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March 25, 2010

Ellis striving for excellence, on and off the court

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Perry Ellis isn't your typical high school sophomore. The 6-foot-8, 210-pound combo forward, in his fist two seasons, has guided the Heights Falcons to a 47-3 record and back-to-back state championships. As if that weren't enough, Ellis was the only prepster to win Gatorade State Player of the Year as a freshman and sophomore.

Despite winning back-to-back state championships, back-to-back Gatorade State Player of the Year awards and being one of the most nationally recognized prospects in the 2012 class; Ellis is the same humble teenager that walked into Heights High School less than two years ago with the weight of the world on his shoulders.

Ellis, during his almost two year run at Wichita (KS) Heights High School has been as good as advertised. As a freshman, he averaged 19.2 points and 11.7 rebounds per game. The Falcons finished the season with a 24-1 record and captured the Class 6A State Championship. In the process, Ellis was named the Gatorade State Player of the Year.

As a sophomore, Ellis was equally impressive on the hardwood. Behind his 22.2 points and 10.4 rebounds per game, Heights cruised to a 23-2 record and in doing so, captured its second straight Class 6A State Championship.

Once again, Ellis was named the Gatorade State Player of the Year.

"You know, we've got a very mature group of kids," said Heights Head Coach Joe Auer. "We have a group of kids that are addicted to winning. They enjoy playing team basketball and the pursuit of winning championships. They've been willing to set aside individual glory in pursuit of team glory. Our kids believe that they're part of something that's much bigger than themselves.

"They by into that every day at practice and at every game we play," he added. "It sounds cliché, but the group comes first and the individual things will come from that, but we're all about doing whatever it takes for the team to succeed."

Ellis, when it comes to the recruiting process, has taken the road less traveled. Having received scholarship offers from Kansas, Kansas State, Kentucky, Memphis, Oklahoma, and Wichita State, and being heavily recruited by the likes of Arizona, North Carolina, Oklahoma State, Stanford, Tennessee, Texas and others, all the attention hasn't changed the Kansas native one bit.

On the court, Ellis isn't a trash talker or one that seeks extra attention. He doesn't conduct many interviews, if any at all, and isn't one to show much emotion.

Despite all the success, Ellis is as humble today as he's ever been.

"Perry is remarkably humble and very focused on what's right in front of him," said Auer. "He doesn't waste any energy worrying about things that are out of his control. He just wants to put in a good, hard day's work and pursue getting better every day. He knows that future things will take care of themselves.

"He's very grounded and focused on what's going on with today and what he has control over today," he added. "His family is very humble and he has a sister that's a starter at Memphis, and he's learned a lot from her in terms of how to pursue excellence as a student-athlete."

For Ellis, life doesn't begin and end with basketball. Nowadays, a majority of the elite high school basketball prospects across the United States are focused on getting to the NBA as soon as possible.

In fact, for a select few, it takes precedence over everything else in life.

Jeremy Tyler skipped his senior year of high school in-order to play overseas. Less than a year later, the former five-star prospect is back home. Brandon Jennings, instead of suiting up for the Arizona Wildcats, opted to play overseas. The 6-foot-1, 169-pound guard was drafted 10th overall by the Milwaukee Bucks in last year's draft.

Tyreke Evans (4th overall), DeMar DeRozan (9th overall), and Jrue Holiday (17th overall) spent just one year at their respective colleges. A record number of freshmen will likely enter the 2010 NBA draft, having spent just one year in college.

With a strong and supportive family by his side, losing site of what's important in life isn't a concern for anybody that knows Ellis. He defines what a student-athlete is all about.

On and off the court, Ellis can do no wrong.

"First, it's about the classroom," he said. "Perry is a 4.0 student and ranked No. 1 in his class. He's here to be a student first, and to be as good a basketball player second. He understands, to this point, that it's all about hard work, it's all about continuing to try to get better and not being satisfied. Perry doesn't waste any energy, which is truly refreshing, he doesn't waste any energy on celebrating.

"He feels good about his accomplishments, but most people, when they come watch him play, can't believe how quiet and reserved he is after he does something special on the court," he added. "He understands that basketball is a game of transition of constant movement."

In the classroom, Perry's performance is absolutely perfect. His overall GPA and class rank, without any question at all, speaks for itself. On the hardwood, however, Ellis is still working to become a complete player.

Averaging 20.7 points and 11.5 rebounds per game for his brief career at Heights High School, scoring has never been a problem for Ellis. Tenacious on the glass and aggressive in the paint, he's developed a level of toughness playing down low and around the basket.

Now, Ellis is looking to expand his game.

"His speed is one of the things that makes him very unique for a kid that's 6-foot-8," he said. "You know, he's the fastest guy on our team. In the open floor, he's the fastest guy with the ball in his hands. He was much more diverse this year. He shot 35 percent from three and he held the ball out front in late game situations this year.

"He gave us what we needed in different situations," he added. "Most of the game he's still in the post, but he stepped out quite a bit this year. He made big jump-shots when we needed them and he evolved as more of a multiple threat. He guarded perimeter players, and just showed more diversity in his game."

While head and assistant coaches from all across the United States have stopped by Heights High School in the past, it's only a matter of time before Bill Self, Roy Williams, John Calipari, Gregg Marshall, Frank Martin, Josh Pastner, Jeff Capel and others make their way to Wichita more often in the coming years.

Ellis, having already visited a number of schools, is no closer to making a decision about his future than he was when he received his first scholarship offer.

Right now, the recruiting process just isn't a priority for the talented forward.

"He's just a young man that's taking it all in right now," he said. "He's enjoying his high school experience, he's enjoying communication with a lot of great programs around the country, as well as in his own backyard.

"He's at the stage right now, as a 16 year old, where he's working on his game and learning as much as he can about the programs that are expressing interest in him," he added. "There is absolutely no timetable and no hurry to make any decisions."

Photos provided by Steve Cross. His son, Taylor Cross, is a teammate of Perry Ellis at Heights High School.




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