LAS VEGAS – When two-time NBA slam dunk champion Zach LaVine called the Chicago Bulls organization and asked a favor, it wasn’t the first time he’d reached out for his childhood friend Perrion Callandret.
The two have known each other since middle school. They both played basketball at Bothell High School, and their relationship grew stronger when Callandret’s family needed it the most.
To say the LaVine family was there for Callandret at his lowest moment … well, they tell the story better.
“Zach’s an amazing dude; I could talk about him forever,” said Callandret, a 6-foot-2 guard who avearged 14.0 points as a junior at the University of Idaho. “Because without him I wouldn’t be here. Without his family, they’re great people. Them along with my own family have been literally the cornerstone of why I keep playing.”
Added LaVine: “He’s like my brother, legitimately. I didn’t have any brothers growing up, I have two sisters, but he moved in with me when I was a sophomore in high school. We’ve been friends even before that, since we were in sixth grade. The bond is bigger than anything it can be. He’s helped me along this way more than he knows because he gave me (somebody) to compete against, like a brother.”
So, it was nothing for LaVine to call the Bulls and ask they look at Callandret to merely consider him for this year’s NBA Summer League team.
He didn’t want him to have a spot, he wanted him to earn it. He wanted the brother he never had to get the chance he’d yet to have.
The rest was up to Callandret.
When the Callandret family’s means were limited, it meant the young, budding basketball player might see hopes and dreams disappear. And not hopes and dreams of a basketball player. The kind about waking up under a roof, in a bed. Callandret admitted before Monday’s summer league game against the New Orleans Pelicans that his family hit hard times.
But they never left his side and were appreciative when LaVine’s family welcomed him into their home. From friendship, to second family, Callandret’s hopes and dreams of living comfortably under a roof remained intact.
“I respect his resiliency,” LaVine said Monday after the game. “He’s a fighter. He’s still in the gym with me every day working out; he still has the same goal trying to make the NBA. He has taught me that whatever you have to do, whatever’s going on in your life, you have to have that big picture. We’re family; we’re gonna fight for each other.”
Which is why LaVine made that call, and partly why he made the trip to Las Vegas for this year’s summer league.
In year’s past, LaVine has been a fixture on the west-side baseline of the Thomas and Mack Center to watch the Minnesota Timberwolves, his former team. Monday, he sat on the east-side baseline, closer to the Bulls’ bench, several feet from his “brother” and waiting in anticipation for Callandret’s number to be called.
“It’s kind of an inseparable bond,” Callandret said. “We went to school together in high school, and that’s where our relationship blossomed. To be able to know that I have such a great friend, where he’d reach out to his organization to give me a shot, you can’t ask for better people in your life than that.”
Callandret wasn’t highly recruited out of high school, like LaVine, who starred at UCLA.
In his final two seasons at Idaho, Callandret suffered injuries – the last of which kept him off the court for a year.
And while some might use such a thing as a chip on their shoulder, Callandret said he’s always appreciated being overlooked. After all, when you’ve been through what he’s endured, you live and breathe with a chip on your shoulder. You always have a competitive edge.
That way when the few who have stepped up and showed their confidence – like LaVine or former Idaho coach Don Verlin – it helped his courage and work ethic and demeanor and cause.
“I’m not gonna put a bigger (chip) on (my shoulder) for people (not) believing in me and me having to be the underdog,” Callandret said. “I just know what I have to do. I’m not gonna say that it makes me go harder than I already do, because I feel like I work super hard. It makes me appreciate all my opportunities, like being here in the summer league, whether I play 30 minutes or 30 seconds. It’s just being appreciative of all my opportunities.”
With the Bulls trailing big Monday, Bulls coach Nate Loenser called Callandret’s number. Maybe it was because the game was out of reach. Perhaps because LaVine was sitting courtside.
Some call it garbage time. Callandret treated it as an opportunity.
“At this level, there’s different paths,” Loenser said. “How he got on the team is kind of irrelevant. We all get favors; we all get different opportunities; it’s what we do with those opportunities. His attitude has been great since day one. He’s worked very hard; he’s surprised me and our coaching staff the right way. His vibe has been great when he’s gotten his opportunities this week; he’s done what we’ve asked him to do, and I’m just excited for him to get this opportunity.”
Where Callandret ends up remains to be seen. Whether it’s with the Bulls’ G League team, or overseas, he certainly has the ability to become a pro basketball player. Eventually, with growth and experience, there is no reason to believe he can’t make an NBA roster.
It’s in his genes to fight and claw and scrap for everything he wants. It’s in his DNA to survive.
He admitted the biggest transition has been keeping up with the pace and finding his spots on the floor. As he said, he needs to get his “groove back.” The one thing that’s kept him encouraged the past two weeks, since joining Chicago’s summer league roster, is he isn’t afraid to put his athleticism against anyone else’s and will use it to his advantage.
“He’s an elite athlete,” LaVine said. “He’s a team-oriented guy who will do everything for the team. If you want him to go out there and play center, he’ll do that. He’ll guard different positions. You talk about pure athlete, skill wise, somebody that could shoot the ball, pass, play defense and get up and try and dunk on you, I think he’s got the whole package.
“I want him to be as successful as he can in his career. He’s been with me every step that I’ve been in the NBA, helping me along. It’s just really cool to see him out here doing his thing.”
If anyone would know, it’s LaVine. Heck, if he didn’t think his friend had a chance to compete at the next level, he could make him part of his entourage and just bring him along for the ride.
But Callandret wouldn’t have it that way. He’s not a guy who wants or asks for the easy way out.
Just show him the door. He’ll kick it open and prove himself to whomever is watching.
“I went out and I tried out for the Bulls and I played well enough to get a chance to compete and after everything I’ve been through … being able to play basketball at all, is honestly a blessing to me. But playing here at the highest stage is unreal.
“It’s a dream come true.”
W.G. Ramirez is a freelance reporter in Las Vegas and the Southern Nevada correspondent for The Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter at @WillieGRamirez
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