LAWRENCE — For Kansas freshman Perry Ellis, the next month could turn into a crucial stretch as he attempts to gain more substantial (and consistent) playing time in the Jayhawks’ rotation.
KU will play host to Belmont on Saturday evening at Allen Fieldhouse before beginning a nearly five-week winter break from school — a time for Ellis and KU’s other freshmen to focus solely on basketball as KU shifts into the Big 12 Conference season.
“I really think our teams really get better when there’s no school in session,” KU coach Bill Self said. “And we got four weeks where there’s not school in session.”
Ellis, a native of Wichita, is averaging 5.9 points in 16.1 minutes per game in his freshman season. Those numbers include a 15-point performance against Southeast Missouri State in the season opener. Ellis has averaged just 3.5 points and 2.8 rebounds in KU’s last four games as senior Kevin Young has emerged as the starter at the four-spot.
Still, Self expects Ellis to become a bigger part of Kansas’ rotation in the coming weeks.
“Perry’s minutes are gonna continue to go up if he just stays aggressive,” Self said, “and (he) keeps trying to get out of his comfort zone to be aggressive.”
Self has continually said that Ellis needs to become more assertive and aggressive. And it’s rubbed off.
“Just aggressive,” Ellis said Thursday, when asked what he needed to work on. “That’s the key thing; just being aggressive at all times.”
It’s a process, Self says, but he added that Ellis’ line last week against Colorado — two points and one rebound — wasn’t indicative of how well Ellis played.
As with most young players, Self says he’d like Ellis to get to a point where he’s playing with a free mind — and not thinking as much.
“Most freshmen think too much,” Self said. “But he cares, he’s conscientious. The best athletes are the ones that have no memory, the ones that don’t think.
“I don’t know if that’s exactly how you raise your child. To (not) think, and don’t have a memory, and ‘I can’t remember anything bad I ever did.’ But if you can raise your child where they remember that, and somehow when they get between the lines they automatically forget, those are the best guys.”
McLemore’s development — Self always believed that Ben McLemore would become an elite player in the Big 12. He just wasn’t sure if it would happen this quickly — especially on the offensive end.
“He still hasn’t played like he can play,” Self said. “Wait until he gets comfortable. That’s kind of how I look at it.”
McLemore, a redshirt freshman, is averaging 16.0 points and 5.6 rebounds in his first eight games since sitting out last year because of academic issues. His latest impact performance came Saturday, when he had 24 points in KU’s 90-54 victory over Colorado.
McLemore’s production, however, could potentially improve with some better outside shooting. McLemore was two of six from three against Colorado and is shooting 31 percent (11 for 35) from three-point range for the season.
“He’s becoming a much better player as we go,” Self said. “He’s unselfish, but he’s learning how to be aggressive (while) being unselfish. So I think his production will go up. But, hey, he’s one of the premier players in our league, day one, with a chance to be one of the elite — very elite — few in our league. I really believe that.”
Checking in on Brown — Former KU coach Larry Brown has started 8-1 in his first season at Southern Methodist, his first college coaching job since leaving Kansas after the 1988 season.
Self said Tuesday that he’s kept up with Brown, who was a regular at KU practice last year. That included a conversation after Kansas slogged through a victory against Oregon State at Sprint Center in late November.
“He told me how good we’re doing, and I said, ‘Did you not watch the same stuff I watched?’ ” Self said. “Which goes totally against how he used to be. Because if he’s talking about his own team, they’re always awful. But he likes his team down there. He was very positive. And thinks that they’re gonna have a nice year.”