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Gonzaga’s Kaden Perry looking forward to healthy sophomore season after recent back surgery

Gonzaga forward Kaden Perry navigates in traffic against Lewis-Clark State College in an exhibition game last November.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)

Kaden Perry is already feeling better.

Gonzaga’s sophomore forward is three weeks removed from back surgery, but he felt relief within days.

“My quality of life is way better. Life was almost better instantly,” Perry said. “I could sit in a chair for 10, 15 minutes, I could only walk for 30 minutes before my back started crushing me. Now I’m able to sit in a chair and do homework. I can walk without discomfort and shooting pains.”

Growing up, Perry experienced occasional back pain he believes was the product of being tall for his age. That gave away to major back issues over roughly the last calendar year, beginning with a couple of herniated discs that sidelined him after just five games of his senior season at Battle Ground (Washington) High.

Rest and physical therapy helped him to the starting line for his freshman season with the Zags. He played in six games, but his conditioning level wasn’t great because he couldn’t put in his customary training and weightlifting.

Everything changed when he dropped to the McCarthey Athletic Center court in agony during pregame warm-ups Nov. 29. He was helped to the locker room by a manager and a teammate.

Gonzaga’s Kaden Perry is helped off the court after injuring his back prior to a home game against Tarleton State on Nov. 29.  (Jim Meehan/The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga’s Kaden Perry is helped off the court after injuring his back prior to a home game against Tarleton State on Nov. 29. (Jim Meehan/The Spokesman-Review) Buy this photo

“I did a pump-fake, which I’ve done millions of pump-fakes,” Perry said. “That one something popped and I fell to the ground. I knew something was wrong after I hurt myself with no contact.”

He returned nearly a month later to log a few minutes against Northern Arizona and North Alabama. He tried to continue playing, but his back made it clear that wasn’t an option.

“It wasn’t quite the same and it was one problem after another,” Perry said. “It did feel better, then my leg would get a tingly, numb feeling. Then I’d get better and my back would bother me.”

Perry made little or no progress, even with a lengthy break from activity. He took classes via Zoom because walking or sitting in place was often an uncomfortable experience. He watched Gonzaga’s March Madness games, knowing that postseason surgery was necessary.

“They were fixing problems with (three) disc herniations in my back, opening it to give room so I wouldn’t have constant pressure on my spine,” the 6-foot-9, 225-pound Perry said of the May 18 operation.

Perry is early into what figures to be a lengthy rehabilitation. He’s stretching and going through physical therapy. He has returned to the weight room “with some restrictions obviously.”

The next few months will be more of the same with more slowly added to his workload over time. The plan down the road is returning to no-contact drills and eventually full practices this fall.

Perry has heard of former Gonzaga center Przemek Karnowski’s impressive return from back surgery. Karnowski had surgery Dec. 31, 2015, and was back on the court 10 months later for Kraziness in the Kennel. He started all 39 games as the Zags reached the 2017 national championship game.

Perry is hoping for a similar recovery.

“We’re trying to play it slow,” Perry said. “Oh yeah, I should be back (this season).”

Perry was productive in limited playing time last season. He played just 53 minutes, but the athletic forward made 7 of 9 field-goal attempts, scored 14 points and grabbed 18 boards. He had six points and four rebounds in a season-high 12 minutes against Central Michigan in Las Vegas.

“Just the kind of mentality you have to have,” Perry said of lessons learned during his abbreviated freshman season. “When you’re at the top, everyone is gunning for you. Guys like Drew (Timme) and Andrew (Nembhard) were great leaders and able to stay composed. Everybody is good here, everyone is tall. You have to play to your strengths and play as a team. High school was a little different.”

Looking back, Perry said his balky back kept him from being in top condition.

“I have had to try to get back into condition so many times this last year, it’s not even funny,” he said. “I’ve been an athlete my whole life. You come to the No. 1 program in the nation and I’m in worst shape of my life. I got back into shape and then I got hurt again. By the time I started feeling good, (his back) would tweak out.”

Gonzaga’s stacked roster should create spirited practices this fall. Perry’s task is returning to 100% health for his best shot at earning rotation minutes in a stacked frontcourt led by Timme, senior Anton Watson and LSU transfer Efton Reid.

“I just need to show people what I can do, especially the coaches,” Perry said. “Even though I gave it all I had, I had a lot of limitations and struggles. Once I’m able to show what I can do, it’ll help a lot.”