Perry Ellis is one of the best Kansas basketball players in recent memory.
He has scored 1,725 points, he has grabbed 814 rebounds and he has helped the Jayhawks win a Big 12 championship in all four of his seasons. He has played so well for so long that he has gained a cult following as college basketball’s old guy.
His accomplishments are the envy of many, yet a glaring hole remains: Ellis has never made it past the Sweet 16, twice failing to advance beyond the NCAA Tournament’s round of 32.
“He has had the type of career where he has put up big numbers,” teammate Landen Lucas said. “The only thing he is missing is a deep postseason run.”
Ellis is not afraid to admit he has played for teams that have lacked NCAA Tournament success. He describes early losses to Wichita State and Stanford the past two years as “a total shock.” Even a Sweet 16 loss to Michigan as a freshman still stings. Watching the hometown Shockers make it to the Final Four during that same time frame made things worse.
Before those setbacks, he only tasted championships, winning four consecutive 6A titles as a four-time All-State player at Heights.
He left his mark in high school. Is this his time to do the same in college? It’s now or never.
“From the beginning of this year, it was definitely my goal to reach the Final Four,” Ellis said, “and, once I get there, to try and win it all. It is definitely a great accomplishment and something that I want.”
The journey begins at 3 p.m. Thursday when No. 1-seed Kansas takes on No. 16-seed Austin Peay in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at Wells Fargo Arena. The Jayhawks are heavy favorites, but Ellis isn’t taking anything for granted.
“We aren’t going to take any plays off,” Ellis said. “I think that is the key message I have said to the guys. I have been through it when you lose and it is over. It is not a good feeling at all. ... You are just kind of sitting there, and in a snap the season is gone. That is something we have all experienced. That will be good for us going forward. You don’t want to have that feeling again. I think it motivates a lot of us.
“My goal is the Final Four, but I can’t focus on that right now. I have to focus on this one game, and then hopefully lead up to that.”
His teammates are listening.
“We talk about it every day,” freshman forward Carlton Bragg said. “One of Perry’s goals is to get past the Sweet 16 and to the Final Four. We are all going to help him, and I think we can do it.”
Ellis has several reasons to feel confident this time around. The Jayhawks are the tournament’s top overall seed, and they have won 14 straight games. They are a stronger team than they were the past two seasons. They won a regular-season championship by two games in what most perceive to be the nation’s top conference, and they followed it up with a title in the Big 12 Tournament.
Ellis says this season has been the highlight of his college career. Many discounted the Jayhawks after they started 5-3 in conference play, with all three losses coming by double digits. But they haven’t lost since.
Ellis has been a monster, topping 20 points eight times during the winning streak. It’s been a great run, and he will exit Kansas as one of its most memorable players no matter what happens over the next three weeks.
But Kansas coach Bill Self often points to the NCAA Tournament as a defining event. You can be great in the regular season, he says, but you need postseason victories to be special.
Ellis wants nothing more than to make the leap.
“He deserves it,” Lucas said. “If we had any team that could get it done, it would be this year’s team. We have good maturity and balance, and we want to do it for him. It would be great to send Perry off like that.”
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett