LAWRENCE, Kan. — So we’re breaking down Kansas, en route to its 10th straight Big 12 title and God only knows what else beyond that, and a Big 12 assistant basketball coach, unprompted, blurts out this:
"Perry Ellis gets the shaft more than any player I’ve ever seen."
"Right, right," Ellis said after you tell him about this coach, and this comment, an hour or so after he lit Texas Christian up for 32 points, eight rebounds and five assists in a 95-65 laugher at Allen Fieldhouse. "I mean, it’s something I try not to really worry about (if), I mean, I don’t get the recognition.
"I just really want to help my team win. As long as we’re winning, good things will happen. So I just try not to worry about that."
Andrew Wiggins gets magazine covers and rap songs and hype, then backlash, then hype again. Joel Embiid, for the past six weeks or so, has become the "thinking man’s" No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft, a rocket stock, the king of the midseason.
And then there’s Ellis, the 6-foot-8, 225-pound sophomore, quietly cleaning up everybody else’s messes, quietly setting up his teammates to bring the house down, or quietly making life an absolute bear for the other team on the boards. Quiet, quiet, quiet. A mouse in front of a microphone, Godzilla in the paint.
"Yeah, I mean, this is kind of how it goes," said Ellis, now second on the Jayhawks win points (14.0) and rebounds per game (6.9). "(Wiggins and Embiid), those are great players, but they’re my teammates, so it’s not something I’m worried about. I just want to keep playing hard."
Ellis’ effort was the first 30-point game for a KU player since Ben McLemore dropped 36 on West Virginia last March 2. It was also remarkably efficient: Ellis netted 32 points on just 15 field-goal attempts (making 13 of them) and in only 31 minutes of play.
In other words, it was the kind of day that sends your advanced metrics through the roof — and this from a cat who had already entered the weekend ranked by Sports-Reference.com as ninth in the Big 12 in player efficiency rating (22.2), sixth in offensive rating (123.5) and seventh in win shares (3.2). The Wichita native also paced the Jayhawks in rebounds and assists, making it easily the single-best offensive showing of a young but emerging collegiate career.
"He did a lot of things — stretching it from beyond the arc, and, of course, making face-up shots," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "He went strong and on one of his misses, he got it back and put it right in. He was good."
Clutch, too. While the Jayhawks (19-6, 10-2 Big 12) hemmed and hawed early and an undersized, undermanned Frogs bunch hung in there, it was Ellis who gave the hosts the lead for good, 26-25, on a jumper with 9:29 left in the first half.
"Perry is capable of doing that all the time, actually," teammate Jamari Traylor offered. "(So) I’m not surprised that he was doing it.
"That’s what he does. He scores around the basket. In this game, his jumper was falling down. I don’t know what you can do to stop a guy like that when he gets rolling."
Let alone if the Froggies are the ones trying to do the stopping. This is a group, after all, that gave up 48 points to Iowa State forward Melvin Ejim last Saturday in Ames, so guarding elite big men is not, shall we say, exactly TCU’s forte. Trent Johnson’s roster is down to eight scholarship players and a few bits and pieces. To be fair, it’s not a lack of want-to for the Frogs (9-15, 0-12) so much as it is a lack of Big 12-level bodies, plain and simple.
I mean, it’s something I try not to really worry about (if), I mean, I don’t get the recognition. I just really want to help my team win. As long as we’re winning, good things will happen.
-- Perry Ellis
"Hopefully, I’ll be able to come back next year," TCU coach Trent Johnson remarked, acidly, "if I don’t kill myself in the meantime."
He was kidding. We think.
While the Frogs ran out of gas, Self was trying not to run out of able bodies. Star freshman Embiid (wisely) sat out to rest a bad back and a sore (but improving) knee. Reserve guard Brannen Greene was suspended before the game for disciplinary reasons.
KU didn’t need either one, of course. But Tuesday night down at Texas Tech (13-12, 5-7) figures to be a different story, Jeff Orr or no Jeff Orr; ditto the Saturday-Monday two-fer at the Phog against Texas (19-5, 8-3 as of Saturday afternoon) and Oklahoma (19-7, 8-5).
"We know that anything can happen (in Lubbock)," Self said, "and certainly it’ll be sold out, I’m sure, and it’ll be a totally different atmosphere from anything we’ve seen down there."
The atmosphere at the Phog wasn’t too shabby, either. TCU Weekend is the Big 12 hoops equivalent of football homecoming: Entertain somebody you know you’ll beat, bring the alumni back, a few celebrities, and let the good times roll. And the celebrities were in full-force, a guest list that included former KU stars Nick Collison, Jeff Withey and Kevin Young — and even actress/’60s icon Barbara Eden, star of "I Dream of Jeannie." Eden’s husband, Jon Eicholtz, is a KU grad and big-time Jayhawk fan.
But it was Perry — not Jeannie — who had the magic touch Saturday. He scored under the hoop. He scored on putbacks. He scored on jumpers. He scored on treys. He had the wherewithal several times to drop short passes over to teammates cutting through the lane for easy looks.
"He always involves his teammates," noted Wiggins, who converted one of those assists into an alley-oop slam. "He gave me the alley-oop, and I would do the same for him. He’s aggressive the whole game attacking the hoop and making plays. He’s doing everything."
And even if Ellis prefers to walk softly, his admirers don’t. As the big man left the press room and sifted through two massive walls of autograph-seeking KU fans back to the Fieldhouse floor, they chanted his name in unison:
"I’m just the type of guy (where) I just try to perform and then see what happens," Ellis said. Then he shrugged. "So that’s what I try to do and then go from there."