn’t ruled in his favor.

After the Mountaineers suffered an 83-78 setback to the Bears that ensures they’ll enter the weekend one of two Big 12 teams without a league win, West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins offered some not so subtle thoughts on the matter.

“Extremely unfortunate,” Huggins said. “I don’t know the whys and wherefores. I know this — you’re talking about a kid who was a very good student in high school, who gave nobody problems or issues, who was recommended by his high school coach and was very well thought of in New York. Rick Pitino recommended him as a player and as a person. The truth of the matter is, and I’ll probably get in trouble for saying it, they don’t know what the hell they’re doing.” 

Perez, this season’s Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Preseason Player of the Year, had twice before been ruled immediately eligible upon transferring. He began his career at Gardner-Webb, where he spent two seasons, before the Bronx, N.Y., native moved on to Marquette. Following one season with the Golden Eagles, Perez went to Manhattan.

It’s rare for a player to be eligible to compete for two schools in the same season, though instances are few and far between of a coach being dismissed 13 days before the season opener, as was the case in the Jaspers’ firing of Masiello.

“I’m against anything that hurts young people and I’m against anything that takes away a chance for a young person to succeed in life,” Huggins said. “This guy is a good student. He’s a good kid. He’s a good guy. We’re not talking about bringing in Moses Malone. We’re talking about bringing in a kid who was a small college player. I don’t understand. I don’t know why very educated adults would come to that decision.”

Adding to the frustration level for Perez and those within the West Virginia program is that the Mountaineers will move forward without much explanation on the ruling, according to Huggins.

“I’ve been on virtually every committee there is and I still don’t understand,” he said. “I know for a fact that there are university presidents and athletic directors that don’t understand what they’re doing or agree with it, but what are you going to do? They are the boss. It’s like when you go to work and they tell you to do this and you need to do it or you’re in trouble.”

Perez would have been a welcomed addition for a West Virginia team looking for any spark to get its season moving in the right direction. After winning 10 of 12 non-conference games, the Mountaineers (10-6, 0-4) have lost four straight to begin Big 12 play. WVU and Texas Tech are the only Big 12 teams without a win in league play entering Saturday’s action.

The next opportunity comes that afternoon at Oklahoma when the Mountaineers try to end an 11-game Big 12 road losing streak dating back to February 2021.

WVU is shooting less than 38 percent in Big 12 play thus far, the lowest mark of any team in the conference. After mostly solid free-throw shooting throughout non-conference play, WVU has hit only 79-of-127 foul shots against Big 12 foes, causing its free-throw percentage to fall to 70.1 for the season — ninth among 10 conference teams.

Although Perez shot below 40 percent in three of his four previous seasons, he’s a career 75.1 percent free-throw shooter and hit better than 80 percent of his tries with the Jaspers while attempting 7.6 per game.

Suffice to say, a player who increased his career scoring average to 15.1 by averaging 18.9 points last season could have provided a big lift to a Mountaineer team in need of one. 

How much of an impact Perez would immediately make will never be known, but WVU’s starting backcourt of Kedrian Johnson and Erik Stevenson have combined to make only 19-of-75 shots against Big 12 play to this point, while Johnson is 2 for 25 and working his way back from a concussion.

Johnson, Stevenson and starting small forward Emmitt Matthews Jr. are the three West Virginia players without eligibility beyond this season.

Perez does have a full season of eligibility remaining should be opt to remain at West Virginia or in college.

“I think it would certainly be in his best interest, but I don’t know,” Huggins said. “I know he knows that the people of this university have done everything humanly possible to help him and has great appreciation for it. Put yourself in his shoes. Would you be upset? Of course, when you totally take away the game that you love. On top of all that, in this world, you’re going to have or at least try to have I don’t know how many people say, ‘Hey man, they didn’t take care of you, come over here and we’ll take care of you.’ It’s life and the way things work in this world. I just don’t want to be a part of that part of it.”

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