Ellis one of two sophomores at Elite 24
It's all come so fast for Perry Ellis. Despite only one year of high school under his belt, the Wichita Heights (Wichita, Kan.) sophomore forward has already netted enough accomplishments to last a lifetime.
Last year he became the only freshman in state history to be named Gatorade Kansas Player of the Year after leading Wichita Heights to its first state title since 1977. He was then selected to the 2009-10 USA Basketball Men's Developmental National Team.
Now you can add another achievement to the growing list. Friday night, Ellis will play in his first Boost Mobile Elite 24 at New York's renowned Rucker Park. Ellis, a 6-foot-8, 210-pounder, is one of two sophomores -- Jamesville-DeWitt (DeWitt, N.Y.) center DaJuan Coleman is the other -- selected to the fourth annual game, which will be televised Saturday at 7 p.m. ET on ESPNU.
"I really didn't think I'd get invited," says Ellis, who's rated the nation's No. 4 recruit in the ESPNU Terrific 25. "I was like, 'Man, there are some really good players at this game.'"
Trust us, Ellis belongs. With the ability to play all five positions, rebound on both ends, dominate in transition and also defend, the athletic forward has a game that belies his age.
Ellis entered Wichita Heights with a great deal of hype after dominating middle school and summer ball. He dived right into the big time when Heights opened the 2008-09 season against the state's preseason No. 1 team, Wichita East (Kan.), in front of more than 5,000 fans at Wichita State's Koch Arena. Just in case that wasn't enough pressure, Kansas coach Bill Self decided to show up, too.
Ellis responded with nine points and 12 rebounds in a 67-62 Wichita Heights win.
"Everybody had their eyes on him and everybody wanted to see how good he was," says Ellis' mother, Fonda. "I think that was the worst pressure that night. Once that was in the books, he was fine."
Indeed. Ellis went on to average 19.6 points and 11.4 rebounds per game, capping the year with nine points and 20 rebounds to lead Wichita Heights to a 73-58 win over Wichita Southeast (Kan.) in the Class 6A state championship.
Wichita Heights coach Joe Auer helped Ellis' transition by telling the prodigy to just concentrate on playing his game and let the seniors worry about the pressure.
"He was very reliable and dependable," Auer says. "It was night in, night out double figures in points and double figures in rebounds. It was a very calming influence on our team. I've never seen a freshman that could come with that type of effort every night."
He better bring that effort to Rucker. Launched in 2006, the Boost Mobile Elite 24 is the nation's only basketball event that features the nation's 24 best ballers regardless of class year or shoe affiliation. Each game has fielded a collection of future NBA ballers -- alumni include 11 first-round draft picks and one second-rounder -- and this year is sure to be no different.
Of course, playing against top competition shouldn't faze Ellis. The kid hasn't changed despite his meteoric rise. He remains the same quiet and reserved kid he was before high school and would much rather play Xbox 360 than talk about his basketball exploits.
He's also never lost his focus on academics. Ellis' sister, Savannah, excelled on the court and in the classroom at Wichita Heights before heading off to play at Memphis, where she's now a junior. Savannah stressed to her younger brother to start focusing on grades immediately instead of waiting until it was too late.
Ellis heeded his sister's advice, garnering a 4.0 GPA last year to place No. 1 in his class.
All that success aside, Ellis understands he has a long way to go. He may be the best player in Kansas already, but his goals are much bigger than that. That's why Ellis got up at 7:30 a.m. four days a week this summer to work out with his AAU coach, Steve Young.
"Our motto is to stay humble and hungry," says Young, who has coached Ellis since he was 6. "A hungry dog will always bite and a hungry dog will always take whatever they can get. If an athlete thinks they've arrived, they'll start to relax."
Ellis is obviously hungry. Friday night at Rucker, it's time to bite.
Jon Mahoney covers high school sports for ESPN RISE Magazine.
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