Experienced and talented big men are often a rarity in the Missouri Valley Conference. Wichita State is the exception this season, with four inside players with varying degrees of solid credentials.
Shocker fans know their names and games — junior J.T. Durley is the scorer, sophomore Garrett Stutz is the skilled 7-footer and junior Gabe Blair, a transfer, is this season's version of rebounder Ramon Clemente. Then there's junior Aaron Ellis, called the team's best screener and post defender by coach Gregg Marshall.
Maybe that description isn't as exciting as the others. It works for Ellis, whose improvement and solid play might get him in the starting lineup.
"I'm just trying to do the little things that he asks me to do," Ellis said. "Do my role and do it well."
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Ellis, a 6-foot-9 forward, can give the Shockers many things. He can rebound and block shots with his reach and spring. He is capable of big scoring nights, although that's not his main job. In his third year at WSU, he expects to contribute more consistently and play with more confidence and purpose.
"I'm more comfortable," he said. "I know when to pick and choose my spots and those times when I can be aggressive."
Ellis has not been a consistent scorer in his first two seasons. His big games — 19 points against Indiana State in the MVC Tournament, 14 against Illinois State — are overshadowed by his 37.6 percent career shooting percentage.
"He's got to shoot the ball better," Marshall said. "I'd love for him to score more around the basket."
Ellis, from Myrtle Beach, S.C., is working to fix that. With his height, he should be able to score more in the lane and not rely so much on his jumper.
"Having moves I can go to in the post, as opposed to catching it and hesitating," Ellis said. "I need to have something I can go to. (Marshall) wants us to get easier baskets, which come in the post and around the basket."
Ellis, listed at 197 pounds as a freshman, is now close to 220. He looks more like a power forward, instead of a power forward with a small forward's physique.
"He's stronger and he's bigger," Marshall said. "He's comfortable out there and his mind is at ease."
Bring out the Cats — Marshall will know more about where his team is after today's closed four-hour scrimmage against Kansas State at Koch Arena.
The teams will split the day into two parts. Before lunch, they will work in controlled situations, such as going against specific defenses. After lunch, they will scrimmage.
"I want to go against another very talented, well-coached team so we can gauge ourselves," Marshall said. "It's very physical, tough, strong basketball. So you better be ready to go."
The Wildcats are picked fourth in the Big 12 and will bring plenty of talent to Wichita. Starting guards Denis Clemente and Jacob Pullen are back. The frontcourt is expected to be much improved with the additions of transfer Curtis Kelly and freshman McDonald's All-American Wally Judge.
"The real test is (today)," Durley said. "That will wake us up."
Marshall subbed one of his exhibition games last season with a workout at Kansas State. He will continue with that format, either against Kansas State or a different opponent.
"It really helped us last year," Marshall said. "(K-State coach) Frank (Martin) thinks his team got a lot out of it last year. I like to scrimmage, so we will scrimmage someone."
No spectators or media members are allowed at today's scrimmage. Scores and statistics are not supposed to be made public.
Drive and dish — WSU is making changes with its Shocker Drive, a volunteer fund-raising program and is looking for volunteers.
Volunteers can earn points for signing up new Shocker Athletic Scholarship Organization members, selling tickets and raising money. Points can be used for rewards such as trips with teams and passes to athletic department events.
For information, call the SASO office at 978-7276.
State your name — WSU is taking nominations for the Shocker Sports Hall of Fame class of 2010.
Nominees must have enrolled on or before the 2000 fall semester. Nominations and support information can be emailed to assistant athletics director Larry Rankin at lrankingoshockers.com or mailed to him at Charles Koch Arena, 1845 Fairmount, Wichita, Kan., 67260-0018.
Inductions will take place on Feb. 6 during WSU's men's basketball game against Indiana State.