It was Andrew Wiggins who adorned the covers of both ESPN The Magazine and Sports Illustrated prior to the season, but it’s Joel Embiid who draft analysts have penciled in as the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s NBA draft. However, neither of them have been the Kansas Jayhawks‘ most consistent player this season.
No, that designation goes to sophomore forward Perry Ellis. Ellis isn’t crazy athletic or showy. He isn’t going to throw down a 360 windmill dunk on a breakaway; a simple two-handed jam will do just fine. He’s not particularly imposing down low — he has a slimmer frame and is a bit on the soft side — but still sits second on the team in rebounds with just under eight per game.
He’s been the stability that coach Bill Self has needed during what’s been an up-and-down year for many Kansas players. Wiggins has been great at times this year, but has also proven that he can’t be relied upon to produce on a game-to-game basis. He’s completely disappeared in several key games, including conference matchups again Oklahoma State (three points, 1-5 FG) and Texas (seven points, 2-12 FG).
Ellis, even in a lesser role than Wiggins, has made his presence felt in every Kansas game this season. He’s averaging 13.2 ppg and 7.8 rpg, both good enough for second best on an incredibly deep Jayhawk squad. The sophomore has recorded less than eight points in a game only three times this season, has an incredible feel for the basket in the paint, and never loses his cool.
He’s clearly taken a backseat to Wiggins and Embiid in terms of publicity, but on the court, Ellis is a critical part of Self’s offense. He’s never been in this position before; Ellis has been the center of attention since being ranked the one of the best players in his class when he was 13 years old, but he’s thrived in his new role; his rather reserved personality fits in better anyway.
Jayhawks fans have had the opportunity to watch Ellis grow tremendously over the past year. As a freshman in 2012, Ellis had visible struggles transitioning from high school to college ball. He often seemed timid and unsure, as the once-prized recruit saw his playing time dwindle to single-digit minutes in the middle of conference play.
Ellis got the message. He became one of Kansas’ most relied upon players down the stretch, playing with a sudden air of confidence beneath him. He began to physically back down defenders, implement his surprisingly nasty spin move, and become the post player that Self envisioned when he signed him. He hasn’t stopped.
While it may be a stretch, Kansas State coach Bruce Weber went as far as to say “If there’s an MVP in this league, it’s Perry Ellis. That dude’s a winner.” With Melvin Ejim putting up the numbers he has, it’d be hard to make an argument against the Iowa State senior, but Weber did get one thing right — the dude is a winner. So much of one in fact, that in high school, he led his school to four state championships and a 62-game win streak before graduating as a valedictorian.
Make no mistake, Ellis is the most important piece of this Kansas team. His finesse in the post is among the best in the nation and the kid simply knows how to win, both dangerous traits come March. While media and opponents focus their attention Kansas’ impressive freshman bunch, expect Ellis to quietly continue to fly under the radar as the team’s most valuable player . That’s where he likes it anyway.