Two columns of smoke rose into the darkened United Center just off the court, and through it, lit by a bright spotlight, walked Heights senior Perry Ellis as he was introduced as one of the 24 McDonald’s All-Americans Wednesday night at the United Center. Flashing at midcourt was 34, Ellis’ number.
It was a surreal moment for Ellis. A moment he had dreamed of. A moment he had worked for.
“That was pretty cool,” Ellis said after the game while standing outside the locker room. “That is a preview of how it will be in college every night. It was cool.”
Ellis had spent the previous 10 minutes or so in the locker room reflecting on how he had just played his last high school game; on his four championships while at Heights.
Yes, he had just played in front of thousands, in the United Center and on ESPN. But he viewed it as an ending.
“In the locker room, I’m just thinking, ‘it’s all over,’ ” he said. “It’s exciting, but I’m going to miss it, all my friends. It went by so fast. You’re doing something you love, it just goes by fast.
“But it’s time to move on to the next step. Time to keep working and get ready for college.”
Ellis, who has signed with Kansas and is Wichita’s first participant in the McDonald’s game in 31 years, didn’t have much of a chance to showcase his game in the 106-102 win by the West team.
It was a typical all-star game with little passing or defense. The West team was led by Shabazz Muhammad’s 21 points, while Alex Poythress led the East team with 19 points.
Ellis, who only played 3 minutes, 40 seconds in the first half and missed his three shots, finished 2-of-8 shooting with four points, four rebounds and two assists.
“That was just a subbing pattern,” Ellis said of his lack of playing time. “It ended up that way. It’s all right, though.”
But Ellis didn’t get caught up in the look-at-me-now actions of all-star games. No, Ellis played defense. On two straight possessions in the second half, the West team had three players racing up the floor for fastbreaks — and the only defender was Ellis. None of the rest of the players even crossed half court.
“We went down and turned it over, and I had to get back,” Ellis said. “I tried to get back, but I couldn’t guard three people.”
That Ellis still had a defensive mindset didn’t surprise Heights coach Joe Auer, who attended the game.
“Unselfish team ball is what he is all about,” Auer said. “Yes, he is the only guy worried about his defensive assignment.”
Ellis shrugged and said, “I did it for four years, so I’m still going to try to play defense.”
Ellis entered the game at the 15:27 mark of the first half and he promptly got a defensive rebound, passing it up the court to Kris Dunn, who scored on a lay-up.
After sitting for the final 11:47 of the half, he started the second half and in less than a minute took a pass on the left side of the basket and dunked for his first points.
“Everyone wants to score, so I tried, when I had a chance, to score,” he said. “ I felt I was playing my game. I felt comfortable for the most part, and I had fun, though, too.”
Later in the second half, he saved a loose ball from going out of bounds. Less than two minutes later, he drove and had a sweet up-and-under basket. On the other end of the court, he got a defensive rebound and passed it up ahead to William Goodwin, who dunked on the fastbreak.
While Ellis’ playing time and production were far less than what he’s used to, he was pleased he had a chance to play.
“It was real nice, especially because all the people who support me got a chance to see me,” he said. “All the KU fans got a chance to see me. I’m excited about that. I’m ready to get up there now.”