* Before Kansas and Kansas Statetip off for the Big 12 tournament championship later today, I wanted to share a little Perry Ellis story from earlier this season.
As you know, Ellis had his best game of the season in last night’s tournament semifinal win over Iowa
State, scoring 23 points on 10-of-12 shooting. He also had six rebounds and two steals in 28 minutes. He was outstanding.
As you also know, Ellis hasn’t had many outstanding moments during a trying freshman season. He started slowly and as the days and weeks passed, the Wichita Heights four-time All-State player and state champion didn’t seem to be making much progress.
But in his past seven games, Ellis is averaging 10.1 points and five rebounds. He has made 25 of 40 shots from the floor and 21 of 22 from the free-throw line. After struggling to shoot for so long, he’s figuring out at a key stage of the season for Kansas.
Now for my story.
After I covered KU’s 85-80 loss to Oklahoma State on Feb. 2 at Allen Fieldhouse, I was driving home on the Kansas Turnpike when I stopped at the Emporia service area – mile-marker 132 – to grab something. Strawberry milk I think it was.
Anyway, as I was going into the convenience store, I spotted Ellis’ parents – Will and Fonda. They, of course, had also been at the game in their seats a few rows behind the visiting team’s bench. I always keep an eye on them when I cover a game in Lawrence, to see how they were coping with their son’s struggles.
Well, when I saw them looking at candy bars or some such snack, my first inclination was to turn and walk away. Why? Because I thought they might be reluctant to talk about Perry’s game that day – four points, no field goals, 14 minutes – or the season he was having.
I wanted to save them the discomfort of having to discuss Perry’s basketball. Hey, that’s just the kind of guy I am.
But I ultimately decided to proceed into the story. I really like Will and Fonda, not that I know them all that well. I do know they raised a fantastic kid because I was fortunate enough to get to write several columns about Perry over the years.
Maybe, I thought, they wouldn’t look up and see me.
But they did. And I happened to be looking right at them. So, using a line I had rehearsed after seeing Will and Fonda, I said: “Tough game today.”
Brilliant. I didn’t mention Perry in particular. I was going with more of an overall-game theme with my comment, hoping they wouldn’t take it to mean that I was talking specifically about their kid.
Will spoke first, saying something about how he expected Kansas to pull that one out against Oklahoma State, but that it just didn’t happen. I’m not sure whether Fonda said anything or not. As I think about it weeks later, I believe she just smiled.
I went to the dairy case and fetched my strawberry milk. As I stepped to the cashier to pay, the Will and Fonda Ellis were still fumbling with the items they were deciding whether to buy. I managed to get out of the door without them seeing me and got in my car for the stretch drive home.
I wish I had seen them in a convenience store after Friday night’s win over Iowa State. It wouldn’t have been nearly as awkward for me.