The high school basketball career of Perry Ellis is coming to an end. I’m sure the coaches at the other City League and Class 6A schools in the state are really sorry to hear that.
Ellis and the Heights Falcons have had a vise grip on the state tournament for three years and begin their pursuit of a fourth consecutive championship Thursday night at Koch Arena in a 6:30 game against Olathe East.
The 6-foot-8 Ellis wants this.
“It was a goal when I came to Heights,’’ he said. “I wanted to come in and win one each year. Now we have a chance to do it. This is a different team than last year. There are new challenges.’’
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While Ellis has done everything but have the state tournament named in his honor, North junior guard Conner Frankamp — the other 2011-12 City League star — is making his state tournament debut at 8:15 Thursday night against Blue Valley North.
Frankamp and Ellis, Ellis and Frankamp — they’re forever linked to one of the most interesting seasons of City League basketball.
In the past few weeks, Ellis has become the City League’s career scoring leader and Frankamp has established himself as next in line for that accolade. Both players are headed for Kansas — Ellis next season and Frankamp in 2013.
They are the most heralded duo to come along in the City League since Aubrey Sherrod and Greg Dreiling were McDonald’s All-Americans at Heights and Kapaun Mount Carmel in 1981.
And in back-to-back games, they will attempt to lead their teams to victories that would assure a Heights-North semifinal Friday night.
“It means a lot to me to be playing in a state tournament,’’ said Frankamp, who is averaging a ridiculous 33.1 points. “I was pretty antsy about getting a chance like this. I don’t know if we were expecting to make it this year, but we were hoping to. I think we’ve done better than people expected us to do.”
Ellis has been a household name for high school basketball fans since he was in middle school. KU coach Bill Self hurried to Wichita after the Jayhawks had played an afternoon game so he could watch Ellis play his first game for the Falcons in December 2008.
When Ellis announced in the fall that he was going to Lawrence to play for KU, the whole world, it seemed, was listening. He is the state’s most accomplished player in history and is a lock to make The Eagle’s All-State team for a fourth time. Nobody else has been an All-Stater more than twice.
“It’s gone by fast,’’ Ellis said. “When you’re doing something you love to do, like playing basketball, it goes fast. These are years that I will always cherish, but I really want to focus on the rest of this season and then look back on everything.’’
Heights is not the lock to win this weekend it appeared to be just a couple of weeks ago. Consecutive late-season losses to East and North sent the Falcons on a temporary tailspin, but they have rallied to win two games in a row.
“It’s been a different experience,’’ Ellis said. “We have a lot of new guys on this team. But I could tell they didn’t like the feeling of losing, either. I think those games have helped us get tougher.’’
Frankamp has put a young team on his back and watched with pride as his inexperienced teammates have improved throughout the season. North’s high point was its 47-38 win over Heights last month, a game in which Frankamp scored all but nine of his team’s points. But it was the Redskins’ defense that made the biggest difference in that game, frustrating the Falcons from start to finish.
The confidence gained in that win helped carry North through its sub-state tournament, even though opponents Campus and Maize were successful in slowing the games down and limiting Frankamp’s scoring to a more-human quantity.
“But it didn’t work for them because my teammates stepped up and made open shots,’’ Frankamp said. “And we’re playing really good on the defensive end.’’
Frankamp could only sit and the stands and watch the 6A tournament during his first two years of high school, wondering what it must feel like to be out there and watching Heights and Ellis win one game after another.
“It’s crazy to think of a team winning four in a row,’’ Frankamp said. “But if we happen to lose, I’ll be rooting for Perry.’’
Ellis can’t fathom losing, especially since he’s near the end of his high school career. This is it.
“It’s definitely kind of sad,” Ellis said. “I’ve gotten to play with a lot of my high school friends. But you’ve got to move on. Time doesn’t move backward, so it’s going to be time to go on to that next step in life.”
He would like it to be with one more state championship in tow.