By Eric Dixon
Abington, PA: October 27, 2021 – These are the four “R’s” on which the Reading High Boys Basketball team has been built over the last 10 years by Head Coach and School Director, Rick Perez. Perez, a two-time 6A Coach of the Year honoree, has won 223 games, against 69 losses, as a head coach by “not focusing on winning, but love”.
In these tough, dangerous and uncertain times this may sound corny or cliche. However, just one conversation with the confident, humble Perez will assure you that he is genuine and far from typical. It is not often that you will hear a coach talk about Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” before mentioning anything about the high post or low post. His understanding of the need to address the enormity of the challenges his players face outside the lines is what allows them to thrive within them. There is surety and humility in his voice as he recounts how he built the once downtrodden public high school program into a state powerhouse. “I’m not concerned with control. I’m concerned with relationships.” Control is a factor for those who have little faith in those they seek to trust them. This is a spiritual antonym for a team that follows the Bible verse “We live by faith, not sight” (2 Corinthian 5:7) as a team mantra.
If you take the time to really consider where Perez has developed the program it becomes crystal clear that it’s more than impressive. It’s incredible. Reading is not like other places. It’s a struggle city. The loss of big businesses like Lucent Technologies and others have left the communities in Reading, which in the last 10 years has seen the poverty level rise to as high as 41.3 percent, in a depression. These people may not have much but they have each other. They are prideful and passionate and that comes across in how they support the Red Knights. The gym is like their home and those who succumb to the team are often serenaded with a popular refrain: “Grab your hat and your coat and leave.”
If you simply look at them you may underestimate them. They are not laden with players with Blue Blood pedigree or exciting ESPN top 100 prospects. Perez says with a chuckle “we win with street guys. They are gritty and willing to do whatever it takes to win.” Last season Reading finished a nearly perfect 26-2. The coach says this was possible because they “don’t seek perfection”. They seek “growth”. That growth can be seen even within the season where they only suffered two losses because those losses were suffered at the hands of bitter crosstown rivals Wilson High School. An uneven 13 point road loss gave way to a hard fought two point win at home a couple weeks later only to have their resiliency tested once again after a two point loss to the Bulldogs at neutral sight 10 days later. Redemption was only a little over two weeks away when the Red Knights defeated Wilson by 8 to advance in the playoffs.
The dichotomies do not end with the game results or team ideals. Somehow a team that embodies the life and personality of Perez is not about him. It is first and foremost about the young student-athletes that drive and provide the life blood of the program. Through basketball Perez wants to save as many young men as possible but he acknowledges that everyone can’t go. “Loyalty is the key. We are selective about who stays on the team.” He leads the program with his heart as much as he does his brains and he is capable of fiery emotional outbursts and moments of quiet tenderness. He is “realness” personified, showing strength and a fighting spirit that moves him to go to combat for his players on any stage. Whether he is protecting a player from neighborhood thugs lurking “to jump” him or the school board seeking to take away valuable opportunities to play the game they hold dear. His willingness to “die on his sword” for them is conveyed in many ways and reaches his players with precision.
Perez, 39, is unwavering in his commitment to his school and program. His players bring that same commitment, on and off the court. It was this relentless commitment to winning and never say die attitude that saved Perez’s coaching career four years into it. He had tendered his resignation before the season, betting it all on his ability to lead the Red Knights to a county championship. Down 9 with 3½ minutes left in the championship game it looked as if the gambit would be his undoing. However, as if they knew what was on the line, led by incredible sophomore Lonnie Walker IV, the team responded snatching victory from the jaws of defeat in an 8 point win.
This year the team will rely on “collaborative leadership” from their projected starters: Ruben Rodriguez, a 6’2” 1st team All-State guard who can score (2023), Daniel Alcantara, a 6’5” forward (2022); the mild-mannered and observant 5’11” Myles Grey, the fiery and “fearless” 6’1” Joey Chapman and swiss army knife and consummate glue guy Xavier Davis, a 6’2” senior forward. The team will also depend on plenty of help off the bench from Aris Rodriguez, a 6’4” junior guard, Amier Burdine, a 6’1” forward (2023), Justin Walker, a 6’1” guard (2022), Deshawn Wilson, a 5’11” senior guard and the lone freshman in the group, Malik Osumanu, a 6’3” forward.
Rodriguez, a combo guard who has caught the eye of Wake Forest and holds offers from Jacksonville and St. Peter’s, will provide scoring punch, especially at the end of games. Alcantara, another Jacksonville recruit, will battle in the paint while Chapman makes his presence felt all over the court, especially on the defensive end. Davis, who “knows the pulse of every player on the team” will add a sense of synergy as Miles brings a quiet confidence.
For sure they will be a group to watch and enjoy as they play with their hearts on their shooting sleeves, leaving it all out there representing the community and city they love.