It doesn’t matter who you talk to about Perry Ellis, they say the same things. And they express the same admiration and appreciation for a young man who has grown up just as they thought he would.
Ellis is Kansas’ 6-foot-8 senior forward. The journey from Mueller Elementary to Brooks Middle School to Heights High to KU has been incredible. From a man among boys as a young basketball player, to a four-time state champion and All-State player at Heights, to a McDonald’s All-American his senior year, to carrying a 4.0 grade-point average and to now being a potential player of the year in the Big 12.
Basketball, though, doesn’t begin to tell his story. It’s one told best by those who have known him the longest, who don’t necessarily see him as an athlete first and foremost and who appreciate all of Ellis’ unique qualities and are amazed that his great amount of success on the basketball floor and in the classroom haven’t changed him one iota.
Let’s start when Ellis was in kindergarten at Mueller. His teacher, Carolyn Bryant, talks about him in the way KU coach Bill Self might today.
“He was a really hard worker, self-disciplined,” said Bryant, who taught for 28 years before retiring, 22 of them in kindergarten. “In him, I saw a little boy who was really analyzing what was going on around him. You’d see a very studied, focused look in his eyes and on his face, the same look you see when he’s on the basketball court now.”
…Talbott remembers talking to Ellis’ mother, Fonda, after Perry’s junior year. Talbott thought it would be a good idea for Ellis to run for some type of office in the National Honor Society so that he could become known for something other than basketball.
As you might imagine, Ellis resisted. Running for office would mean giving a speech in front of NHS members to express why he was doing so.
“He made it through,” Talbott said. “Then he started doing different volunteer work, going to elementary schools to read to kids. It was really uncharacteristic for Perry. And now, watching him at KU, he’s really coming out of his shell.”
There’s another story Talbott tells about Ellis that gives more insight. Her class read “Of Mice and Men” and were asked to do a project on the book.
Ellis decided to write, record and perform a song about Lennie Small, one of the main characters.
“My jaw dropped,” Talbott said.
Ellis handed her a flash drive that stored his performance. He was too shy to perform live in front of the class and asked Talbott if he could go into the hallway while she played his performance.
It turned out well.
“Perry is a thinker and a planner and that kid’s work ethic . . . it’s something,” Talbott said.
Another new piece is Selden. Sure, he's entering his third year, but this season is expected to be different for the 6-5 guard. Last season, he played timid and struggled with his mental toughness.
"I had to grow up," Selden says. "I took my time, but now I'm here."
He has been reading the book The Mindful Athlete, which has helped with his self-confidence and his way of thinking, he says. It has taught him to be more even and not get too high or too low.
This approach seems to be working. Last season, Selden shot 31.5% from the field and 50.7% at the rim. He shot more from outside the arc, rather than driving inside. But in the World University Games, he was more consistent, shooting 40-for-67 from the field as Team USA went 8-0.
"He attacked the basket so much better," Self says. "Last year, you see such a strong, physical athlete. But he had nagging things going on that kept him from being whole. This summer, his body felt really good. He was fresh and so explosive. He scored driving the ball, where I think last year we settled for too many jumpers."
Keeping this momentum will be key through the season, especially in a conference that's consistently strong from top to bottom. Though the Jayhawks have won 11 consecutive regular-season conference titles, they haven't won the Big 12 tournament in two years, losing to Iowa State in the 2014 semifinals and the 2015 final. Texas will have a new look this season with Shaka Smart in his first year as coach, Baylor could shake up the conference race and Oklahoma is a dark-horse Final Four pick.
But with more depth, veteran leadership and a potential game-changer in a new big man, perhaps Kansas could follow up a gold medal with a national championship.
"It just makes us work harder," Ellis says. "We know people are gunning for us."
“Pay Heed. The game you love began here. Respect those who came before you. Make their legacy your own. Because destiny favors the dedicated. And rings don’t replace work. In this game you don’t get what you want. You get what you earn. We are Kansas. Together we rise. Rock Chalk Jayhawk!”
Big 12/College News
Every year, the saying goes that strong, consistent guard play wins championships. I don't disagree, as the guards are typically the players who make teams tick on offense, then can also set the tone on the perimeter defensively given that they are the first line of defense.
And in 2015-16, there are a lot of groups of guards that seem poised to put their teams in position to win games.
10. KANSAS JAYHAWKS
Players: Frank Mason, Svi Mykhailiuk, Wayne Selden, Devonte Graham, Brannen Greene, LaGerald Vick
The Jayhawks finish out the top-10 with a deep group of talent. Mason is the most consistent player here, as he's a tough kid that can score, defend, rebound and make plays for teammates. He'll make the Jayhawks tick. Beyond him, there are some questions. Does coach Self go with a two-point guard look with Devonte Graham? Does he start both Mykhailiuk and Selden? Does he go for spacing with Greene? Plenty of choices here, but all of them are reasonably good. The key here for them: getting legitimate contribution from one of Mykhailiuk or Selden. If one of those two can become the third scorer for this team, it'll go a long way toward them winning the Big 12 yet again.
Perry Ellis Third Team
Bruce Weber, Kansas State Wildcats
Weber was 47-21 and went to the NCAA his first two years in Manhattan, but last year was a disaster. The team went 15-17 overall and 8-10 in Big 12 play. Then Weber's best player, Marcus Foster, transferred to Creighton. Weber's contract runs through 2019, and he has a significant buyout, but the Wildcats will be young and could struggle again this season.
ESPN Goodman: Coaches on the hot seat
This weekend, it'll be Kentucky's turn to try to wow five-star basketball recruit Jarrett Allen, a quiet, unassuming kid who also happens to be one of the best post players in the country.
Allen — a 6-foot-10 prospect from Austin, Texas — has approached his recruitment a little differently than most of his peers. There have been no daily Twitter updates to keep fans guessing about which way he might be leaning, no Instagram posts with him posing in the gear of the schools on his list, and very few media interviews.
…Both ESPN and the recruiting website Hoopseen.com have recently called Kentucky the favorite to land Allen, but Daniels says it's still unclear which way he's leaning, in part because he rarely discusses his recruitment at all.
Recruiting Calendar (updated for 2015-16)
Late Night in the Phog
Bill Self Camp KU Alumni games
60 Years of AFH Celebration
Legends of the Phog game
2011-12 Final Border War
KC Prep Invitational
and more, now on YouTube