There have been a handful of under-the-radar high school basketball players that saw their recruitment soar after putting together a solid junior college resume. Chris Duarte, Shakur Juiston, and Chris Boucher (Oregon); Jeremy Harris (Buffalo), Josh Gray (LSU), Kadeem Allen (Arizona), Pierre Jackson (Baylor), and Chris Jones (Louisville) are some JUCO standouts that went on to have a significant impact at the Division One level. Jones was ranked as the top overall player in the 2013 class (JUCORecruiting.com), and came in immediately and bolstered the Cardinals’ backcourt. Despite the coaching change, Louisville has opted to go the same route after receiving a commitment from combo-guard El Ellis.
Ellis didn’t have many suitors after he graduated from Quality Education Academy in 2018; however, Ellis refused to let that stop him from reaching his goals. “I was a non-qualifier out of high school so I had to go JUCO,” he explained. “It’s been a good experience!” After immediately making an impact at Tallahassee Community College, Division I teams began to zoom in on the 6-foot-3 guard.
Ellis is currently ranked as the top overall JUCO prospect (247Sports), and saw his recruitment start to blow up around March. Many teams got involved, one of them being Louisville, who offered back on the 18th of that month.
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Since then, Chris Mack’s staff has made him a priority, and the relationships Ellis formed with them ended up being the deciding factor. “They’re a really down-to-earth staff and want the best for me,” he explained. “I have a close relationship with Coach Mack & Coach Dino (Gaudio). They both are down-to-earth people and care about my future.”
From a basketball standpoint, Louisville and Ellis are a match made in Heaven. “I have the opportunity to play right away and impact from day one,” he said. With David Johnson possibly entering the 2021 NBA Draft, and with Carlik Jones and Charles Minlend being gone as well, the Cardinals will only have Josh Nickelberry and D’Andre Davis returning in the backcourt. Ellis’ skill set is directly translatable in various ways. For starters, the reigning-Panhandle Conference Player of the Year averaged 14.3 PPG on an impressive 48/41/84 shooting splits, to go along with around four rebounds and 4.5 assists per game, respectively. In his first season at Tallahassee Community College, Ellis showed his ability to affect the game in multiple ways. “I can do just about everything on the floor. I love to make plays for my teammates or myself. I’m a leader and will do anything to win.”
Ellis’ game draws a lot of parallels to that of former Louisville great Russ Smith’s. Both have advanced offensive repertoires; Ellis has better vision and facilitating, but they are three-level scoring threats. The JUCO standout has elite burst and quickness, allowing him to penetrate in the lane. From there he has shown flashes of being both an exceptional passer and finisher. His perimeter shooting will perhaps be the biggest asset for the Cardinals; Ellis shot just over 41% from behind-the-arc, scoring efficiently whether it be in catch-and-shoot situations or creating his own shot. Ellis not only is able to make plays like Smith, but also play similar defense. Being as good of an on-ball defender like Russ is near impossible, but Ellis has good defensive technique, high basketball IQ, and quick hands.
In a similar fashion, fellow Cardinal commit Bobby Pettiford Jr’s game is reminiscent of Smith’s teammate Peyton Siva. And if that’s not enough, the third commit Bryce Hopkins has a skill set like Chane Behanan. “I’m from the same city as Bobby so we’re pretty close,” Ellis explained. “I just met Bryce Hopkins. We have a really good recruiting class.”
Ultimately, Ellis’ goal since he was young is to get to the NBA. “Everybody has a dream of playing in the league and it’s always been a dream since I first started playing,” he said. “Playing on that stage at Louisville and the coaching from the staff will prepare me for that level.” Ellis will be a fan favorite due to his sheer love for the game and for his teammates. Until then, his focus is set solely on winning a JUCO national championship this upcoming season. Despite the adversity, his perseverance never wavered. With the next challenge on the horizon, Ellis is poised and ready to seize every opportunity that comes his way.