Rising Above: C of I basketball star overcomes adversity
College of Idaho basketball star Demetrius Perkins picks off an opponent’s pass, races down the floor and takes off for one of his thunderous, trademark slam-dunks as the YoteFam roars its approval.
On the court, Perkins makes things look easy. The senior guard earned All-Cascade Conference honors last season while helping the Coyotes win the league championship, and he’s the leading scorer on this year’s No. 2-ranked squad.
But Perkins’ effortless jump shot and above-the-rim acrobatics belie an upbringing that was anything but easy.
For most of his life, it has been a struggle just to survive.
“I grew up around a lot of crazy things,” said Perkins, who spent his formative years on the poverty and crime-ridden streets of Compton, California. “I’ve seen people getting stabbed, people selling and using drugs, people stealing everything. I saw it all from an early age, but I didn’t know any better. I just thought it was a normal life.”
Back then, every day was a challenge for Perkins and his family. Perkins and his five siblings were raised in a roach-infested house by his single mother, who worked two jobs and struggled to make ends meet. Perkins often resorted to adding sugar to water and freezing it to make a “meal.” The family’s neighborhood was consumed by violence—even walking to school was an unsafe proposition.
“I would always hear gunshots,” Perkins recalled. “I would hear people yelling, people running–you could hear everything. One night I even heard a guy begging for his life, and the next morning I opened the door and there was a pool of blood all over our porch.”
With his mother frequently at work, Perkins looked up to his older brothers. He followed their lead and started playing basketball as a teen, and while many of his siblings fell into trouble with the law, Demetrius’ natural talent for the game helped keep him on the right path.
“The competitiveness of [basketball], the ability to get better at it in a short period of time is something I’m addicted to,” Perkins said. “I like competing versus the best, and being one of the best players is all I think about. Seeing my hard work paying off is what keeps me going.”
Perkins caught the attention of the C of I basketball program during his time at Glendale Community College. He was aggressively recruited as a transfer student along with his best friend, Antonio Garrett. While Perkins’ grades kept him from being accepted immediately, C of I’s coaching staff stuck with him.
“I was close to giving up basketball, because everything just seemed to be going downhill,” Perkins said. “I just couldn’t catch a break until the coaches at C of I gave me a chance. They kept calling me, telling me to get my grades up, really getting me motivated.”
That persistence paid off, and Perkins immediately became an impact player in Caldwell. He’s also one of the friendliest and most popular student-athletes on campus, where he is known affectionately as “Meech.” C of I coach Scott Garson praises not only Perkins’ athletic talents, but also his strength of character.
“Demetrius is a terrific player who combines great quickness and athleticism with an excellent feel for the game,” Garson said. “[And] when you consider where Demetrius has come from, I am continually amazed at his ability to open up to others here in the C of I community. It is a testament to Demetrius’ character, faith, and love for his mother that he continues to persevere in his pursuit of a college degree.”
It is faith that has helped Perkins overcome so many challenges. A devout Christian, Perkins regularly leads prayers with his teammates before games and posts biblical verses on his Twitter account. Perkins credits God with his successes, and he is hopeful that belief will continue to lead him.
“There’s no way I would have survived to be the person I am today without God,” Perkins said. “I live for God and give my life to Christ. Never give up, and keep your faith in God. He’s got a divine plan for you.”
After graduation this spring, Perkins plans to pursue a professional basketball career. He also hopes to put his history degree to use as a teacher. But wherever the future takes Meech, Garson is confident his infectious smile, positive attitude and outstanding character will lead him to success.
“One thing I know for sure is once basketball ends, he has the ability to be a powerful influence on the community where he lives,” Garson said. “Overcoming the adversity he has faced and attaining a college degree will allow him to have a tremendous impact on people anywhere he goes.”