A high school-age Jason Perez couldn’t look his coach in the eye. He was listening, but too shy for eye contact.
But now, at 32 and after a standout career at Wichita State and four professional seasons overseas, he’s the coach.
In his first year coaching the Defenders, a collection of Wichita homeschooled boys who resemble a Class 2A or 1A team, Perez is still calm. Still reluctant to raise his voice. No foot-stomping, no pacing.
“At times in the locker room he’ll get in our faces,” junior guard Tate Jackson said, “but he’s pretty laid back during games, pretty calm. He just doesn’t want us to play soft.”
Coaching homeschool basketball, where travel and a 40-some game schedule can resemble the NBA more than high school, may be a perfect fit for Perez.
He said he has no aspirations to coach high school teams or at any other level. He became the Defenders’ coach when a mutual friend introduced him to Joel Jackson, the group’s athletic director.
“After the first practice, I fell in love with the kids,” Perez said.
He also likes the Defenders’ mission. In its third year, the organization offers girls volleyball and boys and girls basketball built around a Christian environment.
Since the teams aren’t members of the state’s high school association, they can’t play in Kansas’ high school postseason. But they can travel and play as much as they want, with the end reward being a berth in the National Christian Homeschool Tournament in Springfield, Mo., next month.
This week, the schedule included an added home game Tuesday at the South YMCA’s Farha Sport Center against Gardner-Edgerton, Class 5A’s fourth-ranked team. The out-manned Defenders lost 88-51, though they stayed even for most of the second and third quarters.
After losing by a point to the Emporia JV on Thursday night, the Defenders (18-11) headed to Kansas City for two games scheduled around study halls and devotion groups.
It’s a schedule Perez embraces.
“I’m enjoying this,” he said. “My wife and I talked about homeschooling even before our son was born five years ago. It’s so cool to travel the country and take family and school with you.”
— Kirk Seminoff