Perry Ellis is undoubtedly one of the most productive players in the present era of Jayhawk basketball. From his recruitment through his senior year, he has challenged what it means to be the keystone of a college basketball powerhouse.
Ellis has been brilliant in his Kansas career. In every way, both on and off the court, he has displayed what every program looks for in a player. Last year, as a junior, many felt that Ellis should have won Big 12 player of the year after leading Kansas in scoring and rebounding. This season, as a senior, he’s in the midst of his finest campaign yet. He also leads the nation’s #1 team into March with sky-high expectations.
It seems like most Jayhawk fans appreciate the importance of Perry Ellis. But despite being one of the best players in college basketball, he’s still one of the most underrated. It’s remarkable for an athlete to be undoubtedly brilliant yet also immensely underappreciated.
People have never been shy to criticize Perry Ellis. For the early part of his career, he was labeled as “soft” by some of the Jayhawk fanbase. He has responded to that by leading the team in scoring in consecutive years. He’s been more physical this year than at any point in his career. His growth on the court has been substantial, morphing from an undersized power forward into one of the country’s most efficient scorers. Others pegged him as a defensive liability in his first two seasons. He’s improved so much on this end of the court that an opposing scout recently called him one of the smartest defensive players in the conference.
Most people eventually realized that criticizing Ellis’ performance was ludicrous, so instead, some chose to focus on his demeanor. Ellis’ calm-and-cool attitude turns some fans off, claiming that he should be more expressive and visibly passionate in big moments of games. He’s not the in-your-face, chest-pumping ball of adrenaline that Thomas Robinson was.
His personality is much more laid-back than what we’ve come to expect from elite athletes. Ellis’ unperturbed approach to basketball is exactly what Kansas needs. He provides quiet leadership by example; nothing seems to rattle him, regardless of the scenery. This has proved to be particularly important throughout Ellis’ career, where he’s helped teach underclassmen how to carry themselves in big games. This season, Kansas is one of the best teams in the nation at finding ways to win close games – something that has been a problem at KU the last few years. Ellis’ influence on his teammates over the years has been critical as Kansas has grown into one of the nation’s most composed squads. Ellis has helped the core of this Kansas team figure out how to win by staying composed and put-together in tough environments.
It is a mistake to categorize Ellis’ humility and easygoing attitude as a negative trait.
On the court, Ellis’ accomplishments as a Jayhawk place him in elite territory. He’s one of just seven players in KU history to score 1,600 points and grab 750 rebounds. He’s already won four Big 12 titles. He’s a lock to make All-Big 12 First Team for the second straight year. He’ll inevitably be selected as an All-American by numerous associations. He’ll also end his career as a top-12 scorer and rebounder in the 118-year history of Kansas basketball.
The moment when I realized just how important Perry Ellis was came on February 28, 2015. Kansas hosted Texas at Allen Fieldhouse while holding onto a slim one-game lead in the Big 12. Minutes before the game, news broke that freshman center Cliff Alexander wouldn’t play due to an NCAA investigation. The Longhorns were the nation’s biggest team, leading the country in blocks per game. It was going to be one of the most physical games of the season, and now Kansas was going to be without its starting center.
Ellis scored 28 points and collected 13 rebounds, single-handedly leading Kansas past Texas, 69-64. The win all but secured the Jayhawks’ 11th-straight Big 12 title. Ellis had arguably the best performance of his career against one of the biggest teams he’s ever played against. It had never been more clear how important Ellis was to his team.
In his four years at Kansas, Perry Ellis has never once gotten in any sort of trouble. Nobody has ever questioned his work ethic. Not once has he been disciplined for irresponsible behavior. He has never even been called for a single technical foul. Not one question has ever been made by any teammate or any coach about Ellis’ attitude. Every time somebody asks a KU player who the best teammate on the roster is? “Perry Ellis.”
Last season, Perry Ellis sprained his MCL in the Jayhawks’ home finale against West Virginia. One week later, he was back on the floor, starting for Kansas in postseason play. Just last month, in a game against Kansas State, he took a knee to the head, gushing open a huge gash and spewing blood all over the floor. He was taken to the locker room and received 12 stitches. Five minutes later, he returned to the game before taking another shot to the head, this time scratching his eye. He started KU’s next game.
Ellis has frequently set an example in the community. Real Men, Real Heroes, Inc. is a non-profit organization set in Wichita, Kansas; Ellis’ hometown. They provide mentoring to students, and numerous times, Ellis has spoken to youth about the importance of school and making good decisions in life. Ellis has even given many Wichita kids tours of Allen Fieldhouse, spending time with children who may lack the presence of a good role model in their own lives.
In the classroom, Ellis has worked hard to put himself in elite company. He was a valedictorian in high school at Wichita Heights, graduating with a 4.0 GPA. Ellis has continued this trend at Kansas, where he has achieved Academic All-Big 12 honors in all four years as a Jayhawk. Last week, he was named First Team All-Big 12 Academic team for the second straight year.
Perry Ellis is statistically one of the best players in the history of Kansas basketball. He has been a true role model, displayed tremendous toughness, and consistently been atop the conference academically. He’s the best player on the nation’s best college basketball team.
I still don’t think that summarizes how valuable he’s been to the University of Kansas.
To this day, Ellis is undervalued. What he does for the Jayhawks, in so many different ways, is taken for granted. People expect 16 points and eight rebounds every game, so when Ellis posts those numbers, it goes unnoticed. Ellis’ remarkable consistency should only emphasize how special his career at Kansas has been.
On the eve of Senior Day, the final time Ellis will ever take the court at Allen Fieldhouse, people should put it in perspective just how rare it is for a school to have a player like Perry Ellis. He has given Kansas four seasons of basketball. The remarkable run of 12 straight Big 12 conference titles would have ended years ago had Ellis elected to play elsewhere. Yet some of Ellis’ greatest achievements have nothing to do with basketball. The example that he has set as an athlete, a student, a person and a representative of Kansas is second to none.
It is for all of these reasons that Perry Ellis has become my favorite all-time Kansas player. I don’t think I’ve ever been more disappointed for a KU career to come to an end. Hopefully, the Jayhawks will have a strong March and Ellis’ college career will end with his team on top. But if it doesn’t, Jayhawk fans should never forget that players like Perry Ellis don’t come around often, and I hope fans truly appreciate everything that he’s given Kansas in the last four years.