Newly acquired Thunder center Kendrick Perkins is about to become an extremely popular player in Oklahoma, but he already had a longtime fan from this state while growing up in Beaumont, Texas.
Former OU basketball coach Billy Tubbs watched from the stands during Perkins' senior season at Clifton J. Ozen High School in 2003. It was the year Tubbs returned to Beaumont to start his second stint as Lamar's coach.
"Kendrick is really, really a good kid," Tubbs said Thursday night after learning of the trade that sent the 6-foot-10, 280-pound Perkins from Boston to the Thunder. "He comes out during the summers and plays against the guys from Lamar. He has a camp in Beaumont.
"He's big and he's a hard worker, but he's also a great person. He really is. I think that's a great move for the Thunder."
Fact is, Tubbs went back one generation with the Perkins family.
Tubbs recruited Perkins' father, Kenneth, to play at Lamar, where he went on to become a three-time, second-team, all-conference selection (1982-84). "He was a good player," Tubbs said.
Dubbed "Baby Shaq" coming out of high school, the heavily recruited Kendrick Perkins averaged 27.5 points and 16.4 rebounds as a senior and chose to sign a national letter of intent with Memphis over Texas and Texas A&M. He went 96-3 his last three years in high school.
"Everybody wants to be on my team," Perkins said at the time. "This year, I've got a lot more "cousins' than I've ever had. People I don't even know, people I didn't know I was related to."
Perkins often scouted NBA teams on television during his senior season.
"Sometimes I look at certain players, and I know I could do what he's doing for his team," a then 18-year-old Perkins told The Associated Press. "If he can get there, then I know I can get there. The way I look at it is if they're saying I'm ready for the NBA, then I must be ready. Right now, I don't know. In April, I guess we'll all sit down and decide what to do."
Perkins was taken in the 2003 NBA Draft, the same year LeBron James was chosen No. 1. Perkins was viewed by many as a potential lottery pick. The Sporting News had him listed as the No. 4 prospect.
Perkins wound up being selected 27th overall by the Memphis Grizzlies, who traded him on draft night to Boston, where Perkins remained with the Celtics until Thursday's trade.
"Tell Kendrick congratulations, and I send my best. Also, tell him to send me some tickets," said a laughing Tubbs, who resides part-time in Norman.