Thursday, January 9, 2014


Column: Understated Perry Ellis easing into standout talent

Kansas forward Perry Ellis delivers a dunk over the Oklahoma defense during the first half on Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2013 at Lloyd Noble Center in Norman, Oklahoma.

Kansas forward Perry Ellis delivers a dunk over the Oklahoma defense during the first half on Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2013 at Lloyd Noble Center in Norman, Oklahoma.


Sometimes, the smoother the basketball player, the more you want to see out of him, the more you suspect the pedal isn’t all the way to the metal. Perry Ellis takes eight shots from the field and comes away with 22 points and 11 rebounds in Wednesday night’s victory at Oklahoma, and our greed kicks in: How many could he have scored if he took 15 shots? It’s a natural reaction.

Steven Young, coach of the Wichita-based “Pray and Play Players” AAU basketball program, said he has worked with Ellis on his game “since he was 5 or 6 years old.” Ellis, Young said, always has been a “low-volume, high-production,” basketball player. By “low volume,” Young meant the amount of shots. He just as easily could have meant the intensity of sound because physically and verbally the noise Ellis generates is of the background variety.

Ellis did all Young asked of him as a basketball student, and still the sports fan in the mentor wanted to see more. Young’s imagination couldn’t shake the prospect of watching Ellis bursting out of the starting blocks flanked by much shorter sprinters, no basketball in sight, burning ahead of the pack toward the tape extending across the track.

“I always believed he could have won the state title in the 100 and 200 if he put some effort into it,” Young said. “He always was one of the fastest people around, even in high school, but he never would go out and run and show everybody.”

Doing it always has interested Ellis more than showing other people how well he does it. Besides, track and field didn’t interest him. He locked in on basketball exclusively about the age of 8, Young said. And when Ellis locks in on something, he stays at it until he gets it right. He was the same way in the classroom and became one of his high school’s four valedictorians.

Young, a coach who has mentored so many young athletes through the years in Wichita, said he knew he had a good pupil immediately.

“He made sure he did all of his fundamentals from Day 1,” Young said. “We always worked on the footwork to make sure it was correct: Facing up to the basket, shooting the ball, knowing how to seal. He was always very meticulous as a little kid, just a pleaser, a rules kid, always wanting to follow the rules. If we ran sets, he’d know where he was supposed to be and was always doing it correctly.”

To watch Ellis play basketball so efficiently when KU has the ball can make the mind wander to San Antonio Spurs superstar Tim Duncan, minus three inches. If Duncan is “The Big Fundamental,” Ellis has the makings of “The Little Fundamental.”

Watching Ellis, you seldom find yourself asking, “Why did he take that shot?” Or: “Wouldn’t driving, instead of shooting it there, have been the right call?” Or: “What was the purpose of dribbling there?” Ellis tends to pull out of his belt the appropriate tool to accomplish the task at hand and taps the hammer with more force than the sound it generates would indicate. Not many defenders his size can follow him to the perimeter and play close to him because he has the quicker step, plus a terrific, ambidextrous handle that keeps the defender guessing.

“Fifteen feet, open floor, left or right, so many different options,” Ellis said. “I would say that’s where I feel most comfortable.”

Said Young: “He’s a comfort guy. The more comfortable he gets, the more he’s going to improve. When he’s comfortable, the game’s pretty easy for him. The less thinking he has to do and the more reacting, just being strong and fast, makes him more athletic, and that’s when he really shows how athletic he is.”

With such quiet body language, such fluid, efficient body movement, fully appreciating just how fast Ellis runs, how high he leaps, requires watching him more closely than some with a louder presence, a more highlight-friendly style.

“People don’t realize how athletic he can be,” Young said. “The more you watch, the more you see what he can do. He jumps high enough to get it done. No matter who he goes against, he can always go up another gear. That’s the way he’s always been. I’ve seen him dunk in somebody’s face and just turn around and run down the court.”

It’s part of what makes Ellis so popular with the Kansas basketball fan base, which tends to favor the understated player over the flashy one. Again, Young sees Ellis play, likes what he sees, and wants to see more. He still regularly talks with Ellis and shares thoughts on how a good man and good player can become a better man and better player.

“You want to see him get more emotional, but that’s the way he’s always been,” Young said of Ellis, whose expression seldom reveals what just happened on the floor. “Just doing the job and doing it right. You want to see him have some form of emotion sometimes during the game because sometimes that energizes the other people on the floor.”

Young summed up his former pupil and forever-friend as, “just a good person, with good Christian values. We always say, ‘Be a better person and then be a better player.’ That’s always been our mission.”

As Ellis’ comfort level improves, so too does the rate of his improvement. A finesse player at heart, he was uncomfortable with the football-without-the-helmet side of college basketball for much of his freshman season. Defensively, he said, his focus was on “not messing up,” instead of “playing freely.”

“It was a tough transition,” Ellis said “You have to be a lot more physical than in high school. Eventually it came along, but it definitely was a transition.”

His game has plenty of room for expansion in other areas as well. He tends to get out to three-point shooters a little late, still is too easy to shoot over inside, although getting better there, and he could play the passing lanes with better anticipation.

Offensively, extending his range to behind the three-point semicircle is on its way, but Ellis errs on the side of caution in expanding his game, tends not to get ahead of himself, likes to get things down pat first.

“I’m easing into it a little bit,” he said of shooting threes. “I’m not forcing it. Maybe as I get more comfortable, I’ll shoot more of them.” He has made three of seven threes and ranks second among Jayhawks in scoring (13.8) to Andrew Wiggins (15.3), second in rebounding (6.9) to Joel Embiid (7.2).

A 6-foot-8, 225-pound sophomore forward who led his Wichita Heights High basketball team to four state titles, Ellis has made a prophet out of his college coach, who started recruiting him the summer after his eighth-grade year.

“Fans are going to fall in love with him because he’s so responsible, disciplined, great student, just a great ambassador for any program,” 11th-year KU coach Bill Self said on the day Ellis signed with Kansas.

Anybody think that prediction has in any way fallen short?

While waiting for somebody to answer in the affirmative, listen closely for a silence that echoes from Lawrence to Wichita and back.


Steve Zimmerman 5 years, 5 months ago

If Ellis can putback slam like that all the time, I'm happy for him. If he always goes up strong and slamjam like Gordon, he'll be in top-10 draft. I know Ellis can do this kind of thing. His (spin) move is improving, too. He just needs to make his legs work more dynamic - that's all. He needs to be stronger in rebound/boxing out, too. Good article, btw.

Steve Zimmerman 5 years, 5 months ago

Can I request to display "dunk" stats so HCBS, staff & the boys can see, too? I think it's time for our big boys which are long & athletic (even in the eyes of draft observers) need to show them. No more layups, no more girlish putbacks, or dance around the rim. This team is really lack of fire. As a fan, I demand more than just winning. Our team needs to show their passion, their ferocity, their way of shutting down opponents. Killer instinct. If we start playing like big men, I guarantee our opponents will tremble before the ball is tossed by ref. If I'm not mistaken, Ellis only made 6-7 dunks so far. I don't know how they practice, but boy, HCBS needs to max out those talents or they gone wasted.

Tom Keegan 5 years, 5 months ago

Good idea on the dunks. Thanks for that, Steve.

Chris Shaw 5 years, 5 months ago

Ellis will never project out to a Top 10 pick. He's undersized and isn't as athletic as someone like Aaron Gordon.

That doesn't mean Ellis won't play in the league, but he's an undersized power forward which doesn't transition well to the NBA. He's gonna have to increase his shooting range and his perimeter game if he ever wants to be a Top 10 pick...and the likely hood of that happening is slim.

As for Perry at Kansas...he's the perfect type of player at Kansas. As long as Perry doesn't have to be the focal point and guys like Embiid, Wiggins, and Selden shoulder more responsibility as the season progresses...Ellis will continue to get his points, his stats, and be a pretty efficient player. When Embiid, Selden, and Wiggins struggle and Ellis has to be the go to guy...I don't think that is the remedy for success for Kansas as both Kansas and Ellis have shown with the inconsistency all season.

I second the great article.

Ethan Berger 5 years, 5 months ago

He might be able to if he can adapt wing players skill sets. But as long his a post guy, he is a 4 yr guy for us!

Greg Lux 5 years, 5 months ago

You are correct (imho) about Ellis not being a top 10 pick as a 4. He needs to play the 3 to have any NBA future. Hopefully next year he will be able to more out to the 3 and show his range and speed a lot better. He is far too short and light to be a 4 at the next level. I feel confident he can play the 3 and play is well, but the sooner he gets out there the better for his future. Ellis can and I feel will play at the next level but he has to change positions to improve his chances of being a top the middle first rounder.

Beau Woolsey 5 years, 5 months ago

I agree with Steve, Wiggins gets his elbow above the rim for his layups and drops it in and then bounces out. He needs to dunk or I am going to crazy.

Darrel Stice 5 years, 5 months ago

I couldn't agree more. I want to throw something at the tv every time Wiggins does a finger roll when he could stuff it. Just flush it already! Those don't come back out nearly as often!!

Scott Oswalt 5 years, 5 months ago

I couldn't agree more. DUNK THE BALL! When Wiggins drives, he takes a dribble and spins, then finger rolls. Spin and throw it down, you're right at the rim and it won't bounce out.

Glen Miller 5 years, 5 months ago

I will take a team full of Perry Ellis's every day of the week. He may not have the flash of Wiggins, the defensive ability of Travis Releford, or the range of our 3 point specialists..... but the guy buys in and gets better every day. He's a good student and representative of the University and he will be in the program for 3 or 4 years. He's not top notch at any one thing, but he's above average at most things. He learns and listens and his improvement over his year and a 1/2 has shown that. He plays hard and fights for balls. He doesn't show boat or slack back on D. The guy just plays at 100% all the time. Self will bring him along and by his Senior year, if he doesn't leave before that, I think that he will be an all around player and stud. I think he will play many years in the NBA at the 3 and 4 spot. Some guys just get it, and Perry is one of those guys. I am very glad to have him on our team and look forward to watching him grow as his time at Kansas continues. RCJH

Joe Joseph 5 years, 5 months ago

The success of this team depends largely on Ellis being active and getting good shots. The games in which KU has struggled, have typically been games in which Ellis has made little impact on the box score.

I anticipate Perry's jersey hanging from the rafters one day.

Robert Brock 5 years, 5 months ago

By his senior year I expect that Ellis will be a tough defender.

Suzi Marshall 5 years, 5 months ago

Rim Lesson: Cliff Alexander demonstrates a more effective technique finishing at the rim. The ball goes all the way through with this novel method.

Phil Leister 5 years, 5 months ago

Problem is, Wiggins' mixtape showed him dunking absolutely everything near the rim. I'm not sure why he's changed.

Tony Bandle 5 years, 5 months ago

Take a good look at the picture that a player who has carefully and faithfully listened to Andrea Hudey or WHAT!! Those "guns" were in the holster last year.

The point being, can you imagine what Jo Jo would look like this time next year. He will be gone but fear not, fellow Hawks......wait to you see Cliff Alexander!!

Alexander The Great [bet your mortgage that this line will be used ad nauseum all next season] will bring an NBA presence. If the OAD Rule was appealed, Cliff would be making like LeBron and heading to The Show!!

Next season's possible line-up could actually end up being better overall than this heralded season: Embiid, Wiggins, Selden, Ellis, Tharpe - '13/'14 vs Alexander, Oubre, Selden, Ellis and Mason - '14/'15!!

Tony Bandle 5 years, 5 months ago

PS Perry's that is, not Suzi's picture of Cliff...although it looks as if Cliff has already talked with Andrea!! :)

Suzi Marshall 5 years, 5 months ago

All reports out of Chicago, from knowlegable people, ALL report Alexander the Great is the real deal. Alexander shows his version of a finesse move as well as his version of the dipsy doodle finger roll.

Asad Zoberi 5 years, 5 months ago

I am not convinced that Embiid will leave after this year. I have a strong feeling Embiid will be back for his 2nd year.

Firstly, he and his family does not need the money. They are quite well off.

Secondly, the kid is very naive/new in the US system, he does not even know how to drive a car. He is just not ready to handle all the complexities, hoopla and baggage that comes along dealing with the agents.

Thirdly, he is a smart kid and he will understand that staying an extra year in college will pay significant dividends and will increase longevitity to his NBA career.

In that case we will be really LOADED up front - Embiid, Ellis, Cliff, Traylor, Lucas and Mickelson and Self may decide to let Ellis play some at 3 spot as well.

Ron Prichard 5 years, 5 months ago

Actually, while I still think he probably goes, I don't think it is as clear cut as most people believe. As reports indicate, he has been researching big men and how long they stayed in college v. how that translated into NBA success. This would seem to indicate that the decision to leave has not been made yet. Also, if you read Jason King's article in Bleacher Report about Embiid (2-3 weeks ago), Embiid seems to indicate that HE thinks he isn't ready for the NBA just yet. Will he be by the end of the year? Maybe. Is he there yet? No. That alone is reason to hope he comes back.

While I would never expect a player that could be drafted 1,2 or 3 to return to school for another year, Embiid may just be that perfect storm of a player that decides to do just that. I'm not saying it is probable, or even more likely than not, but I do think there is a fairly decent chance we see Embiid in a KU jersey next year.

Jonathan Allison 5 years, 5 months ago

I posted this after the Toledo game:

Embiid has the personality to make a decision that would surprise everyone. If he's projected as the #1 pick in the draft then he should go, but if it would make his father proud for him to return and continue his education then he may well do it. I would be surprised but not shocked if he doesn't bolt for the draft at the earliest opportunity.

December 31, 2013 at 7:05 a.m.

You have stated that Embiid's family has good money and I don't doubt this since they were able to send him to the US for HS and his father was able to travel for a visit last month. Money certainly would be one factor, but to me there may just be a cultural or family value factor that could be stronger than the money factor. Embiid's father is a military man, and I assume that Joel grew up in a very strict home and in a home that values honoring your family. I suspect that if Papa wants him to get a degree, then he will get a degree. It's just a matter of will he earn it while he's a student athlete or will he earn it after he's a professional athlete. I could easily see him coming back for a second season, then leaving and finishing his degree later. But I could even more easily see him taking the money after this season and figuring the rest out later.

If I were his parents and I had plenty, I would just tell him to follow his heart. It may lead him to stay in school or it may tell him to sign that 5-10 million dollar rookie contract and let mom and dad be set for the rest of their lives.

Robert Robinson 5 years, 5 months ago

Ellis is the man! I like low key high production guys

Dirk Medema 5 years, 5 months ago

Said Young: “He’s a comfort guy. The more comfortable he gets, the more he’s going to improve. When he’s comfortable, the game’s pretty easy for him. The less thinking he has to do and the more reacting, just being strong and fast, makes him more athletic, and that’s when he really shows how athletic he is.”

Thinking makes Perry uncomfortable, but it would seem that the mature, physical play of SDSU also made him uncomfortable. My guess is that we are going to see a correlation between teams that can put a body on Perry to make him feel uncomfortable and games where he performs below average.

Much like facing zones, the scouting report is likely to be put a body on Perry - until he finds the ability to succeed against the uncomfort/zone.

John Randall 5 years, 5 months ago

Interesting that an article headlining the reserve, control, temperament of our leader with no megaphone would generate at least a third of the comments to be on the topic of flashier, less consistent teammates. Not that either Andrew or Joel approach the game with "hear me, see me, talk about me" attitudes. In fact, they are more appreciative of Perry and his style than most of the fans (as well as too many writers and commentators).

WYSIWYG, ever play, all game long can indeed be even more intimidating for opponents than self-promoting touchdown dances twice a night.

Also, these three are real case studies on the value of the college experience – which only defers (doesn't forfeit) monetary rewards from "The League".

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