Bill Self preaches constantly that the layup is the easiest shot to make in basketball. It’s a shot that any player who’s good enough to start for Kansas should be able to hit 99% of the time. It wasn’t until KU’s best player missed one that the real spark was lit.
When Perry Ellis missed a layup in the last 2 seconds of the Kansas vs. West Virginia game on February 16, KU’s likelihood of winning the conference fell precipitously. Everybody has seen the shot by now – after surrendering the lead with under five seconds remaining, Jamari Traylor heaved a home run pass 60 feet down court to Ellis, who rushed the shot and bricked what appeared to be a fairly simple finish.
Many in the fan base were apoplectic in their response. People were second-guessing Ellis’s toughness while doubting whether this KU team had the “right stuff” to win an 11th straight Big 12 championship. Ellis’ Twitter mentions were ugly, and fans criticized him for failing to take a “leap forward” in his junior year like some expected.
Perry Ellis’s response to missing that layup in Morgantown has been terrific. In the three games that followed that disappointing loss, Ellis put up 23, 24, and 28 points. He shot 60% from the floor (28/47), averaged nearly 10 rebounds, and poured in at least nine baskets in each game. While it is the first time in his career that he scored 20+ points in three straight games, the biggest difference has been in things that don’t register in the box score. He has played with a much more aggressive demeanor, and Bill Self believes that the increase in intensity is responsible for his surge. His finishes at the rim are much more powerful now than they ever have been at any point in his career. He’s putting his head down and driving to the rim, and that spin move is as lethal as it ever has been.
The junior forward from Wichita has been instrumental in the Jayhawks’ clinching of their 11th straight Big 12 title. Ellis suffered a sprained knee in Tuesday night’s revenge game against West Virginia, but Self said that he expects him back in just one week. Without Ellis’ presence, the Jayhawks struggled mightily against the Mountaineers’ rebounding efforts. Kansas was out-rebounded by a season-worst 12 boards. There is little doubt that if the Jayhawks are going to make a run in the NCAA Tournament, Perry Ellis will need to play a major role.
Here’s the real question – is Perry Ellis the Big 12 Player of the Year? It’s certainly hard to say no at this point.
Through 30 games, he’s averaging 14.2 points and 7.0 rebounds. In conference play, those numbers climb to 15.2 points and 7.2 boards. Most importantly, he’s doing all of this work despite being double-teamed for a huge percentage of the time, as Kansas doesn’t have much of an established center, so opponents just put two guys on Ellis the majority of the time. If Ellis had a Jeff Withey or a Joel Embiid working alongside him, it’s logical to think that he could be averaging close to 18 points per game. He’s setting career bests despite being surrounded with the weakest talent around him that he’s had his entire collegiate career.
We hear every year that it’s not until a team responds to adversity that we know the true nature of its character. Last year’s team dominated the portion of the Big 12 season when Joel Embiid was healthy, but it ultimately couldn’t recover when the center was lost to a stress fracture in his back. Embiid was forced to miss the team’s final six games, and the team floundered to a 3-3 finish that included a second-round NCAA Tournament exit.
Kansas fans have been waiting for this Perry Ellis. Bill Self has been building this Perry Ellis for nearly three years. With only one game remaining in KU’s conference season, the selection of Big 12 Player of the Year lies in the balance. Coaches are fond of saying, “It’s not who starts in a game but who finishes in a game,” and the same is true in conference play. Kansas just won the Big 12 outright crown, and considering how well Perry Ellis has played after missing that layup, there’s no doubt who deserves the Big 12 Player of the Year Award.