Giolibeth Perez has virtually been on her own since she was 14 years old.
She left everything and everyone behind to start anew in America. Her bravery, mixed with a drive to succeed, helped bring her not only to the Stony Brook Women’s Basketball program, but to Puerto Rico’s U-18 FIBA national team.
Once she arrived in Brooklyn, she stayed with a close family friend, who took her in as she made the transition to the land of new opportunities. Not only did she have little time to adapt to the culture, but she no longer had her friends and family by her side.
“I talk to my parents everyday, two to three times a day,” Perez said with a smile. “I had a purpose and I had to sacrifice some things to work on that purpose. One of the sacrifices that I had to make was my family. It’s paying off right now.”
Growing up in the Puerto Rican municipality of Camuy, a coastal area of 35,000 citizens, her father groomed her to play the sport she has now grown to cherish. However, as she matured, she realized her dreams could not be accomplished in the area in which she was raised. When she was in eighth grade, she told her father she wanted to come to the United States to play, but it meant doing it on her own.
“I came to Brooklyn and went to Bishop Ford High School for my freshman year,” Perez recalled. “It was hard at the beginning since I didn’t have my family with me. It was pretty difficult. I tell my parents every single time I see them that I can do this. It’s having you guys far away, but it will pay off at the end of the day.”
While Perez stayed with close friends in Brooklyn, things were not easy for her. Her first language is Spanish; she learned English later in life. When she made the transition to a New York City Catholic high school, her coaches and teammates helped her adapt.
However, it was not long before the school shut down.
Bishop Ford High School permanently closed just after the team won a state championship, leaving Perez, along with her teammates, looking for a new home. She was fortunate to find one, but it meant she had to move once again.
“I didn’t know where to go, so I was recruited to go to Montverde Academy [in Florida] and then I went to Miami for my final two years,” Perez said.
Attending John A. Ferguson High School for her junior and senior years, she emerged as a team leader. In her first year with the school, she averaged 18 points and 6.2 assists per game, leading the squad to become sixth-ranked in all of Florida.
In Perez’s senior year at Ferguson, she was named the Miami-Dade County Player of the Year before she signed with the Seawolves.
“I think Gio is a really vocal point guard,” Stony Brook head coach Caroline McCombs said. “[She’s] fast, quick, athletic, moves very well with the ball and now, it’s just getting her adjusted to the pace of college basketball.”
As Perez looks to settle in during her first year with the Seawolves, she will be under the guidance of senior guard Kori Bayne-Walker. The third-year starter enters her final year with the team after going back-to-back seasons with over 100 assists, putting her second all-time at Stony Brook with 341 assists.
“She’s a natural leader,” Bayne-Walker said of Perez. “She’s good at driving, distributing the ball and [she’s] very vocal. She’s been doing a very good job.”
This past summer, Perez received an upgrade to the Puerto Rican U-18 team, being featured in a lineup consisting of mostly high school graduates. The team went 2-3 over the summer, but it was good enough to get a ticket to Italy for the FIBA U-19 Tournament next summer.
“I’ve been playing with the national team for a couple of years already,” Perez said. “We qualified for the world tournament for the second time in Puerto Rican history. It’s a pretty good experience to play on the national team. It’s an honor to represent your country outside of college and be there for your country.”
Over the summer, Perez was an instrumental part of the Puerto Rican squad, averaging 10.8 points and 5.4 assists in each game. However, the differences of the international game versus the high school experience showed in her ball security.
The 18-year-old had 5.2 turnovers a game, with six each in three games against China, Mexico and Canada. But in the game against Mexico, the second of the tournament, she went off on the opposing defense, scoring a tournament-high 17 points and nine assists.
“Anytime you can have that international experience with the game being so physical, it’s fast-paced and they let you play on the international scene; it helps her tremendously,” McCombs said.
While McCombs declined to say what Perez’s exact role will be, she has high expectations for the freshman.
“There’s always room for a point guard,” McCombs said. “It’s like a quarterback. You have to study, learn the offense and know your teammates. You have to know what the other team is going to do. That’s a big adjustment coming in as a freshman, being able to lead the team. She’s fortunate to have Kori to learn from.”
As Perez looks forward to her first year with Stony Brook, she understands the challenge ahead. But after conquering high school basketball in multiple states, she is ready for what lies ahead.