Can humility be a fault?
Can being comfortable in your own skin be uncomfortable?
Can Perry Ellis ever win over the hearts and souls of Kansas basketball fans?
The answers to these burning questions are still being formed. For Ellis, with all of his grace and dignity, has unfinished business when it comes to his Jayhawk legacy.
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The numbers indicate Ellis is an all-time KU great. He ranks 12th in scoring with 1,645 points and 13th in rebounds with 792. He needs 109 points to pass Kirk Hinrich and move into the top 10. And he needs 58 rebounds to do the same in that category.
More important, though, Ellis needs to put the Jayhawks on his back for a long run in the NCAA Tournament. He has spent four years at Kansas, where basketball players are rock stars, without changing who he is. And that’s beyond admirable. It’s enviable.
There are a lot of people — are you listening, presidential candidates — who could stand to be a whole lot more like Ellis.
In sports, like politics, being a nice guy isn’t a prerequisite for finishing first. Ellis, though, has proven that nice guys can finish first.
Kansas has won four Big 12 championships with Ellis. When he was a high school player at Heights, the Falcons won four state championships.
But what KU fans are hungry for, heading into Ellis’ senior-day game against Iowa State on Saturday, is a long run in March. The KU basketball experience includes a long list of expectations, and doing damage in the NCAA Tournament is at the top of the list.
The Jayhawks have been bounced out of the tournament early the past two years after reaching the Sweet 16 during Ellis’ freshman season. It’s been four years since Kansas was in a Final Four and for most schools, that’s not even worth mentioning. But it causes KU fans to anxiously tap their toes.
They’re the same fans who sometimes grumble about Ellis and how he hasn’t met their expectations as a Parade All-American and blue-chip recruit. Fans can be difficult, and anyone disappointed by Ellis’ contributions over his career aren’t paying attention.
He’s not the best player in his own conference. He doesn’t give great soundbites on television and reporters don’t flock around him, eager to tell his story. He’s a tremendous student but he keeps his vast amount or knowledge mostly stored inside.
Ellis isn’t out to win anyone over. From what I can tell, he enjoys playing basketball but refuses to let the sport define him. He’s developed as a player under Bill Self, who has grown to appreciate, if not always endorse, his standout player’s mild-mannered ways.
Self is a coach and coaches motivate. They start fires inside players. Self, though, has gone through boxes of matches in an in vain attempt to get Ellis burning.
It’s not like, though, Ellis is out there with toothpicks in his eyes just to keep them open. He has passion for the game and a zeal for performing. It’s just not on exhibition like it is with other players.
Those who know Ellis best say he is funny, witty and outgoing — as long as he’s inside his comfort zone. Put him in front of a microphone and you’re going to get the bare essentials, not much else.
Ellis is genuine. And genuinely an excellent basketball player. He has great low-post moves, can step out and make three-pointers and is capable of helping Kansas beat pressure by dribbling the ball up the floor like a guard.
He is an excellent screen setter and excels in the pick and roll. He averages 16.3 points and six rebounds and is shooting better than 50 percent for his career.
Ellis still has an outside chance to join Danny Manning, Raef LaFrentz, Nick Collison and Clyde Lovelette as the only KU players to reach 1,800 points and 800 rebounds. He needs eight rebounds to get to 800, but will have to step it up to get to 1,800 points.
If Ellis were to continue his current 16.3-point pace, he would reach 1,800 points sometime during KU’s April 4 game in Houston, which would happen to be for the national championship.
Then everyone would be happy.