Perry Ellis: Stylin’ On You
Words. Aron Phillips
As you read this, there is a 15-year old rising high school sophomore rampaging across the basketball courts of the flatlands of Kansas, who some think could be the best player America’s Heartland has ever produced.
*Reprinted from Dime #49*
At 6-8 and 210 pounds, Wichita Heights High School’s Perry Ellis is arguably the No. 1 prospect in the national Class of 2012, an explosive, multi-skilled talent with the ability to completely dominate the game on both ends of the floor. Those who know him best claim Ellis’ game is a hyperbolic mix of extremes – Perry can handle the rock like a guard, knock down mid-range jumpers like a swingman, and dominate the post like a center.
The legend of Perry Ellis was in full effect before he ever played a high school game. Last December, Kansas coach Bill Self was on of the 4,000 fans in attendance to see Perry’s high school debut.
“It’s pretty astounding for Bill Self, head coach of the defending national champions, to come to your first game,” says Jerry Meyer, a Rivals.com national recruiting analyst. “And then on top of that, to have Frank Martin (Kansas State), the coach of the in-state rival come two nights later. It’s rare that a freshman gets the recruiting attention that he has.”
“There was a lot of pressure before that first game,” says Ellis. “Everyone wanted to know what I was going to do. It was way different than all the other games I’d played before, you know, playing in front of 4,000 people. Everyone was telling me I was gonna drop 40.”
While Perry only finished with nine points and 12 rebounds, his team got the victory and his first game was in the books. Improving game by game, Ellis was outstanding this season as he imposed his will on opposing defenses, averaging 19.2 points on 61 percent shooting, and 11.7 rebounds. He had 28 points and 15 rebounds against East H.S., 27 and 19 against Northwest, and 22 points and 22 boards against Southeast High, the team ranked No. 1 in the state at the time. In the Kansas 6A state championship game, Perry grabbed 20 rebounds and scored nine points against constant double- and triple-teams every time he touched the ball.
“He reminds me of Kevin Garnett with Allen Iverson’s quickness and speed,” says Josh Schepis, Ellis’ coach at Brooks Middle School. “He’s long, tall and athletic like KG, but is also quick, fast, and can stop and shoot on a dime like A.I.”
So, is Perry the greatest ever? “At his age, yes,” says Steve Young, Ellis’ AAU coach since he was six years old. “When was the last time a freshman, let alone a kid, period, put up these numbers in the biggest league in the city? It was Antoine Carr 30 years ago, and he was a first-round pick in the NBA Draft. I’ve been coaching for 20 years now, and in my era I haven’t seen anyone like him.”
Like any 15-year-old kid, Perry likes to draw, play Xbox 360 (most notably NBA 2K9, Halo and Gears of War) and hang out with his friends. But even before high school, there was buzz around Ellis growing outside of Wichita. Last summer on the AAU circuit, going up against the top players in the country, Perry exploded onto the scene as he dominated tournaments and camps and grabbed the attention of college coaches nationwide.
At the Reebok Breakout Underclass Camp in Chicago, Ellis was ranked the best overall young prospect in the entire camp, earning himself one of only eight invitations to the prestigious Reebok All-American Camp in Philly. By the end of the summer, Ellis was ranked the No. 1 player at the 14-Under AAU Nationals tournament in Florida.
“Perry is the best player I’ve ever coached,” says Young, who has also worked with Atlanta Hawks forward Maurice Evans and last year’s high school Mr. Basketball in the state of Kansas, University of Utah freshman Jordan Cyphers. “God gave (Ellis) gifts with height, speed and a basketball IQ. God puts people on this earth to do certain things, and this kid was meant to play basketball.”
In the offseason, Ellis meets Young at five in the morning to work on ball-handling, jump shots and free throws. During the season, Ellis is in the gym an hour before school working on his jumper, and after school hits the weight room before homework. Despite countless hours in the gym, Ellis ranks No. 1 in a class of 405 students and has maintained a 4.0 grade point average.
Dunking for the first time when he was 12 years old, Perry received his first recruitment letter when he was in middle school. “Oklahoma State sent the first one, then Arizona and UCLA,” says Fonda Ellis, Perry’s mother. “It was the summer after seventh grade going into eighth. He went to an adidas camp in Ohio and it seems like that’s when it all started.”
Since then, Ellis says he has scholarship offers from Kansas and Memphis and has garnered interest from an extensive list of schools that includes Kansas State, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Indiana, Kentucky, Texas, USC, Wake Forest, Florida, Texas A&M, South Carolina, LSU, Wichita State and Baylor.
“At the beginning of the year I felt the pressure of being in the spotlight,” says Ellis, who credits his strong family support for keeping him humble and grounded. “But now it just seems like it’s getting easier as I get used to it. I just gotta play.”
“From the outside looking in, what I think is most impressive is the maturity with which he’s handled all of this attention,” says Eric Bossi, a Scout.com recruiting analyst. “He’s put up big numbers, kept quiet and not made a show of everything. All of the talk and hype might have cracked some kids, but he’s held up really well to this point.”
While the hype machine hasn’t reached the national level yet like it did early on for high school phenoms such as LeBron James and Sebastian Telfair, Perry Ellis draws a crowd so large at Wichita Heights that school administrators have to lock the doors before halftime of the girls games that precede the boys varsity in order to avoid a visit from the local fire marshal.
Much like LeBron and Telfair, though, Perry Ellis’ reputation precedes him, causing basketball fans from all corners of the most populous city in Kansas to come see what all the fuss is about – sometimes even bringing giant “PTI”-style cutouts of his head to hold over their faces. But unlike the media circus that surrounded King James and Bassy’s prep careers, Ellis’ actions speak louder than his words. Quite honestly, it’s actually a challenge to get Perry to even talk about himself.
“Perry’s game does all of the talking for him,” says Joe Auer, Ellis’ coach at Wichita Heights. “I was talking with a D-1 coach that watched him play, and he agreed – all of his energy is in the game. There is no extra fist pumping, no wasted energy; he just goes about his business and doesn’t do stuff after the play. Perry’s simply not interested in things unrelated to winning.”
En route to their first state title since 1977, Wichita Heights also went unbeaten through its demanding City League schedule for the first time in 15 years. Their only blemish was a non-league loss to Hutchinson (KS) High School on a buzzer-beater during a mid-season tournament.
Just before this issue went to press, Ellis became the first freshman to win Kansas’ Gatorade Player of the Year.
“He is like a Grant Hill or a Tim Duncan type of player – real fluid, real smooth and lots of quiet buckets,” says Young. “You watch him and say, ‘Man, he hasn’t really done anything!’ But you look at the stat sheet after the game, and realize he had a quiet 25 points and 15 rebounds. For Perry, the game is almost effortless to him.”
But to get to that next level and succeed, Perry knows there is still work left to be done. Despite standing 6-8 and possessing tremendous athleticism, Ellis blocked only 20 shots this season. As he gets physically stronger and more accustomed to the high school game, that number should rise exponentially.
“When I started in September, I was 183 pounds,” says Ellis. “But last time I checked, I weighed in at 210. I’m working with a personal trainer outside of school to add weight. I have protein shakes, lifting and a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.”