At Louisville, Washington Bullets center Pervis Ellison was known as "Never Nervous Pervis," but during his first year and a half in the National Basketball Association, Ellison had little opportunity to show why.
Last season with the Sacramento Kings Ellison missed all of the preseason and played in only 34 games because of foot injuries. During the first half of this season with the Washington Bullets, Ellison didn't play often, and when he did, he seemed confused and was often overmatched.
The critics quickly decided that the Utah Jazz got the best of last June's three-team trade that sent veteran guard Jeff Malone to Utah and brought Ellison to the Bullets.
Hold those opinions.
Ellison has emerged as the offensive and defensive force the Bullets were hoping for when they risked parting with steady-scoring Malone for an unproven rookie. Recently Ellison has been one of few bright spots for the Bullets, who have lost 17 of their past 19 games and appear headed for a lottery pick.
As a starter in the past 14 games, Ellison has improved his scoring and rebounding averages to 15.3 points and 10.4 rebounds. He has also improved his field-goal percentage to 57.4.
He has been even more effective in the past five games, averaging 17.6 points, 11.2 rebounds and 2.0 blocked shots. Before becoming a starter, Ellison was averaging 7.3 points and 6.5 rebounds.
The skinny 6-foot-10 center got positive reviews from Boston Celtics coach Chris Ford and All-Star forward Larry Bird after scoring 21-points and grabbing 13 rebounds during a team-high 39 minutes in a loss to the Celtics Friday. That performance followed a career-high 28 points in a win over Charlotte Tuesday.
"He's playing with more confidence," said Bird. "He's played healthy for a while, and it really shows. If you have exceptional talent like he does, it will eventually show. He can play the game."
Ford said: "In the second half of the season he has played much more aggressive and has shown more confidence. I can see that Wes [Unseld, Bullets coach] has confidence in him, and it shows."
Unseld's confidence may be the key to Ellison's recent surge. Unseld brought Ellison along slowly during the first half of the season. Unseld stuck with veteran Charles Jones and his limited offensive skills at center until he felt Ellison was ready.
"I think Pervis just needed some time to get comfortable with this team and our system," said Unseld. "There was never any doubt he had the skills. It was just a matter of him becoming aggressive on both the offensive and defensive ends. He's really starting to do that."
Offensively, Ellison has begun to show the type of post-up moves that prompted Sacramento to make him the first player taken in the 1989 draft. His outlet passes have brought back memories of Unseld's, and Ellison has also shown an ability to run the court well, often finishing fast breaks. Ellison's shot-blocking skills make opponents hesitant to drive the lane -- which teams did much too often last season against the Bullets.
Injuries that have sidelined leading scorers Bernard King and Harvey Grant in recent games have contributed to an increased role on offense for Ellison. Jones suffered a groin pull Friday and did not play in the second half. He may be out another week.