With what we all know as the norm in Big 12 college hoops, Kansas will once again be hovering among the conference powers once the season finally kicks off. Although, unlike the usual, the Jayhawks aren’t by any means a clear-cut favorite to steal their 11th straight regular season title. In fact, Kansas could very realistically fall to the likes of Texas, Oklahoma and even Iowa State next season unless some sort of X-factor can keep them among the nation’s elite.
Luckily for Bill Self, he has all the ingredients of that X-factor in veteran power forward Perry Ellis, who could be the glue holding together a roster left with the void of last season’s key pieces with newcomers.
Through Ellis’ first two seasons in Lawrence, he’s seen a roller-coaster of successes and failure, including a total of 56 wins, a Big 12 Tournament title and a Sweet 16 appearance. On the other hand, in both seasons, Ellis has experienced what would be considered premature exits from the NCAA Tournament, especially when you consider last season’s third round loss to Stanford.
That said, it’s safe to say Ellis is now a seasoned vet entering his third year on campus and for the Jayhawks to turn 11-straight years of conference dominance into 12, his experience and leadership will have to pave the way to March Madness.
So how can a guy whose name isn’t necessarily nationally known be a key component on a team with championship aspirations? Well, that’s simple when arguably two of the three most talented guys on the roster have yet to play a collegiate game. There’s the easy part of leading by example up to the season and then there’s the not so easy job of keeping the team together and focused when games are on the line.
The easier job that should already be in place would be Ellis showing the freshmen Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre the ropes of college basketball and how to conduct themselves on a daily basis to be successful. It isn’t the most glamorous side of the game, but it is one of the initial stages in every freshman’s college career. Then of course, as the most established veteran on the team, the rest will look to Ellis to lead in practice and make sure everybody is on the same page. That goes for leading by example off the court as well.
As for the on-court example Ellis will need to set, the scenarios are endless. Ellis has seen everything from coming up short late in games, blowing big leads and getting dominated right out of the gate to the complete opposite with Kansas on the winning end of the spectrum. It will be crucial for Kansas’ success if Ellis can guide the younger, more inexperienced guys and keep them on track during any situations of a game.
But aside from keeping the team on the same page, both on and off the court, he could be huge in assisting with what could be a breakout sophomore season for guard Wayne Selden Jr.
This list goes on from everything between being a coach on the court to, at times, being the go-to-guy when the Jayhawks need a bucket. By no means does Ellis lack any talent so he does have the ability to make some huge plays down the stretch, which goes to show he’s far more than just an emotional and psychological frame for the rest of the roster.
Ellis is far more than that. He’s the team’s leader, veteran, safety valve when they need a bucket in the final moments and ultimately, he’s their ticket to the big dance. For Kansas to be in the championship conversation come next March, it’s critical for Ellis to shoulder the weight of the team as their leader.