High school basketball: Perkins picked to lead strong Hornets

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 3, 2023

By Mike London

SALISBURY — Albert Perkins has been named as the new head coach of the Salisbury boys basketball program.

He’s 45, so he’s had no shortage of basketball and life experience.

Ask him about college memories, and his fondest one comes from Jan. 20, 1998.

Duke had eight McDonald’s All-Americans, had won 17 out of 18 and was ranked No. 1 in the country. The opponent for Mike Krzyzewski’s Blue Devils on a Tuesday night in the Greensboro Coliseum was the North Carolina A&T Aggies. It was supposed to be a glorified practice session for insanely talented Duke in front of a paying audience, a respite between draining ACC games with Clemson and Virginia.

The A&T Aggies had zero McDonald’s All-Americans, but they had a balanced team with good chemistry. They played hard for coach Roy Thomas. They put up a fight against Elton Brand, Shane Battier, Trajan Langdon and their towering friends. The Aggies lost 101-66, but they didn’t get embarrassed.

One of the N.C. A&T players was the 6-foot-6 Perkins, who had transferred from Mars Hill to N.C. A&T because he believed in himself, because he believed he had the talent to play Division I basketball. He believed he could play against the Dukes of the world.

Perkins remembers all of those famous Blue Devils, who finished that 1997-98 season 32-4, but mostly he remembers battling Mike Chappell, a 6-foot-8 sophomore high-flyer who transferred to Michigan State after that season to get more minutes. The other Blue Devil he remembers vividly is Coach K, who personally thanked each Aggie for making Duke better.

“After that game, Coach K shook hands with each of us and told us how well we played,” Perkins said. “I remember the handshake and him speaking to me more than I remember the game.”

Coach K’s postgame pep talk inspired the Aggies. The next time they took the floor they pounded Howard, one of their biggest rivals in the MidEastern Athletic Conference.

“Howard and Hampton,” Perkins said wistfully. “Those were always great MEAC battles.”

Perkins used his years in college basketball to learn about the game and about the people who coached it and played it. There was a lesson in every win and there was even more to be learned from the losses. Now he brings that personal library of knowledge to Salisbury High.

The basketball journey started for Perkins at Kings Mountain High in the athletic hotbed of Cleveland County, where the rivals are Shelby, Crest and Burns.

“Kings Mountain has similarities with Salisbury,” Perkins said. “A tight-knit community. I was a late-bloomer and was under-recruited. I went to Mars Hill for a year before I transferred to N.C. A&T.”

In summer pickup games, he encountered Catawba star Marvin Moore. If Perkins had stayed at Mars Hill, he and Moore may have had their battles in the South Atlantic Conference. Instead, they became friends.

Perkins was good enough to get a chance to play pro ball overseas.

“I spent my 20s playing basketball in Europe,” Perkins said. “The place I enjoyed playing the most was Orléans, a large city in central France, not far south of Paris. I met my wife when I was still playing ball.”

When the basketball stopped bouncing, he went to work back in the States.

“I was part of corporate America, but basketball always was my passion,” Perkins said. “I was coaching all along, a lot of AAU travel ball.”

He became an assistant coach for a strong team at Concord’s Cannon School.

Then he led programs at two schools. He was athletic director and basketball coach at Christ the King in Huntersville.

He had a 6-foot-7 player at Christ the King — Scott Harvey — who went on to play at Lander.

“One basketball player and we found athletes — lacrosse players and soccer players — to play with him,” Perkins said.

Perkins moved on to be director of operations and basketball coach at Woodlawn, a small school on the Mooresville/Davidson line.

“Those kids played hard and showed a lot of growth,” Perkins said.

He coached next in an assistant capacity at Carmel Christian for a powerhouse team that won a private school state championship. He coached the Carmel Christian jayvees to 17 straight wins, an undefeated season.

In October 2022, Perkins was hired as an assistant coach at Belmont Abbey and got his first chance to help develop college players.

“It was different than high school, a real day-to-day grind, but it was a good experience,” Perkins said. “We were picked six and finished fourth. We won 19 games, had a good season.”

Perkins and his wife live in Concord. They have a son who is a seventh-grader and a daughter who is a high school freshman. His daughter is into competitive dancing.

Moore, the former Catawba basketball player, is now the principal at Salisbury High. He has a daughter who is also a competitive dancer.

Years ago, that link of dancing daughters brought Moore back together for the same recitals with Perkins, his pickup ball opponent from college days. They renewed their friendship.

“Our daughters have danced together for eight years now,” Perkins said. “Marvin and I are friends.”

When Bryan Withers resigned as the Hornets’ boys basketball coach in June, Perkins saw the Salisbury job was posted. The Hornets were looking for a new coach, and a high school position offers more stability than the college basketball world, where one down season can have every coach packing his bags and looking for the next job.

“When I saw Coach Withers had stepped down, it was a shock,” Perkins said. “I knew Salisbury had won championships and had a lot of players coming back.”

Perkins threw his hat in the ring. Now he has been hired by Moore and AD Derek Butler.

Perkins inherits what should be one of the better teams in 2A, with a powerful senior class led by Wake Forest recruit Juke Harris.

It’s a job that comes with great expectations, but this will not be Perkins’ first rodeo. He’s experienced pressure before.

He’s played against Coach K. He’s played ball in Europe, where the one or two Americans on the team are expected to shoulder the scoring burden every night.

Perkins has teaching as well as coaching experience. He will be on campus at SHS, instructing students for one class of Team Sports and two classes of health and physical education.

“I think it’s important for a coach to be there at the school,” Perkins said. “It can make a difference.”

Perkins is settling in at Salisbury now. It’s quiet now in the gym, with all the focus on football, but he knows his heart will start beating faster as basketball season approaches.

“I’ve got good energy and I keep myself in shape, so I can still get out on the court and demonstrate,” Perkins said. “I’m looking forward to it.”