Rich Scarcella: Perez, Flowers, Randall share lifetime bond after coaching boys basketball together at Reading High

·7 min read

Jan. 22—Rick Perez and Matt Flowers have known each other for almost 30 years, back to when they were kids in Muhlenberg.

They coached boys basketball together at Reading High for more than a decade and picked up Jai-T Randall, their "big brother," along the way. The three of them worked together to guide the Red Knights to their first PIAA championship five years ago.

Now they're all head coaches, Flowers at Muhlenberg, Randall at Allentown Dieruff and Perez still at Reading. They will have a reunion of sorts Saturday when they lead their teams in three consecutive games at the Geigle Classic.

"It'll be very emotional," Flowers said. "It shows what we've all been working to do. It shows all the work we've put in. It shows the love we put into our kids. It shows that we learned a lot under Coach Perez and that we've grown. It's like a statement that when you work hard you can spread your wings."

The showcase event begins at noon at Geigle Complex with the Reading High girls playing Allentown Allen before five boys games: Allen vs. Lower Merion at 1:30, McCaskey vs. Hazleton at 3, Dieruff vs. Central Dauphin East at 4:30, Muhlenberg vs. Susquehanna Township at 6 and Reading High vs. Archbishop Wood at 7:30 in a rematch of the 2021 PIAA Class 6A title game won by the Red Knights.

"Why shouldn't we be in this situation," Randall, 44, said, "having a chance to come back home to the Geigle, coaching a different team but recognizing that it will always be home for us? There's a legacy left from the hard work and passion we had for the community, the kids and for each other."

Perez, 40, and Flowers, 38, first met during a pickup basketball game in a Muhlenberg park. Along with Rob Flowers, Matt's older brother who's now the football coach at Daniel Boone, the three quickly formed a bond that Perez says remains unbreakable.

They and their families live within a block of each other in Muhlenberg. A day seldom goes by when they don't see each other.

"Spanky (Rob) lives two doors down from us and Tuc (Matt) lives around the corner from us," Perez said. "That's not by accident. Tuc and I work together (at River Rock Academy). It just happened that way.

"We'll always be in each other's corner. We were at Tuc's game the other day (at Muhlenberg). Spanky was on one side of the gym and I was on the other."

Perez, a Wilson graduate, was a Reading High assistant for Richard Reyes and Tim Redding before he was promoted to head coach for the 2011-12 season. His first staff hire was easy. He asked Flowers.

"You really can't separate us," Perez said. "If one of us is doing something, the other one is not far away. There was no way I was going into this job without him."

Flowers had served as a volunteer coach at Reading after his graduation from Kutztown University and then two seasons as the JV coach at Muhlenberg before he joined Perez.

Their brotherly relationship was tested in the early years, especially when Perez's varsity team scrimmaged and trounced Flowers' JV team. But then as now, Perez implicitly trusted Flowers, who spoke the truth no matter what the circumstances were or who he might have offended.

"He taught me that you can never push hard enough," Perez said. "He didn't only push the kids, he pushed us hard. He's going to push you to the brink. You have to trust him because you're going to end up somewhere beautiful."

Flowers first became involved in coaching when Perez and the late Brian Ellison asked him to help them with their AAU team. He's wanted to do nothing else since then.

He said his task once he joined Perez with the Red Knights was to "lay the foundation" for what the program was going to be and not rely on what it was. He was going to be more than a JV coach.

"We were on the road a lot together," Flowers said of he and Perez. "Our families were together a lot, but it was always me and him. A head coach always needs that security blanket. He could talk to me and cry on my shoulder. It's an emotional job.

"He needed me and I was there."

Reading High, however, wasn't making sufficient progress in the eyes of many, including Perez. The Knights were 50-33 without a county or district title and finished his third season with three straight losses.

He wanted to hire an assistant with head coaching experience and knew Randall from when they were JV coaches, Perez at Reading and Randall at Pottstown. Randall, who had been the head coach for three seasons at Pottstown without much success, brought a different personality to the Red Knights than Perez and Flowers.

"He slowed the pace for us," Perez said. "Flowers and I go a million miles a minute. Jai-T was like, 'Slow down. We're missing some things here.' He really helped refine things for us.

"I respected him so much and came to love him. He understood me and accepted me for who I am. He knew I was emotional. For Jai-T to find his niche with us was amazing. We owe a lot to him. He's our wise man."

Perez and Randall clashed several times in that first season, 2014-15, when Lonnie Walker IV was a sophomore. Randall told Perez to throw out his thick playbook and to stop traveling to Philadelphia for summer games and non-league games.

"Rick told me he needed somebody to check him," Randall recalled, "and that he needed somebody to see the bigger picture. I had no problems doing that. We butted heads. I offered a different lens.

"I didn't mind taking responsibilities from Rick so he could focus on one or two things. He was so used to trying to do everything. I made the same mistakes when I was a head coach. Then he began to trust me more."

Reading High won the first of three straight Berks titles in Randall's first season on the staff. The following year (2015-16), the Knights won the District 3 Class 4A title and reached the PIAA semifinals before Allerdice routed them in a game that served as motivation for players and coaches.

In the 2016-17 season, Walker led Reading High to a 30-3 record, the Berks title and that elusive state championship with a win over Pine-Richland in the Class 6A final.

"When that final buzzer sounded at the Giant Center, all we could do was hug," Randall said. "All I could do was stand in one spot and fight back the tears. We did an impossible thing. It took a lot of bumps and scars to get to that place."

Randall, an Albright College grad, stayed three more seasons before taking the Dieruff job in 2020. The Huskies went 6-9 last year and are 2-12 this season as he tries to restore a program that has struggled for a very long time.

"He's a big brother," Flowers said. "He gives it to you as a pop. He gives it to you real. He's the ying to our yang. He was the calm to our storm."

Flowers left after last season when Reading won the District 3 and PIAA championships, something that he had been reluctant to do. He has guided Muhlenberg to an 11-5 record in his first season.

"Every decision I've made has come from our foxhole," Perez said. "Every accolade that people try to give me, cut that in half and give it to Matt Flowers. He's everything to me and what we've done."

The three remain in close contact and talk or text almost every day. They share memories and friendships they will have for the rest of their lives.

"You know how when you have a child, you're forever linked to that person?" Randall said. "It's the same feeling. We're forever linked."