Manhattan’s Jose Perez capitalizing on NIL deal for mother

Two years ago, Jose Perez hit a mental wall over on-court struggles that ruined the end of his season. Last February, injuries forced him to burn his redshirt at his new school, and then the coach was fired.

Very little had gone right for Perez since 2019, when he led Gardner-Webb to the NCAA Tournament as a freshman.

“Ever since, it’s been a roller-coaster ride,” the 6-foot-5 Manhattan College guard told The Post.

Perez, who spent last season at Marquette, is on the way up now. He’s not only back home finding his game, but he has agreed to a Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) deal with BlueChip, which could be a major resource for his family.

“It’s pretty dope,” he said. “I get to provide for my mom.”

Perez’s mother, Juana Hernandez, is unable to work. She has been in and out of the hospital battling breast cancer. He has two brothers, John Sosa and Joshua Marcelino, in the armed forces. All of Perez’s money, through a pell grant and cost of attendance, goes to his family. Now, he has another avenue that can provide relief.

With BlueChip, Perez will create his own brand and tell his story through products, content and life experiences, and the company will connect him directly with fans. It is designing a signature logo and apparel collection for him and projects Perez to make up to four-figures every three months based on his social media numbers and projected sales. His profit is contingent on how his merchandise sells as he builds his brand.

Jose Perez gestures after hitting a 3-pointer in a game with Marquette last season.

“[It helps] a ton, honestly, to be able to pay rent and stuff like that,” The Bronx native said. “My mom doesn’t have to really stress that much. The production on the court is being able to help me off the court.

“I love giving, so if I have it, I want to provide, and this is why I took the basketball route.”

Perez’s story intrigued BlueChip, board member and CEO adviser Todd Montesano said. BlueChip had gotten involved in NIL, partnering with college athletes such as St. John’s star Julian Champagnie, and felt Perez could be a strong addition to its growing stable of clients. Here was a fiery and passionate kid coming home to be closer to his mother, provide for his family and attempt to bring Manhattan back to the top of the MAAC after some down years.

“I think it’s the hunger [that interested us the most],” said Montesano, a St. John’s alum and baseball player in his college days. “He has a drive and motivation to separate himself and to put his family on his back.”

When he was growing up, Perez’s intensity could sometimes rub people the wrong way. He didn’t know how to turn it off, former AAU coach Terrance “Munch” Williams said. He was at 100 percent on every play. Williams described him as a “ball of fire,” animated and boisterous.

Unlike others, Manhattan coach Steve Masiello loved the emotion. He felt it just needed to be harnessed. Manhattan recruited Perez out of Wings Academy in The Bronx and Putnam (Conn.) Science Academy, developing a relationship that paid off years later. When Marquette fired coach Steve Wojciechowski following last season, Perez entered the transfer portal and Masiello received a phone call from someone attached to the player. Perez wanted to come home and close out his college career at Manhattan.

Masiello was interested, but after twice losing out on Perez — first to Gardner-Webb, then to Marquette — he was blunt.

Gardner-Webb's Jose Perez (5) drives to the basket past Virginia's Jack Salt (33) during a first-round game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament in Columbia, S.C., Friday, March 22, 2019.
Gardner-Webb’s Jose Perez drives to the basket past Virginia’s Jack Salt during an NCAA Tournament game in 2019.

“Listen, I’m not going to recruit you,” Masiello told hin. “If you want to come, you know what I’m about. You know who we are, you know how I coach. Here’s why I think we would be great.”

“I’m with it, let’s do it,” Perez responded.

The partnership has panned out so far. Manhattan (8-3, 1-1 MAAC) is off to its best start in eight years. Perez is averaging team-highs of 14.1 points, 5.5 assists and 6.5 free-throw attempts per game. The Jaspers play through Perez frequently, putting the ball in his hands and letting him make decisions. It’s not a coincidence that in two of Manhattan’s three losses, Perez struggled.

“The biggest compliment I can give him, and I used to say this about Terrence Williams and Earl Clark [when Massiello was an assistant under Rick Pitino at Louisville], Jose can literally dominate the game without ever shooting the ball,” Masiello said. “Not a lot of guys can do that. His IQ is as good as anyone I’ve ever coached. He’s really playing chess out there while other guys are playing checkers, and that’s not an insult. His mind sees things two and three steps ahead.”

That’s not to say Perez is a finished product. Masiello and his staff are working with him to play with emotion, but not to be emotional. His jump shot is still not there yet — Perez is shooting only 22.7 percent from 3-point range — and he is adjusting to being pushed the way Masiello pushes his players.

But so much is right with his life right now. He is close to his mother and could soon be helping her even more financially. He frequently has friends and family in attendance at his games, is playing his best basketball since his freshman year of college, and has even higher aspirations — not only for himself, but for his new school, which last earned an invite to the NCAA Tournament in 2015.

“As of right now, I’m taking it as this is my last year, my last go-around, so I want to go out with a bang,” Perez said. “It would be huge to take Manhattan back to the tournament.

“I’m trying to make the best of where I’m at, and I feel like I’m doing that.”