Jayhawks star Perry Ellis prepping for final game at Phog
Perry Ellis remembers the first time that Kansas coach Bill Self watched him play a game, what seems like a lifetime ago, and thinking what any promising high school prospect would think.
"That's pretty cool."
Thus began a courtship that led to Ellis, then a five-star prospect from Wichita, choosing to play for the Jayhawks. And now, four more years down the road, the senior forward and All-American candidate is preparing to step foot on the hallowed floor of Allen Fieldhouse for the very last time.
"When I was growing up, I didn't see myself going anywhere else," Ellis said. "It's been great. Each year I've had more and more fun, got better and better. And now I'm just looking to finish strong."
The top-ranked Jayhawks (26-4, 14-3), having already wrapped up their 12th straight Big 12 title, take a 10-game winning streak into Saturday's game against No. 21 Iowa State. After that comes the conference tournament, then the NCAA Tournament — the last hurrah for what has turned into one of the more quixotic careers in the history of the program.
Rarely do players ascend to the upper reaches of the career charts at Kansas, whether it is scoring or rebounding or some other statistical mark. Names on those lists represent some of the best to have ever played the game — Wilt Chamberlain, Danny Manning, Paul Pierce — and the best players of this era rarely stick around long enough to make a dent. So while one-and-done sensations such as Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid will have left a smudge on the history books the past four years, Ellis will have succeeded in leaving an indelible mark.
"He's got a chance to be in the top 10 in both at our school in scoring in rebounding, and that's a pretty special deal," Self said. "And he didn't start as a freshman. Most of those guys probably would have started four years. He's had a great, consistent run."
Ellis is one of four seniors who will take a bow on Saturday, alongside Jamari Traylor, Hunter Mickelson and Evan Manning. But he will undoubtedly receive the loudest ovation.
He's been part of 109 wins. He's helped the Jayhawks to three in-season tournament titles. He has 1,645 points and 792 rebounds, joining Manning, Nick Collison, Raef LaFrentz, Clyde Lovellette and Dave Robisch as the only Jayhawks to achieve those kinds of marks.
Yet such a decorated career has not come without disappointment and despair.
The Jayhawks have mostly struggled in the NCAA Tournament in his tenure, twice failing to make it out of the opening weekend, and captured just one Big 12 Tournament title. At a place that considers itself the breadbasket of the game, those things don't go unnoticed. Then there's his placid demeanor. Ellis never gets too riled up, even in the heat of a triple-overtime win over then-No. 2 Oklahoma this year.
He leads by example rather than by words, and at times it appears as if he's simply gliding along, content to let others lay their hearts on the line.
As a result, some fans have made Ellis a scapegoat for the Jayhawks' shortcomings. After all, if he was such a heralded recruit, shouldn't he be playing alongside Wiggins and Embiid in the NBA by now?
To which his coaches and teammates reply: "Hogwash."
"Perry is one of the best people I've ever met," said Evan Manning, the son of the Kansas great. "I've never met anyone who can score like him. He just has the natural ability to score the ball."
Traylor remembers a game at Texas last season when he finally showed some emotion.
"He did a crazy move and ran back on defense like it was nothing, and he gave a smile and a wink to the bench," Traylor said. "He just put a fire into us That's the most hype I've seen Perry."
What stands out to Self, who has known him longer than anybody in the program?
"When I think of Perry, I don't think of the best, I think of consistency," he said. "If he was a golfer, he'd just go out and shoot par every day, one of those guys. He's not one of those guys that the highs are so high and the lows are low. He's just steady. I think that's something that we've really grown to not only to respect, but also at times to take for granted, because he has been so steady."
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