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January 20, 2011

Ellis may be best-ever from Kansas

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Perry Ellis is the best basketball player ever to come out of Kansas.

Hyperbole? Perhaps. Overstatement? Possibly. But the 17-year-old junior certainly has the credentials to support such a bold proclamation. Consider:

En route to leading Wichita Heights to the 6A state title in 2009, Ellis became the first Kansas freshman named Gatorade state player of the year. He repeated both those state and individual feats last season as a sophomore.

At 6-8, 222 pounds, Ellis has size, strength, speed and quickness and seemingly can do everything on the court. He owns the paint but can also run the break. The versatile big man averaged 19.2 points and 11.7 rebounds as a freshman and 22.2 and 10.4 as a sophomore.

Then there's this: For all the amazing college players the state has produced, almost all are imports. Since the inception of the McDonald's All-American roster in 1977, only seven have come from Kansas.

Convinced yet? His coach, Joe Auer, certainly is.

"He definitely is going to be one of the greatest in Kansas," Auer said. "He's certainly in unchartered waters. There has not been a high school basketball player that has been this productive in his first two years at the 6A level."

Opposing coach Jay Osborne, a Kansas native whose Nixa (Mo.) High team lost to Heights, 86-69, at the recent Hy-Vee Shootout in Kansas City, Mo., is too.

"He's a man among boys," Osborne said. "He's the real deal."

The only one still not sure may be Ellis himself. He shrugs off any talk of being the all-time best in the state. In fact, he shrugs off any talk of being the all-time best at Heights, which has produced four of the state's seven McDonald's stars, including Antoine Carr and Darnell Valentine.

"There's some good players that came before me especially at this school," he said. "It's an honor to get a chance to be in that position."

Don't be fooled, though. Ellis is special in a number of ways.

*****

Ellis' perfect record was in jeopardy.

It was late December, and he was agonizing over his B in chemistry, which would have given him his first non-A grade of his high school career.

The National Honor Society student, though, aced the chemistry final and his other first semester classes - honors history, honors English and algebra II - to preserve his 4.0.

"He is more concerned and worried about his grades," said Perry's mother, Fonda Ellis, "than he is worried about his basketball."

SUNFLOWER SIX
There's no clear-cut choice for the best high school basketball player the state of Kansas has ever produced. Here's a look at the six leading candidates:

Antoine Carr: Wichita Heights grad (1979) starred on some great Wichita State teams before becoming 8th overall pick in 1983 NBA draft, the highest-ever pick for a Kansan. Had a 16-year career in which he scored over 9,000 points and grabbed more than 3,000 rebounds.

Greg Dreiling: Kapaun Mt. Carmel grad (1981). Played at Wichita State and Kansas before a 10-year NBA career in which he had nearly same amount of points (1,014) as rebounds (1,018)

Ricky Ross: Wichita Heights grad (1979) attended Kansas, Wichita State and Tulsa during a much-traveled collegiate career. Was a second-round NBA pick.

Aubrey Sherrod: Wichita Heights grad (1981) who attended Wichita State and started all but one game during his four-year career. Was a second-round NBA pick.

Wayne Simien: Leavenworth grad (2001) was a two-time All-American at Kansas, where he helped the school go to two Final Fours. Was a first-round pick in 2005 and won an NBA title with Miami in 2006. Retired in 2009.

Darnell Valentine: Wichita Heights grad (1977) starred at Kansas before becoming a first-round pick in the 1981 NBA draft. Scored over 5,000 points in a nine-year career. Was member of 1980 Olympic team that boycotted Games.

Note: Danny Manning played his senior season at Lawrence (Kan.) High, moving into the state when his dad was hired by the University of Kansas. He therefore is not considered a Kansas product.

When an infection forced Perry to miss several days of class during September, he enlisted his family's help so that he would not fall behind. Fonda picked up his assignments while Brae, Perry's younger brother, turned them in.

Ellis also participates in a teacher's assistant program, an elective study hall for students with high GPAs. In addition to studying, he serves as a proctor, taking roll, entering grades and tutoring classmates.

He deems his skills in the classroom as "equal" to those on the basketball court. It's why Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins' recruiting pitch emphasized how his school's lofty academics would serve as a good fit.

Ellis attributes his good grades to studying, taking detailed notes and turning in his homework on time.

"It's not that I'm smart," Ellis told his mother. "I just do my work."

He brings that same conscientiousness to his other craft, often arising at 5:30 a.m. to shoot and perform dribbling drills at the YMCA before his school gym has opened.

*****

Just as Ellis deftly balances academics and athletics, he handles myriad responsibilities in both the post and perimeter for Heights.

"He's a multi-tasker on the court." Auer said. "We ask him to do quite a few things. He plays a wide variety of positions for us."

Though he will play small or power forward on the next level, Ellis can either lead or finish the fast break and serves as the front of Heights' press. During a 62-56 win versus Wichita North, he played both center and point guard.

"He's just a tremendously gifted athlete," Auer said. "A rare combination of size, speed and strength."

Ellis combines the size of his 6-8 1/2 father, Will, who played basketball at Briar Cliff University, and the speed of his mother, a former state championship-winning high school sprinter.

The latter genetic gift became evident to Auer during Ellis' first high school practice. On a baseline-to-baseline sprint, the 6-8 Ellis beat everyone down the court by a good margin, including then-upperclassman Austin Bahner, a Wichita State decathlete.

"That got our attention pretty quickly," Auer said.

Ellis receives attention from his opponents as well.

They focus on him defensively, playing zone and double-teaming him. But that allows the other talented players on the 8-0 Falcons - ranked No. 7 in the latest RivalsHigh 100 - including guards Evan Wessel and Terrence Moore to step up.

His teammates did just that when early foul trouble sidelined Ellis against Nixa. He, though, still posted 23 points (going 10-for-10 on field goals) and eight rebounds in just 22 minutes. Ellis' highlights included an alley-oop dunk, a turnaround jumper over three defenders, an assist while falling down and a coast-to-coast rebound-to-layup play.

"He had some crowd pleasers," Osborne said.

During a high-profile tournament game, a less composed player may not have bounced back from racking up two questionable charging fouls with more than 3:00 left in the first quarter. But Ellis never complained to officials or sulked. Instead he remained on the bench, slapping hands with each teammate that went in and out of the lineup.

"As big a hyped kid as he is, he's got the best demeanor I've ever seen out of a 16, 17, 18-year-old," said Shawn Hair, a Shawnee Mission (Kan.) East coach whose team played Heights two years ago and who scouted Heights during December. "He's never crazy high. He doesn't seem too low. He has a very even, steady keel."

*****

It has become fashionable for the country's best basketball players to jump to the NBA after just one year of college.

If his game continues on its current path, Ellis' commitment to the classroom would not necessarily preclude that.

"I don't want to stop him if he has an opportunity to leave," Fonda said. "I just would want him to make sure that he did finish his degree because you're not going to play basketball forever."

Ellis is ranked as the No. 19 overall prospect for the Class of 2012 - and the No. 6 power forward.

Memphis, Kansas, Kansas State, Kentucky, Texas A&M, Wake Forest, Iowa, Stanford, Wichita State, Georgetown, UCLA and Oklahoma have offered scholarships.

In December, Ellis trimmed his list to Kansas, Kentucky, Kansas State, Memphis, Wichita State and Oklahoma.

Though he rattled off those schools in no particular order, three - Kansas, Memphis and Kentucky - stand out.

Kansas probably has recruited him the hardest. Fresh off his national championship, KU coach Bill Self attended Ellis' first high school game, and during this past summer, KU coaches transversed the country, diligently following his AAU games. Before the Hy-Vee Shootout, the Heights team enjoyed watching KU defeat Southern California from Allen Fieldhouse.

Ellis' older sister, Savannah, a senior, plays basketball at Memphis and plans to enroll in graduate school there.

"She really likes Memphis," Fonda Ellis said. "But she is not at all convincing or trying to persuade him."

Kentucky uses the same Dribble-Drive Motion offense as Heights and has become known for quickly readying its players for the NBA.

"I like their playing style, that up and down," Perry said. "(It's) similar to ours."

*****

Kansas is the 15th biggest state in terms of area but 33rd in population with less than three million people.

And while it loves its basketball, it doesn't exactly promote its high school play.

The Kansas State High School Activities Association mandates a 20-game limit for the regular season and prohibits high school teams from traveling beyond 500 miles.

"For a guy from this part of the country," Auer said, "it's unusual for a high school player to get this kind of national attention."

That's fine with Ellis, who is quiet and humble - not flashy like his fashion namesake.

That's reminds us, what's the deal with the name?

His mother can only laugh at the question she's been asked numerous times since he was born.

"Everybody thinks, 'Oh, Perry Ellis, you named him after the designer,'" she said. "We didn't name him after that, but we loved the name 'Perry.'"

Ellis' clothing line of choice is Nike - though he does use a Perry Ellis wallet a friend gave him as a gag gift.

There's no joking around, however, on the court where the Perry Ellis name may be placed above all others in Kansas high school history.

"He's definitely well on his way right now," Auer said. "But time will tell."



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