By John Bohnenkamp
INDIANAPOLIS — Tony Perkins broke into a smile when someone asked him a question and mentioned the name of his high school.
“Look at that smile on his face,” the questioner said, and even Iowa coach Fran McCaffery broke into a grin on that one.
Perkins, the sophomore guard who has become such a big part of the Hawkeyes’ recent run, was happy because he was at home.
He grew up in Indianapolis, played at Lawrence North High School — that’s what brought the smile — and was an all-state selection in a state that treasures its high school basketball.
Which is why he looks so at home at Gainbridge Fieldhouse for the Big Ten Tournament this weekend.
“TP is always really confident,” senior guard Connor McCaffery said. “And to be honest, I think he likes playing in Indianapolis. He’s from here, he’s got his family here. That adds to his energy level a little bit. He was really animated, emotional, which is when he’s at his best.
“He was going to be hooping.”
He’s been hooping in Iowa’s two wins so far. Perkins had 16 points and three assists in the Hawkeyes’ 84-74 win over Rutgers in Friday’s quarterfinal, a day after he had six points and a career-high six assists in Thursday’s 112-76 second-round win over Northwestern.
“A lot of people that saw me through high school through now know what I can do, and now that I’m able to bring it to the next level, it’s big,” Perkins said. “Knowing I’m playing in my home city and seeing everybody in the crowds that I know, grew up with, it really boosts my energy a lot. That’s pretty much it.”
It’s more than it. Perkins has been everything for the Hawkeyes since moving into the lineup 12 games ago.
Iowa is 10-2 since Fran McCaffery changed the starting lineup, moving Jordan Bohannon back to his familiar point-guard spot and bringing in Perkins to start at the ‘2’. Perkins has averaged 8.5 points and 3.4 rebounds in the current stretch, adding 26 assists and 11 steals.
“He’s not afraid of the moment,” McCaffery said earlier this week. “He’s not afraid of the crowd. He just kind of keeps coming, and that’s what you appreciate as his teammate or as his coach. So I’m thrilled for him, and I think he’s just going to keep getting better. I think that’s safe to say with him.”
Perkins was dealing with a sore right shoulder when he moved into the starting lineup, but his career-high 20 points in a win over Nebraska on February 25 showed him that the injury had gone away.
“Personally, you know, I had a shoulder injury, so that was on my mind a lot,” Perkins said. “But now with that being done and me taking care of that has really boosted my confidence. Coach has always told me to play my game, do what you do. And I’m always willing to be out there and do what I’ve got to do for us to win in any situation.”
McCaffery has always known about Perkins’ confidence, even after last season, when Perkins Perkins averaged just 1.6 points in 24 games as a freshman.
“I will say this about him —in the times that he did play last year, he kind of played with a little bit of swag, which is what you want,” McCaffery said. “It’s not always the case with freshmen, especially when they’re behind veteran guys like he was last year.
“But you could kind of see it coming. I think he’s gotten a lot more minutes because he’s been really productive at both ends. I think he’s proven that he’s a gamer.”
Perkins was part of a crucial run that helped Iowa fight off Rutgers’ last big charge.
The Scarlet Knights got to within 71-63 with 6:22 to play, then the Hawkeyes responded with a quick 7-0 burst — a layup by Perkins, a steal and dunk by Keegan Murray, and then a Perkins 3-pointer. Iowa would maintain a double-digit lead the rest of the game.
The first Perkins field goal was almost a miss, as he lost control of the ball but was able to push it toward the basket.
“Actually, I was shooting a floater and I got hit going up, so it kind of bobbled out once I shot the floater,” Perkins said. “I didn’t think it was going to go in, so I thought I’d chase and get a putback, but it went in, so I’ll take it.”
And then he smiled.
Photo: Iowa’s Tony Perkins reacts after scoring in Friday’s Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal win over Rutgers. (Brian Ray/hawkeyesports.com)