Nick Perkins is easy to spot on the basketball court – not only for his athleticism, basketball skills, and intimidating presence – but for an even simpler reason.
Nick Perkins, who will play at the University of Buffalo next fall, has been a key part of Milan’s success during his time as a Big Red. (Photo by Paula Dotson)
He’s the tall guy.
Perkins, a starting forward for the Milan Big Reds, stands at 6-foot-9. His height is the reason he’s introduced with the nickname “The Big Man on Campus” by the PA announcer before the start of every home game. He stands out from the rest of the players on the floor because of his noticeable height.
Nick has accomplished plenty in just two-and-a-half seasons with the Big Reds. He played a key role in Milan’s title run last season, aiding his team to a single-season school record 25 wins. Perkins has scored 850 points in his illustrious career and has averaged 16.7 points per game so far in his senior season. In addition, Nick has never lost a Huron League conference game. (The Big Reds have won 53 straight conference games.)
Nick started his Milan career as a sophomore, transferring from Ann Arbor Huron. The journey he’s been on ever since is one he didn’t see coming.
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In Nick’s first season, he had to wait to play. Due to MHSAA transfer rules, Nick could not suit up for the Big Reds until the new semester began in mid-January. Still, he knew why he joined the team.
“I felt like (coming to Milan) was the best opportunity for me,” Perkins said, reflecting on the start. “I’ve known Latin (Davis) for a long time. It was a good opportunity to reconnect that bond that we had in middle school. I knew that Milan had good coaches, too.”
The initial transition – going from a big city and big school to a small town and smaller school – was tough on him. “It was different at first,” Nick said. “I wasn’t used to the atmosphere. But when I got used to it, I started liking it a lot, and it became easy.”
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Nick’s first season ended with a tough loss to Romulus in the Class A regional final.
Nick scored 10 points for the Big Reds in the regional final, which was something, but not the something that most people noticed. Milan fans had mostly paid attention to the final score, or, in regards to their own team, CJ Turnage – who scored 19 – and the then-sophomore Davis, who led the team with 22.
Amidst the hype, Perkins – the 6-foot-5 sophomore forward – stood out to the Romulus head coach, Nate Oats.
“He had nice touch,” Oats said in a recent interview, recalling the game. “Nick was a tough (guy to) cover for our seniors. He fought hard; he played well. For a sophomore, Nick was pretty tough.”
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Primarily a player coming off the bench in his first year at Milan, Nick’s junior year brought new opportunities. For the first time, he had a firm role in the starting lineup, after playing behind Turnage and Stephen Evans the year before.
Nick (left) attempts a shot in Milan’s state title game last year. (File photo by Paula Dotson)
Nick wasted little time to show what he was capable of. He played a key role in leading the Big Reds to the Class B state championship last March, the first Milan basketball title in 66 years. He averaged 15.4 points per game in the 28 games Milan played.
In the title game against Benton Harbor, a 78-59 Big Reds victory, Nick scored 24 points.
“(Winning the title) was pretty special,” he said, recalling the game. “We worked pretty hard throughout the season. We did a lot to get the state title and we deserved it.”
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During the fall of his junior year – well before the title run – Nick began receiving college offers, primarily from schools of the Mid-American Conference.
One school that showed particular interest was the University of Buffalo. As it turned out, a familiar link was a big reason the Bulls were looking at the Milan forward.
Oats, the one-time Romulus head coach, had been hired by Buffalo as an assistant coach in June 2013, shortly after Romulus had won the Class A title.
After recruiting for Buffalo’s class of 2014 that summer, Oats turned his attention to scouting for the class of 2015 in the fall.
Tbe Bulls would have two senior forwards heading into the 2014-15 season. Needing to fill what would become an open position following the campaign, Oats remembered the tough player from Milan.
The Buffalo coach traveled to Michigan and made a scholarship offer to Perkins during an open gym session.
The decision, however, was not a quick one for Perkins. “It was all the way up to the end before we got Nick to commit,” Oats said. “There were a lot of schools (trying to recruit him). Nobody saw him play more than (head coach Bobby) Hurley and I did. We showed Nick that we wanted him more than anyone else.
“We had a need for him.”
Oats made a point to make Nick and his family feel comfortable about everything Buffalo had to offer, from academics to where Nick would be on the court, and in the end, it worked out for both coach and player.
Since committing to the school, Nick has been very supportive of his future team. “He follows us pretty close,” Oats said. “He texts us after games, he watches games on TV. I think he’s excited to get out there with us. (We’ve tried to) do a good job in letting him know he’s a priority for us by coming out to his games.”
The soon-to-be Buffalo Bull has great things to say about his future. “I felt like Buffalo was the best place to grow as a player and person,” Perkins said.
He also thinks highly of his college coaches. “Those are two great coaches who know what they’re doing at all times,” Nick said, referencing Oats and Hurley. “They know how to develop good players. It’s a great opportunity.”
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Since coming to Milan, Nick has made an impression on the coaches that he has been around for the last two-and-a-half years. “He’s more coachable now than when he first got here,” Milan head coach Chris Pope said. “Nick has been willing to accept coaching and broaden out his game.”
Perkins is known for his dunking ability, as shown here in a game against New Boston Huron. (File photo by Paula Dotson)
When Perkins’ days as a Big Red are over, Pope wants the fans to remember what Nick has helped to accomplish. “He’s a winner that’s come and helped put Milan on the map,” Pope said. “He’s a very unique player for somebody with his size, being able to shoot inside and out. Nick has a chance to be one of the better players at the next level (who’s played at) Milan.”
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Off the court, while Nick is still noticeable for his height, he has the gentle giant persona.
“Nick is always very respectful,” said Milan PA announcer Scott Dotson. “He’s courteous, soft-spoken, and has a good sense of humor. I’ve always felt he’s mature beyond his years.”
Nick himself wants to be remembered for his performance on the court and his attitude off of it. “I’m more aggressive on the court now than when I first started,” he said. “People expect me to be mean because of the way I play, but I’m really a nice guy. I want people to remember me as more than a basketball player – that I’m a good guy.”
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While Nick knows his future is secure, the current task at hand is winning ballgames for Milan. The Big Reds are aiming for their fourth consecutive Huron League conference title. Nick and the Big Reds also have their sights set on another state title.
“Winning another title would mean (a lot) to me,” he said. “It’s harder to stay on top when you’ve already reached the top. Making it (back) would show everybody that Milan is a big deal.”
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At one time, Nick Perkins was a sophomore who was out of his element – new town, new school, new team.
Since then, his on-the-court skill set and off-the-court personality have given him some unexpected opportunities, and with each opportunity, Nick has stepped up to the plate. His future is settled, but there’s one thing still at large: Nick wants to win another state title, and nothing will stop his pursuit of it.
It might sound like a tall order, but for the 6-foot-9 Nick, it’s just another chance to achieve a goal and keep looking up.