Ellis leads with example, not words

Kansas fans remember last season's team for its freshmen. Perry Ellis was the second leading scorer. Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports

LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Will and Fonda Ellis didn't know where all the anger in their oldest boy originated, but they knew it was time to intervene.

As an adolescent, Perry Ellis couldn't play a close game, much less lose one, without ending up trying to fight someone. Or throwing a chair. Or getting so worked up, he was on the verge of tears.

"He'd just kind of wild out," said Will Ellis, Perry's father. "We just sat him down and said, 'You can't do that.' I don't think we ever threatened to take him out of sports or anything. He just kind of grew out of it. Something turned on. He just grew out of it and basically stopped talking and just played."

Those who follow Kansas basketball know the 6-foot-8 junior forward hasn't talked much since.

Ellis has started 52 of the last 53 games for the Jayhawks and has played in every game the past three seasons. He hasn't shown any emotional outburst over the span of those games. In fact, he looks to be playing emotionless most times.

"He's the most quiet kid that you'll ever come across," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "I'm sure there are other kids out there that are quiet, but none are more quiet. He's very unassuming -- well-liked by everybody, humble, modest. He's competitive, but not to the point where he's as much of an Alpha dog as we'd like."

He may never be that.

If ever there was a time to get enraged, it was after the 32-point loss to Kentucky. Ellis didn't explode on his younger teammates like freshmen Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre Jr. He took the subtle approach of instructing them on whatever they were having a difficult time grasping. He didn't try to get them up to speed using fear or intimidation. He was more like a teacher.

He got that way from watching his dad.

Both of his parents work for the Wichita Children's Home that annually admits up to 2,000 participants into its programs. The kids range from infants to young adults, some as old as 22. Some have been abused and placed in the home by social workers. Some ran away from home. Some were neglected and abandoned.

His mother works on the business side. His dad, Will, works with a program that prepares the older kids to live on their own.

Perry Ellis volunteered at the center and observed how patient his father was with the kids and how that treatment made him universally loved. He's molded some of the same mannerisms into the way he interacts with his teammates.

Ellis has tried to lead the best way he knows how. By being consistent. By being dependable. By being patient.

"For two years I have spent a lot of time trying to get him out of his comfort zone and to be something that is not comfortable for him," Self said. "He's responded to that pretty well. But the bottom line is I don't want to take away from who he is."

Ellis currently leads the team in scoring (12.8 points per game) and rebounding (6.7 per game). If he can keep it up, he'll be the first player to lead the team in both scoring and rebounding since Thomas Robinson during the 2011-12 season.

"I've been vocal at times, but really, coach recognizes that's not my personality," Ellis said. "So for me to step up it has to be in my play and actions. That will speak a long way for me."

That Ellis is an introvert doesn't make him closed off to his teammates. Sophomore guard Wayne Selden Jr. said Ellis laughs harder than anyone else in the locker room. But the thing is, outside of the locker room, most people would never really know it.

"He opens up to us, that's about it, us and his family, but that's it," Selden said. "You're not going to get much out of him."

Ellis doesn't even do much celebrating on the court. When he makes a dramatic block or dunks on an opponent, there's no chest pounding. No fist pumping. No scowling or growling. Not even a short pause to stare down the defender.

Absolutely nothing.

"When he makes a good play or a bad play it's stoic," Self said. "His facial expressions are a lot like [Andrew] Wiggins and a lot of times people wanted Andrew to express more enthusiasm or whatever, but that's not who he was and Perry is in that same boat."

Ellis actually picked up a lot from Wiggins, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft, while being in the same car. When Ellis drove home to Wichita, Wiggins would often hitch a ride to go see his older brother Nick, who played at Wichita State.

"Honestly, we're both real quiet dudes," Ellis said. "I can't say a real deep conversation ever went on."

They listened to music for most of the two-plus-hour ride down Interstate 35 without saying too much. But through personal nuggets here and there, Ellis learned and grew to respect how Wiggins handled being in the spotlight and the overbearing expectations that came with being projected as the nation's best NBA prospect.

Ellis thought about Wiggins as he entered this season and envisioned his role expanding from a supporting one to a main player.

"We had some great players last year; the spotlight was definitely on them," Ellis said. "My third year in, it just feels like I've gotten so much better. I've taken steps and steps and just it's my time to do more."

He'll just continue to go about it quietly.