NBA scouts filed into a downtown gym Tuesday morning as Heights senior Perry Ellis shot jumpers by himself at the far end.
If Ellis noticed the men, it didn’t show. Clad in a black practice uniform, with his name on the back, and neon green Adidas shoes, Ellis continued with his own pre-practice workout as if he were readying himself for one at Heights.
Tonight’s not just another game, though. He will play for the East in the McDonald’s All-American game at the United Center in front of a national audience with 23 of the nation’s top high school players.
The Kansas signee is Wichita’s first participant in the McDonald’s game in 31 years.
The days leading up to this game have not been similar at all to his normal preparation. But that’s the life of a McDonald’s All-American selection.
Playing in front of NBA scouts — a hot topic among the players — could have been a high-pressure situation for Ellis, who won four Class 6A titles with Heights and is the only four-time All-State selection by The Eagle. But it wasn’t.
“I just wanted to try to go out there and show them I can play hard and have fun,” he said. “Just have fun because there’s nothing to stress about. I think that’s a good thing to have for success — play hard but then be relaxed because then you feel real comfortable playing and good things will happen that way.”
NBA scouts are not allowed to comment on high school players.
Since Ellis arrived in Chicago on Saturday from South Carolina, where he was visiting extended family during spring break, his schedule has been mostly predetermined. He has seen his family briefly since they arrived Sunday.
“We really haven’t actually seen Perry that much,” said Fonda Ellis, his mother. “… We waved at him at the Jam Fest (at the United Center on Monday), so we made eye contact. We haven’t got to talk too much.”
Understandably, basketball has taken up much of Ellis’ time. The practices have been intense at times, and his Monday workout caught the eye of national online writers.
Tuesday was more about drills, including dribbling full-court and around chairs then shooting at the free-throw line. There were shooting drills, including taking a pass from a teammate and shooting from the perimeter. His shot was smooth, as usual, but if he missed several straight, he’d take a few steps in, knock down a shot and then step back to hit the deep jumpers.
The team spent about 10 minutes scrimmaging, much less than Ellis would have liked.
“I don’t know if I played that well today,” he said. “I wasn’t attacking much; I needed to attack more.”
He hasn’t felt the need to play perfectly, though, even though he’s playing with and against such a high level of competition.
“I don’t try to do that,” he said. “I try to keep playing. I don’t get down on myself because that won’t be good for the next play. I just try to keep playing. If I make a mistake, just keep playing.”
The East players, who are given an itinerary each day, had an interview session with the media on Tuesday after lunch at the United Center, and then had a scrimmage later that day with the West team. A formal banquet — Ellis was fitted for a tuxedo — was scheduled for Tuesday night.
They attended the Jam Fest on Monday night, which included a three-point shooting and skills competition, as well as a dunk contest.
While Ellis had fun watching, he had no desire to join in. Fonda Ellis laughed when asked why her son didn’t participate.
“He is not going to draw attention to himself,” she said. “He just feels like it’s an honor to be here. Enjoy it, have fun.”
Perry Ellis agreed.
“I don’t know, I’m just not a flashy type of kid who really wants to do that,” he said. “I am laid back, like to watch.”
The trip hasn’t all been about basketball, though.
It’s been a good chance to spend time with guys he has known for years, either by playing with or against them in AAU circles. He said he’s pretty good friends with East teammates Tony Parker, from Lithonia, Ga., and William Goodwin, who is from Decatur, Ga., and has signed with Memphis. Parker is undecided on his college.
The downtime includes the opportunity to play ping pong — Ellis only watches — and watch TV. Oh, and there’s time for sleep. Lots of sleep.
“I’m tired,” he said with a smile.
There’s also been plenty of food — buffets at the Marriott, the team hotel, and a trip to a McDonald’s where there seemed to be an endless supply of food placed in front of them.
The highlight of the week for Ellis, though, was when the players went to a Ronald McDonald House on Sunday and spent time with some of the families staying there.
“First we cooked with some of the kids, making cookies,” Perry Ellis said. “And then we did some arts and crafts, drawing some stuff. I played X-box (360) Kinect with some kids, and then we went outside and played basketball, shooting with them. And the last part, we got a tour of the house and got to see the rooms where the families stay.”
The time there had the greatest effect on Ellis, who knew little about the Ronald McDonald houses. They provide places to stay for families who must travel long distances for medical care for seriously ill or injured children.
“Being there, it just made me feel blessed,” Ellis said. “It just makes you want to take advantage of everything you have. Most people don’t have what you have and can’t do what you can do.”