Like most basketball players, Aaron Ellis came to college thinking about shooting and dunking and all the glamour stuff.
He soon figured out his playing time connected to performing less noticeable tasks. He needed to become Wichita State's unselfish man, a player who screens for others, plays defense and rebounds. He rarely scores in double figures. He rarely gets invited to post-game interviews and the Koch Arena scoreboard ignores his contributions when it's time for highlights.
That's all right. His coaches and teammates know. Ellis will be in the starting lineup again tonight against Indiana State. He will play defense, frustrating scorers with his long arms and hustle. He will set solid picks and get open for a shot or two. He will rebound. Most important, when he hands over the forward spot to junior Gabe Blair, the Shockers will probably lead.
"He's not looking to score, but he's looking to get another teammate a shot, and that's really a big-time help for our team," guard Clevin Hannah said. "Every good team has a guy like Aaron Ellis. He just wants to win."
Coach Gregg Marshall never misses a chance to praise his screens. Ellis, a 6-foot-9 junior from Mrytle Beach, S.C., has built a reputation for getting in the way of defenders long enough to free teammates.
"Until I got here, I didn't really know it was all that important because it wasn't stressed in high school," he said. "I take pride in it. It's something that can help the team, so it's something I want to do and keep doing well."
It must be working — WSU leads the Missouri Valley Conference in shooting at 45.4 percent. That's an improvement from 43.8 percent last season. WSU's three-point accuracy improved from 32.2 percent in 2008-09 to 36.2 percent this season.
"For me, giving them a good screen to get them open, that's just like scoring a bucket," Ellis said. "In a lot of our set plays, Coach puts me in good positions to screen for them to get them shots."
Standing in the way sounds easy. There's more to it than that. Ellis studies how to set up defenders, where his teammates like the ball and how to time his movements correctly. Move on a screen and commit a foul and it's also a turnover.
Do it right and the WSU is offense is flowing.
"Sprint to set the screen, but make sure you're legal," Ellis said. "Have a good stance. Protect yourself. The person that sets the good screens is the person that gets open, because your defender has to help most of the time."
Marshall would like more offense out of Ellis, especially close to the basket. It's a skill he continues to work on. He can make 15-foot jumpers, and he gets those open shots after setting screens.
"He's found a way to help us," Marshall said. "I didn't tell him not to shoot. I told him to take great shots."
When Marshall looks at the 14-6 lead WSU built against Illinois State last week or the 13-4 lead against Creighton at home, he credits Ellis. The Shockers have led at the first media timeout (around five minutes into the game) in nine of their 12 MVC games.
"His defense and tenacity and length and fervor — it spreads," Marshall said. "We start a lot of games really well defensively."
Murry watches — WSU guard Toure Murry sat out practice for a second day, resting a strained left knee. He expects to be in the lineup for tonight's game.
"I'll play," he said.
Murry suffered the injury during Wednesday's game at Northern Iowa.
Fallen Sycamores — The Sycamores (14-9, 6-6 MVC) are dealing with crippling injury problems. Leading scorer Harry Marshall, a point guard, is out 4-to-6 weeks with a stress fracture in his right foot. Dwayne Lathan is out a similar time with broken bones in his left hand.
Hatch recognized — WSU junior Graham Hatch earned Academic All-District VII honors.
Hatch, from Mesa, Ariz., carries a 3.73 grade-point average in chemistry. He averages 9.3 points and 3.9 rebounds as a starting guard.
Drake's Adam Templeton and Kansas center Cole Aldrich were also named to the team. The All-American team will be announced on Feb. 24.
TV times — The MVC selected WSU's Feb. 27 game against Southern Illinois at Koch Arena for its Fox Sports Midwest TV package. The game will start at noon.
First-place Northern Iowa will play Illinois State at 7 p.m. on ESPN2.