This past summer I had a chance to talk to Weisner Perez, a 6’6″ forward from Chicago who is one of six highly touted members of Harvard basketball’s class of 2019. This past spring, Perez graduated summa cum laude from Morton West High School, where he is the all-time leading scorer. A few months after leading his Morton squad to the Regional Championship his senior year, he played for the Dominican Republic U-19 National Team over the summer. Meet Weisner Perez.
Why did you choose Harvard, and what set it apart from the other schools recruiting you?
The first thing that set Harvard apart was the academics. It’s the best. If you go there, you’re set for life. But I actually got offered by every Ivy school. Harvard just gave me a better chance to be successful than anywhere else. I thought, I can go here and get a great education, and play basketball at a place where I’m going to get noticed. We have a good shot to make the NCAA Tournament, and I have a chance to play right away.
Was there a moment when you realized Harvard was the right place for you?
On my official visit, I knew. It was an amazing atmosphere and I loved it. A few weeks later, I committed.
What are some of your memories from your recruitment?
When I first talked to coach (Tommy) Amaker, it was pretty interesting. I had just finished working out at the gym, and he called and said, “We’ve been thinking about you a lot.” And he ended up offering me when he called me that day.
Funny story, though: I had left my iPod at the house, and there were a lot of notifications because somehow Twitter had already found out. My mom was almost in tears when I got home. She said, “Did Harvard offer you?” I said, “Wait, what? I haven’t even told you yet.”
She told me my Twitter was blowing up, and we were all so excited. Tommy Amaker was a very respectable man, and it was pretty awesome to have a guy of that power talking to me. Very special experience overall.
What are you looking forward to studying at Harvard?
I plan on majoring in Economics.
What was it like playing for the Dominican Republic in the FIBA U19 Challenge and in the Nike Global Challenge this past summer? What did it teach you?
The FIBA U19 Tournament and the Nike Global Challenge were both amazing experiences. The FIBA Tournament in Greece was more of a learning experience. The Global Challenge, though, was in my hometown and I just felt more comfortable. I was named to the all-tournament team, which was a huge achievement because I was playing in front of NBA scouts with the top players in the 2016 and 2017 classes, many of whom are future NBA players.
What are your thoughts on the 2015-16 schedule?
I’m excited. I see that we’re playing Kansas, and that’s a huge game. I think we have a good chance to win these nonconference games.
Which player are you most looking forward to playing with or learning from?
Siyani Chambers. He’s a floor general, and I’ve seen him make big plays on TV in the NCAA Tournament. He gets everyone involved, the kind of passer he is. Also he’s a lefty just like me.
Which NBA or college player do you model your game after or consider yourself most similar to?
I’ve been compared to Wayne Blackshear (former Louisville player). First, there’s the size: he’s 6’5”-6’6” like me, but he’s also super-athletic and versatile, he can play inside and out, guard a bigger guy, drive really well, post up, and if you leave him open, he can shoot the ball. These are all things I do really well too. And like me, Blackshear is from Chicago.
Who has had the biggest influence on you as a person? As a player?
As a person, my parents. The way they raised me and my brothers, we didn’t have a huge social life; the gym and school were our life. Obviously, now I’m very grateful for how they raised me.
As a basketball player, my middle brother Waller. He plays at the University of Chicago, and I played with him for two years in high school. Even though we almost wanted to kill each other at times, he definitely helped me become a better player.
What are your main strengths as a player?
Rebounding is the biggest thing for me: I averaged 13 per game my senior year of high school. Also my defense, which is partially a product of my high motor and hustle.
Offensively I attack the basket really well, and I love drawing fouls. In the Nike Global Challenge I shot 24 for 27 from the free throw line, which is about 89 percent. That’s more than 20 percent higher than I shot earlier in high school.
What would you like to improve upon?
Ball handling and shooting off the dribble. I know this is going to take time, but having that in my offensive arsenal would be huge, and that’s something I’ll develop at Harvard.
What are your personal goals for this year?
To be able to fit in the rotation, and to be able to contribute to the team in any way, shape or form. Also, to get accustomed to the new style of play at the college level.
What are your team goals?
To win the Ivy League title again.
Some people are saying Harvard won’t win the Ivy League this year…
Coach Amaker actually sent us an article; it was called, “College Basketball Conference Champions with No Chance to Repeat in 2015-16” and we were one of the teams. The article implied that the freshmen we have aren’t very good and that we suck in general. That really pissed me off, and it definitely motivates me to push harder.
(In case you missed it, check out our previous Harvard freshman interview with Balsa Dragovic.