MOSCOW, Idaho – In the two exhibitions and first two games, the energy was there but not yet the smooth presence on court or the deadly shooting.
For Idaho point guard Perrion Callandret, getting a second chance at a senior season after a knee injury shut him down for all but two games last year was a gift.
But Callandret was going 100 miles a minute, trying to experience every aspect at once. His ability to anticipate and use his athletic talent to leave opponents in his wake was off.
Then in the Vandals’ third regular-season contest, against Sam Houston State, everything changed.
“The game slowed down for me. I knew something was going to happen,” Callandret said.
His ability to dominate a game returned. He posted a line of 12 points, four rebounds, two assists and a steal in Idaho’s 63-54 victory. Since then, Callandret has improved his season highs to 20 points and eight rebounds.
“He was 0 for 10 on 3-pointers,” Vandals head coach Don Verlin said. “Since then, he’s been on fire (15 of 24).
“I knew this was going to happen. He’s a quality basketball player and an even better person.”
Often sidelined by injury during his Idaho career, Callandret is savoring his opportunities this season.
“When the game slows down, it feels so great,” he said. “Everything opens up. The basket is bigger. Everybody is more open.”
Idaho (6-3) was picked by coaches and media to win the Big Sky Conference this season. A senior backcourt featuring Callandret and Victor Sanders had to be persuasive for voters.
Vandals fans got glimpses of what those two could accomplish together. But Callandret missed nine games as a junior with a foot injury that dogged him even after he returned. He and Sanders are playing together as seniors only because Callandret was hurt last year and qualified for a medical redshirt.
If fate was testing him, it seems to have been worth it.
“Those were the two most frustrating times of my life,” Callandret said. “But it helped me to understand why I love basketball so much.”
“He is one of our best on-ball defenders,” Verlin said. “He handles the ball, gives us pressure out front, and he’s a great leader.”
The Vandals also use Callandret to harass opponents’ premier shooters.
“And when he graduates, we’re going to miss his ability to rebound,” Verlin said. “For a 6-2 guard, he’s a great rebounder.
“ ‘P’ being in the program for five years knows what we expect on a daily basis. He knows how to run the basketball team.”
Callandret said his vertical leap has been measured at 46 1/2 inches.
“I’m not going to lie and tell you I’ve ever boxed anybody out,” he said. “But I go over the top. I snatch the ball above the rim.”
Vandals sophomore point guard Trevon Allen, who joined Sanders to fill in for Callandret after he was hurt last year, deals with the athleticism in practice.
“That kind of ‘vert’ can change your game,” Allen said. “You just try to keep him out of the paint so he can’t take off. Guarding him every day makes guarding other people easier.”
Allen will inherit the keys to the Vandals offense when Sanders and Callandret have moved on. He said watching Callandret has helped him prepare for the role. They roomed together for two weeks on Idaho’s preseason tour in China in 2016.
“He’s a leader on the court and off,” Allen said.
“I’m kind of an aggressive leader,” Callandret said. “I had to tone myself back.”
He has embraced the challenge of running the Vandals’ offense.
“The game starts with you,” he said. “There are a lot of eyes on you. The pressure is on you to deal with it. I live for it.”
Callandret’s UI career falls into three eras. There is the senior leader now. There is the time missed because of injury. But when he first played for the Vandals as a freshman in 2013-14, he was mostly enjoying tagging along after his big brother, Glen Dean, and averaged 2.5 points and 1.7 rebounds a game.
Dean had graduated from Utah with a year of eligibility remaining and came to Idaho to play a season with Callandret, six years his junior.
“With my brother, it was a lot of fun. He’s my best friend,” Callandret said.
Their camaraderie may have overshadowed Callandret’s competitive instincts, but that has changed.
“I understand what it takes to win,” Callandret said. “I did a lot of growing up.”
Dean has started a banking career in Seattle and opened a personal training business. Dean still keeps close track of his sibling.
“He’ll say something after a game. We’ll butt heads,” Callandret said. “But at the end of the day. he is the best big brother I could ask for.”
Callandret isn’t playing scared in his second chance at a senior year. He adheres to a game preparation routine probably more detailed than most college players.
Verlin said he is trying to make Callandret’s time in the gym focused but briefer, but Callandret rejects the idea he is fragile or that he should play tentatively.
“Injuries happen,” he said.
Callandret’s highlight this season has been Idaho’s 91-64 win over Washington State.
As the year goes on, he has larger goals. He wants UI to make the preseason projections come true and win the Big Sky. He would like to be all-conference and convince NBA teams he deserves a shot. Mostly, he wants Verlin to remember this team forever.
“I want him to be able to say, ‘This was the team that was the mecca of my coaching,’ ” Callandret said.
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