It was a simple, unsolicited offer of hospitality, but it left an indelible impression on Romello Walker.
The athletic 6-foot-6 guard from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., had arrived on South Kent School’s campus for the first time as a student when a jovial Montenegrin teammate named Dusan Perovic approached him.
“He came up to me, ‘Hey, what can I help you with? What do you need? Can I help you with anything?’” Walker fondly recalled.
In that brief moment, Walker knew he had found a friend he would like to keep. Their relationship blossomed throughout their one common year at South Kent, and when the time came for Perovic to commit to a college basketball program, his choice was straightforward.
That’s because Walker returned the favor and encouraged Perovic to follow him to Binghamton University, to which he had verbally pledged in December.
“I like playing with him. He told me a lot about Binghamton before I came to the official visit,” Perovic said. “He’s probably one of the big reasons why I decided to visit Binghamton, and once I came there and saw the campus and everything, I realized he was right.”
Exceeding the quota
Perovic doesn’t think about helping. It’s ingrained in his nature.
“It’s just, like, how I do things,” he says.
South Kent School requires its students to fill a community service quota to graduate. Perovic participated in a group dubbed “Call to Service,” which, among other projects, travels to Hartford to feed the homeless at a soup kitchen.
“When you do it the first time, it’s not really that exciting, but you actually really feel good,” he says. “You know that you helped somebody, so it feels really good.”
Perovic says he completed his contributions to Call to Service a few weeks ago. His coach, Kelvin Jefferson, says that hasn’t rendered the 6-foot-9 forward quiescent.
“He didn’t just do the designated hours he needed to do,” Jefferson said. “He went above and beyond that. That’s just the kind of kid he is. He likes helping. If there’s a need, he’s going to help fill it.”
And Walker’s frequently right there with him.
“They’re the type to volunteer for anything,” Jefferson says. “If someone stands up in the middle of the hall and asks for a volunteer to carry boxes or volunteer for something, they constantly do that.”
The obscure path
South Kent School’s prep-level team, known in basketball circles as South Kent Prep, annually churns out several Division I recruits. NBA players Isaiah Thomas, Dorell Wright, Andray Blatche, Moe Harkless and Ricardo Ledo are the most notable alumni — Blatche and Wright jumped straight from the school to the NBA.
High school students from across the world transfer to South Kent School to play for the prep team, the allure of regularly suiting up for an elite program in front of the eyes of college scouts influencing their decisions.
So, no, Perovic is not the first foreign-born player in South Kent’s illustrious history.
But the fact that he, in particular, found his way to South Kent School — and then a Division I scholarship — is a spectacle of its own. In Montenegro, boys grow up playing soccer, not basketball. Perovic followed that track until he was 9 years old.
“I really loved soccer,” he said. “At that age, I was kind of taller from everyone else, and they were saying, ‘He’s going to grow more. You should try to send him to play basketball.’ That’s how I decided to switch from there and started playing basketball.”
Perovic learned the fundamentals and developed a skillset that has enabled him to excel both in the post and on the perimeter. But not many Montenegrins leave their country with the hopes of playing Division I basketball in the United States.
Nemanja Djurisic, a friend of Perovic’s, did that in 2010 and forged the obscure path from Montenegro to South Kent. Also a fundamental big man, Djurisic earned a scholarship to Georgia, which competes in the Southeastern Conference — the same league that produced this season’s NCAA runner-up, Kentucky.
In many ways, Jefferson sees similarities between Perovic and Djurisic.
“A lot of people were hesitant to take [Djurisic] because he didn’t have that ‘wow factor,’ which means he didn’t dunk the ball every time he caught it, he wasn’t the most athletic kid. He just got the job done,” Jefferson said. “While others were jumping in the air trying to block his shots, he was ball-faking and laying the ball in. I see Dusan the same way. He doesn’t have the ‘wow factor’ but he’s going to score and he can rebound.”
And because he lacks that “wow factor,” Perovic slipped to Binghamton. Loyola Marymount of the West Coast Conference and Fordham of the Atlantic 10 began recruiting Perovic in the last couple of months, but they were too late.
“With all due respect to Binghamton … they got a steal,” said Jefferson, who has coached NBA players Harkless and Ledo and NCAA champion Russ Smith at South Kent. “A lot of people kind of fell asleep at the wheel on this one. I thought he could play in the Atlantic 10.”
A work in progress
Jefferson says Walker also has Atlantic 10 potential because of his athleticism. The rest of his game needs work, though.
“For him, just the small things: understanding good shot-bad shot, understanding time and score,” Jefferson said. “When you get a kid like that, that’s so physically talented, they want to go a hundred miles an hour all the time. He’s just got to learn to pick his spots, and when he does that I think he could be really good.”
Walker knows he has room for improvement. He said that “bringing that fire to the game and getting everybody involved and motivated” will likely be his calling card as a freshman.
But if the rest of his game catches up to his athleticism sooner rather than later, he could be a force in a conference that doesn’t have many guards his size.
For now though, he’s just grateful for the opportunity to earn a college basketball scholarship.
“It’s a dream come true to continue pursuing your future endeavors and not have to pay, not to have my parents come out of pocket to do something like that,” he said. “It’s a blessing because I worked all my life, and basketball is what I worked for. For it to come true, it’s just a blessing.”
You could go bigger
There wasn’t much of a question that Walker’s dream would come true. By the end of last summer, he had already accrued scholarship offers from Binghamton, LIU Brooklyn, Georgia Southern and Robert Morris.
He just needed to select a school.
On Dec. 30, he verbally committed to Binghamton. On Feb. 8, he reopened his recruitment.
“I was just listening to everybody else and not doing what I wanted to do,” he said. “It was everybody telling me, ‘You know, you could go bigger,’ but I had to sit down and think to myself, ‘Bigger isn’t always better. It’s where you belong, what feels like home. That’s where you’ve got to go.’”
Less than one week later, Walker tweeted: “iwanna say thank you to the community and coaching staff at Binghamton U for taking me back in. im back home where i belong #BearcatNation.”
And all the while, Perovic supported him as a teammate and friend.
“He had tough moments,” Perovic said, “but I just told him to keep fighting through it. It’s all going to pay off later.”
Four more years
On April 16, Walker and Perovic sat down together at South Kent School and inked their National Letters of Intent to play for Binghamton University, officially agreeing to extend their relationship as teammates into their college years.
But they’re already so much more than members of the same team.
“They genuinely like each other. They’re great kids. They get along off the court,” Jefferson said. “They have a great rapport with each other off the court, and that translates on the court because they just do really well together. This year together has really helped.”
And it all started with that simple, unsolicited offer of hospitality.