Big 12 Campus Correspondent
Perry Ellis ended his freshman season at Kansas sitting in a locker room in Arlington, Texas stunned and confused wondering how he and his fellow Jayhawks fell to Michigan in the Sweet 16.
“That loss hurt pretty bad,” said Ellis. “It really made me understand how important the little things are and how simple things can be the difference in a season.”
It was a rough ending to a great season for KU, one that saw Ellis start slow but finish strong. The 6’9” forward who averaged 5.8 points a game had things click in the Big 12 Championship. Ellis torched Iowa State for 23 points in semifinal game, earned a spot on the all-tournament team and helped the Jayhawks claim the championship.
“My late push last season definitely helped my confidence. I remember thinking I can really do this and play at this level if I put my mind to it,” said Ellis.
Once Ellis and the Jayhawks returned to Lawrence it was time to get back to work. Ellis spent the remaining months of the spring semester and the entire summer in the gym each day preparing for the upcoming season.
“Everyday I tried to get in the gym and work on my shot or lift,” said Ellis. “I wanted to make sure I was doing something every day to get better and help my team move forward. Coach Hudy really helped me with weights and conditioning over the summer and I felt I improved as a player.”
The work put in this summer by Ellis also caught the attention of his coach, Bill Self.
"Perry easily could be our leading scorer this season or he could be our fourth leading scorer,” said Self. “He certainly is talented enough to be our leading scorer, he's been great. He had a great last third of the season last year. He had a really good spring and a great summer. But I think Perry will be able to take the next step."
Kansas came into the 2013-14 season with plenty of hype after signing six freshmen including top recruit Andrew Wiggins. Ellis, who spent his freshman season as a role player coming off the bench, was now going to be relied upon as a leader.
“We’re counting on Perry to be an upperclassman this season. He’ll be a stud,” said Self.
Ellis wouldn’t disappoint early as the Wichita, Kan., native led KU to a 94-83 victory over Duke in the Champions Classic in Chicago. Ellis finished the game as the team’s leading scorer posting a career-best 24 points.
“The Duke game was big for many reasons but with us being such a young team I knew it was my responsibility to step up and be a leader out there against such a great team like Duke,” said Ellis.
The 24-point outburst wasn’t a surprise for Ellis, who also spent the summer developing a variety of post moves based off a former KU great.
“I watched a ton of tape on Marcus Morris and just tried to copy how he played and how he fit in the system,” said Ellis.
Things wouldn’t remain perfect for KU or Ellis, as the Jayhawks would fall three times over the next two weeks to Villanova, Colorado and Florida. One would expect such struggles to rattle a young team. Kansas turned to Ellis who often thought back to last season when he learned how to be a leader from guys like Jeff Withey, Kevin Young, Elijah Johnson and Ben McLemore.
“Every day at practice I watched those guys and just tried to soak up as much information as I could from them,” said Ellis. “They taught me a lot about basketball at this level and made me more comfortable on the court. More importantly, they taught me how to respond to adversity and adapt to challenge.”
Ellis would use those memories as motivation to help KU get back on the winning track.
“During our slide I saw guys getting down and getting frustrated,” said Ellis. “I knew I needed to change things so I tried to keep the locker room loose and joke around with the guys. It’s different than being a leader in high school. Here, everybody is good and is a big-time player so you have to approach leading differently. We finally got some confidence back after beating New Mexico. Now, it’s just really focusing on one game at a time and not worrying about the future, conference championships and accolades. If we focus now, those things will take care of themselves.”
Currently, the Jayhawks are 8-3 with two final non-conference tests remaining against Toledo and San Diego State before beginning their quest of winning a 10th-straight Big 12 Regular-Season Championship. Ellis is hoping the experience of being on a championship team will help him down the road.
“I think playing on last year’s team showed me how much work it takes to win the Big 12,” said Ellis. “Our league is always tough and every game is a challenge.”
Winning championships isn’t something new for Ellis. He led Wichita Heights High School to four-straight Kansas State Championships during his prep career en route to being named Gatorade Player of the Year all four years as well. Ellis knew coming to KU would be a great way to continue his winning ways.
“I wanted to remain near my family and KU was the perfect fit,” said Ellis. “I also knew they would really help me develop and ultimately, I’d be put in the best position to compete for a National Championship.”
Despite all five starters from last year’s lineup departing, Ellis believes KU has what it takes to make it all the way this year.“Faces change every year but one thing that remains the same in Lawrence is expectations,” said Ellis. “We know if we do the things Coach asks us to do, we’ll have a good chance come March.”