De'Vondre Perry moved to Baltimore two summers ago because he dearly loves his mother.
Set to become a high school sophomore, he left behind the tiny town of Edenton, N.C., for a big city that was a complete stranger.
He missed his friends. He missed the comfortable pace. He missed the good barbecue.
It was difficult, but he knew this is where he needed to be to support his mother, Regina Cooper. She has cardiomyopathy, an abnormal condition of the heart muscle that makes it harder to pump and deliver blood to the rest of the body.
Receiving treatment at Johns Hopkins Hospital was determined to be Cooper's best option. She is doing well and, now, so is Perry.
A junior forward at Poly, Perry has more than settled into his new surroundings. After showing potential during his sophomore year, he has enjoyed a breakthrough season in leading the No. 2 Engineers (19-3) to their first Baltimore City Division I championship. They beat Dunbar, 64-43, on Wednesday with Perry netting a game-high 17 points and six rebounds despite battling foul trouble.
Powerfully built and athletic, carrying 215 pounds on a 6-foot-6 frame, Perry finished the regular season averaging 20.7 points, 12.1 rebounds and 5.3 assists. The Engineers take on Woodlawn in the Class 3A North Section I playoffs Monday, determined to add region and state championships to that city title.
What a difference a year has made for Perry.
"I came from a small school where you knew everybody, so it was a big adjustment for me last year," Perry said. "I kind of stayed to myself because I didn't really know many people. But over the summer, I really started letting people in and getting to know people. Now that we're closer this year, there's a greater bond and everything is working out perfectly."
Perry said he connected with Poly during his first summer here, while playing playground basketball with some older guys. One of them knew a Poly assistant coach and Perry visited the school shortly after. His grades — he maintains a 3.6 GPA — were up to speed and it ended up an ideal fit.
"We had him work out and play with [2015 Poly grad} John Crosby, a freshman now at Dayton," Poly coach Sam Brand said. "And we're like 'How old are you again?' It was unreal seeing a kid, at that time 15 years old, with his size and athleticism."
Brand added that Perry came into the program raw, but they put together a plan to further develop his skills. Already a dominant player in the post because he was always the biggest player when he was growing up, Perry began working on a perimeter game. His work ethic, passion for basketball and his game sense show up every time he plays.
This season, it's common to see Perry grab a rebound, push the ball up the court and spot up for a 3-pointer, relentlessly attack the basket for an easy basket or find an open teammate. The Engineers finished 12-0 in league play and Perry took over the fourth quarter of most every close game.
"He's big, he's strong and he's gotten better," City coach Daryl Wade said. "Last year, he was more in a supporting role with the returning players they had, but this year he's more aggressive. They go through him and he's answered every call."
There's no question who's Perry's biggest fan.
"He's very excited and so happy — basketball is his life," said his mother. "He's always dreamed of being a basketball player and it seems to me he's following his dream. That's what I always told him to do.
"It was taking a toll on me because, at first, I was kind of stressed that he wanted to leave and didn't want to try to make it work. But now that he is happier here and he's showing what he can do, he's matured and everything is coming to. I enjoy going to watch him play and giving him positive feedback, and just listening to the crowd roar for him is awesome."
Others are raving.
Tom Strickler, a Maryland-based scout for the National Recruiting Report, a coaches-only service that evaluates high school basketball talent, first saw Perry play in a mixer at McDonogh in September. He saw a different player when Perry put up 32 points to go with 11 rebounds and four steals when the Engineers beat Lake Clifton, 75-66, in double overtime on Feb. 12.
"He's developed his game to go with his strength and athleticism to garner high-major interest and his transformation has been fairly rapid," Strickler said. "When I was at McDonogh in September, I saw an explosive athlete, a strong athlete. When I watched the game at Lake Clifton, I saw a basketball player that is nearing the completion of being an all-around player. His improvement has been impressive over the year."
Perry is quiet and reserved, guarded to a certain degree until he gets to know someone. When he becomes comfortable, his warm personality takes over.
"If I was my friend," he joked, "I would recommend me to another friend."
During a recent win, senior point guard Christian Chong-Qui was ahead of the pack for an uncontested layup when he realized Perry was trailing not far behind. So, instead, Chong-Qui decided to send the ball off the backboard.
Perry was there to spring upward, grab the ball with both hands and take it high above the rim before forcefully sending it through.
The dynamic play took awareness, timing and athleticism.
Most of all, it took trust.
The Engineers pride themselves on being a family, and Perry is a happy member.
He misses North Carolina, his friends and hanging out at Cook Out, a cheap barbeque joint that he declares has the best brisket.
But he has great friends here now, to go with a school and basketball team to help him grow. He has even come to love the crabcakes.
"It was important to make this decision," he said. "It was the right thing to do and it has worked out for us both. Me being here to help her and the basketball situation — it worked out better than I expected."