ANAHEIM, Calif. — Tears welled up in Josh Perkins' eyes. A pinkish hue circled around them. As Rui Hachimura stood at the free-throw line with Gonzaga trailing 75-69 and fewer than five seconds remaining, reality set in. This was Perkins' last game in a Bulldog uniform. Emotions manned his internal control board.
"Countless memories, no putting it into words," Perkins said. "Being with them on a daily basis, road trips, being coached by such high-character guys, playing with such high-character dudes, playing with their family, their kids. It's a family atmosphere and I'm going to the real world now. Best five years of my life."
There have been few, if any, recent GU players more divisive among Bulldog supporters than Perkins. For years, it felt as though fans harped on his turnovers and decision-making, which, truthfully, had been anything but a problem these past two seasons, when he dished out 427 assists to just 152 turnovers.
They wanted him to shoot more. Play better defense. Be more aggressive. Last year, I even called on him to be better in big games. They, and I, wanted him to be something he wasn't.
"I tip my hat to him, man. He's hung in there, been kind of a lightning rod over the years because our program garners so much attention and he's handled it with grace," head coach Mark Few said. "If you went and asked those guys in the [locker] room, they would hands down say he is the best teammate they ever had."
To fact-check Few's final claim, one doesn't have to venture far, a mere glance to his side toward Brandon Clarke.
"I came [to GU] to play with a guy that's like Josh, really, to play with a point guard that I knew we would have a connection that is deeper than I've ever had before with a teammate," Clarke said. "Playing on the court with him is basically something I've dreamed about. It's something I love doing and I'm going to miss a lot.
"Josh is just huge for the program and he was very, very big for the team this year. We wouldn't have been close this year without him. Just really blessed to play by him."
Saturday's final buzzer blared, Texas Tech red flooded the court and Zach Norvell Jr. couldn't move. He stood with hands on his knees, staring at the hardwood beneath him, perhaps wondering what could have been this season. Perhaps wondering what could have been without his 3-of-11 shooting game and three turnovers. But there was Perkins, eyes swollen and tears trickling down his face, consoling the redshirt sophomore, telling him he loved him.
Perkins hosted Norvell when he visited GU years ago on a recruiting trip and the two have lockers situated within arm's reach of one another back in Spokane. When Norvell's shots aren't falling early and he turns it around later, he's always quick to single out Perkins post-game as the guy who's in his ear telling him to keep firing. When Norvell redshirted his freshman year due to slow recovery after meniscus surgery, Perkins helped guide him through that frustrating period.
"Him going through the redshirt year himself, he was there to help me with the day-to-day process of the bigger picture," Norvell said. "Coming in as a freshman and having to sit out, it's not easy at all, but having guys surround you that want the best for you and understand what's ahead, I feel like he did a great job of doing that and got me ready to go."
The fifth-year senior is a bridge among many eras in GU history. Ask him about the most successful teams in Zag history and he'll likely have first-hand stories to share as a 23-year-old sage.
With a broken jaw and his mouth wired shut as a freshman, he watched Kevin Pangos and Kyle Wiltjer lead the Bulldogs to their first Elite Eight since 1999 and second one in team history. In 2017, after a year running point, he ceded lead guard duties to Nigel Williams-Goss, slid over to the wing and saw Przemek Karnowski become the winningest player in NCAA history, bringing GU to the brink of a national championship. This year, he led the Zags to five weeks atop the AP Poll and within inches of their second Final Four berth in three seasons.
"We can write a book on Perk and Perk and I," Few said. "The amount of growth that has occurred during his five years in our program and every facet of his life is kinda what coaching is all about. He's a much more mature player, a much better player now and we've been an incredible program and had an incredible run with him at the helm."
Perkins will leave GU as its all-time assists leader by over 40 dimes. In the one-and-done era, his successors will be hard pressed to top that. He'll exit with three Sweet 16s, two Elite Eights and a national title appearance — and have started each of those games. He's racked up 134 wins over his career, three behind Karnowski for the most in NCAA history.
"Amazing, amazing," Jeremy Jones said of Perkins' GU career. "Look at all-time assist leader [at GU]. He's up there in wins for all-time college basketball players. Amazing. Once people finally look back at his career, look at the numbers — I mean, he's top 20 or 30 in Gonzaga scoring, so his career was definitely at the top of the list."
Perkins' career wasn't always perfect. There were bouts of passivity as a scorer, hesitating on 3s or open shots in search of the extra pass. He didn't always defend at the level of some of his predecessors. He turned it over three times during the final minute of GU's loss to BYU in 2017, crushing the hopes of a perfect season.
He swiped at the left wrist of Texas Tech guard Matt Mooney on an inbounds pass with 10 seconds left on Saturday and was called for a technical foul, awarding the Red Raiders two free throws and possession, all but sealing the game. He said that technical foul will be something he thinks about forever, though GU was only down two at that time primarily because of his personal 22-second, 5-0 run that turned a 69-62 deficit to 69-67 moments earlier.
Those past blemishes, even if Perkins hasn't scrubbed all of them away, won't define his legacy in the Lilac City.
"He's comfortable with himself. He doesn't try to be anybody else that he's not and I feel like that wore off on everybody in here," Norvell said. "You're not gonna be what everybody wants you to be at all, just being comfortable in your own skin, having people accept you for who you are. It may sound crazy but it's something that you learn being around Josh every day, just be yourself and forget who don't like you."
Following a lineage of past Bulldog point guards like John Stockton, Dan Dickau, Matt Santangelo and Williams-Goss, Perkins didn't try to be any of them. He played his own game: hitting open 3s, whirling feeds to cutting big men or shooters on the perimeter and competing defensively. He was always just Josh Perkins, The Prince of Park Hill.