Growing up in a household where his parents and older sister played basketball, it seemed inevitable that Father Lopez junior, Richard Perez, would one day play basketball. When he turned eight years old, he was broken into the family tradition. Since picking up a basketball, Perez has won numerous championships and awards, including the Volusia County Athlete of the Year.
In middle school, Perez joined his father’s AAU basketball team, the CFBA Hurricanes, where he eventually became best friends and teammates with Nu’Twan “Nunu” Williams. Then, on Feb. 24, 2011, Perez received the news from his father that Nunu had been shot in his home and murdered at the age of 13.
“We were pretty close,” Perez said. “We shared the same birthday, but I was a year older, so when I heard that, I was in complete shock. I didn’t know what to do.”
“IT was really difficult for him to deal with that,” said Rick Perez, his father. “If Richard didn’t play basketball, we would’ve needed to get him some counseling. Basketball was an outlet for him. We had to remind him that we needed to win the championship for Nu’Twan. He would’ve wanted to go to the championship with us.”
For the remainder of that year and the following season, the Hurricanes placed Williams’ jersey on the bench, wore armbands with his name and number on it, and they used him for motivation to win the next two state championships.
“The day we got to the state championship, we all felt like the other team was going to beat us,” Perez. “We ended up blowing them out. I knew he was there with us.”
“Anytime we got down in a game, it was easy for me as the coach to say, ‘Hey guys, we have to turn it up and do it for Nunu,” Rick Perez said, “They would always respond.”
Three years later, playing for Father Lopez, Perez still plays hard for his best friend, and he still believes that Williams is with him. Now, a big brother to his younger sister, Yasmin Perez, who is one of the top scorers (20.7ppg) in Volusia County for Calvary Christian Academy, Perez also plays for her and the little kids that he coaches.
“When I see her succeed on the court, it challenges me to play better,” he said. “I’m the older brother, so I have to show her certain things that help will help her game.” Perez’s father and mother, Beatriz, are the coaches on his sister’s team.
“We’re very much a basketball family, so it’s hard not to try to coach them all the time,” Rick Perez said.
“My parents usually tell me what I did right and wrong after my games, but my little sister usually critiques me the most,” Perez said.
Perez hopes to eventually graduate and play at a college, but right now, he just wants to win for his teammates, his family and his best friend, Williams.
“I’m very proud of him,” Rick Perez said. “I think he’s a great student, an excellent athlete. As young as he is, Richard has a strong faith. He always says that he doesn’t do anything for himself but for the Lord.”