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An Ace In The Hole
Alexander Wolff
April 07, 1986
Center Pervis Ellison lifted Louisville to the NCAA championship
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April 07, 1986

An Ace In The Hole

Center Pervis Ellison lifted Louisville to the NCAA championship

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The plot was hatched in Room 1839 of Dallas's Fairmont Hotel, where Pervis Ellison was sequestered. Louisville coach Denny Crum had declared his 6'9" freshman off-limits to the media, figuring it best to shelter underclassmen from all the hoopla surrounding the NCAA Final Four. Ultimately, Ellison would thrive in the spotlight, dominating a championship game as no 18-year-old had before.

Here was the rule: no press, not even any incoming phone calls allowed. So Ellison and his roommate—also classmate and teammate—Kenny Payne would sit around and talk. They'd wrestle a little on the floor. And sometimes they'd play host to Pervis's mom, Emily. "I asked Mrs. Ellison," Payne says, "not to let Duke abuse Pervis."

Oh, Ellison ventured forth now and then. Once he rode the elevator to the hotel lobby. The doors parted, but the red sea of Louisville supporters before him did not.

"It's Pervis!" one fan shouted, pointing at him.

Ellison spun on his heels, and took the lift right back up again.

But in the wee hours of each morning, Ellison had a way of popping upright in bed and saying, "Kenny, we're gonna get us a ring." And sure enough, Louisville owed its 72-69 victory in Monday night's NCAA championship game over Duke and all its high-toned seniors to the retiring freshman with a gleam in his braces. Ellison scored 25 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and figured in just about every big play in Louisville's rousing win. "Just keep throwing it inside to me," he kept telling teammates as he ran back on defense during the second half.

Despite Duke's designation as a "yuppie team"—while the Cards' Milt Wagner carried a Sanyo stereo to practices, Blue Devil star Johnny Dawkins toted a Louis Vuitton briefcase—Louisville may have had the game's most upwardly mobile player, in any sense. Ellison is from Savannah, Ga. He likes roast duck, plays the piano, tuba and trombone—"anything," he says, "in B-flat"—and has been spotted fastidiously ironing his pants in the locker room after games.

Even before Louisville began preseason practice last fall, Crum knew that Ellison would be his starting center. Playing in a man-to-man, up-and-down style at Savannah High, he had developed startling open-court skills and precocious basketball sense. Someone asked Louisville's Herbert Crook when he knew how good Ellison was. "On October 15," Crook said.

Before unleashing his inside skills to take the game from Duke down the stretch in Reunion Arena Monday night, Ellison had kept the 'Ville close in the first half with a steal-and-dunk, and a pull-up, fast-break jumper. By game's end, Ellison had been so impressive that some were proclaiming the beginning of the Ellison Era.

" Ellison was magnificent," said Mike Krzyzewski, coach of the Blue Devils.

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