Playing for ‘The Competition’ is the best decision for Nelly Perry
Another year, another graduate transfer for South Carolina women’s basketball.
A season after guard Lindsey Spann came to the Gamecocks from Penn State, guard Nelly Perry is making the switch, coming to Columbia after four years — at Clemson.
For Perry, a Camden, N.J., native, moving between fierce in-state rivals wasn’t as big a deal as it might have seemed to some fans, though she did say she’s wiped all traces of orange from her wardrobe.
“I’m from New Jersey, so this rivalry thing here is not really anything I thought about while in the process of transferring. My family and friends were very supportive. They’re actually very happy for me,” Perry said.
“You have some Clemson fans who understand, and some who are just like, ‘You’re a traitor,’ and you know how it goes, but I’m not worried about any of that. I’m just here to play basketball.”
Easing the process was the fact Perry was recruited to Clemson by former coach Audra Smith, one of Dawn Staley’s best friends and former teammates. Smith was fired from Clemson this offseason, but she still communicated with Perry, giving her some insight into her new coach.
“She said she’s tough, but she’s a good one.,” Perry said. “If there was an issue or whatever the case may be, I know that I can go to (Staley) and talk to her about it.
“(Smith) told me, ‘Do what you gotta do. Do what’s best for you. If you want to stay at Clemson, I support you. If you want to go wherever, I’ll support you.’ She’s been nothing but positive.”
Staley’s pitch to Perry was simple, she said.
“We want you here,” Perry said Staley told her. “We’ve seen you play, we’ve played against you, so that was kind of the thing. And as time went on, we talked a little more, and I’m like, OK, came on a visit and then boom.”
On a team full with backcourt depth, Perry adds much-needed experience and leadership, Staley said, not to mention scoring ability — At Clemson, Perry averaged 12.7 points and 2.9 assists per game her junior season, both tops on the team, while putting up 14.3 points and 3.9 rebounds per contest as a sophomore.
“I wish I had her for four years, because I think she’s a great addition to our team both on and off the court,” Staley said. “On the court, she’s aggressive. She’s attacking the basket, she’s talking, she’s giving us a seasoned, experienced player out there that when you lose someone like A’ja (Wilson), you want it in some other way to gain experience in the locker room.”
In her three seasons on the court with the Tigers, Perry accumulated a 30-64 record, and she missed all of last year with a shoulder injury that required surgery. But according to her, those experiences and setbacks have shaped her into a better player that the Gamecocks need.
“It was pretty difficult. There were some pretty tough times. And there were times where you learn from it, and I feel like it’s matured me in so many ways on the basketball court, off the basketball court,” Perry said. “It’s helped my character, it’s helped so many different things, and I can honestly say it was very humbling.”
Now, the former Clemson player must go about integrating herself in a program, knowing that she’ll be gone by next summer. In that regard, she hopes to imitate Spann, who was limited by injuries and missed 21 of the team’s 36 games last year but contributed with veteran leadership off the bench, endearing herself to fans, alums and coaching staff along the way.
Perry has already taken steps to learn from Spann.
“We talked, especially on my visit. She was my host,” Perry said. “She just kinda gave me the ins and outs on what her role was, how she transitioned. That’s something that I do hope to do.”
It will be a process, and with the season still several months away, Perry said she understands that there is still plenty she has to do.
“You have to learn everybody, and you have to understand that they have to learn who you are as well. Once you gain respect and get comfortable, then it will come,” Perry said.