Eric Musselman’s roster churn is showing no signs of slowing down, as El Ellis from Louisville became the latest Arkansas basketball commitment from the transfer portal Monday morning.
Much like Davonte Davis and fellow transfer commit Tramon Mark, Ellis has also declared for the 2023 NBA Draft and will go through that process before making a final decision.
The honorable mention All-ACC selection previously told 247Sports that he would remain in the draft only if he was a lock to be picked or promised a two-way contract, as he’s confident in his ability to work his way up from the G League. Otherwise, he’ll use his final season of eligibility with the Razorbacks.
Considering he is not included in the top-100 prospect lists on ESPN or The Athletic, it seems likely that Ellis will be part of what is now a five-man transfer portal haul for Musselman. The deadline for players to withdraw from the draft and maintain their collegiate eligibility is May 31.
A consensus four-star transfer, Ellis is ranked No. 67 overall by On3 and No. 99 by ESPN. Rivals and 247Sports don’t currently have him ranked, but his four-star grade would make him a top-70 transfer on both sites.
Even before his decision, Arkansas had the No. 1 transfer portal class in the country, according to 247Sports. Ellis joins fellow four-star transfers Keyon Menifield Jr. from Washington, Tramon Mark from Houston and Khalif Battle from Temple, as well as high three-star transfer Jeremiah Davenport from Cincinnati.
El Ellis’ College Career
The son of former NFL player Elbert Ellis Jr., El Ellis was a standout high school basketball player who averaged 16.7 points his senior year at Quality Education Academy in Winston-Salem, N.C.
Despite his production and solid bloodlines, the only recruiting attention he got was from mid-major programs like North Carolina Central, Eastern Kentucky, Charleston Southern and Santa Clara. Instead of taking one of those offers, Ellis bet on himself by taking the JUCO route.
It didn’t take long for the gamble to pay off. He ended up at Tallahassee C.C. in Florida and immediately led the Eagles to their best season in two decades, earning Panhandle Conference Player of the Year and second-team All-American honors as a freshman.
Just as the world was shutting down because of the pandemic, big-time offers started rolling in for Ellis. He was tabbed the No. 1 JUCO player in his class and ultimately signed with Louisville before a sophomore season in which he averaged 17.7 points and earned first-team NJCAA All-America honors.
In his first season with the Cardinals, Ellis averaged 8.7 points on 39.7% shooting, including 36.0% from 3-point range. He got better as the year progressed, though, averaging 11.8 points over the final 10 games of the regular season.
That stretch started with back-to-back games in which he scored 18 and 25 points against Duke and North Carolina, respectively — two teams that eventually met in the Final Four. He hit 8 of 17 attempts (47.1%) from beyond the arc in those games.
As a senior, Ellis was the lone bright spot on what was a historically bad Louisville team. The Cardinals went just 4-28 and were the worst high-major team in the country, ranked No. 290 by KenPom and No. 314 in the NET, but he was the ACC’s third-leading scorer at 17.7 points per game.
He reached double figures in all but four of 32 games and scored 20-plus points 12 times, highlighted by a 33-point effort against Final Four participant Miami (Fla.) and a 30-point, 10-assist double-double against Western Kentucky.
In addition to his scoring, Ellis averaged 4.4 assists, 2.6 rebounds and 1.0 steals. He also turned it over 3.8 times per game while shooting 41.0% from the floor, 31.9% from beyond the arc and 81.0% at the free throw line.
Originally, he told reporters that he’d either enter the NBA Draft or return to Louisville. He changed his mind earlier this month and entered the transfer portal, ending his two-year run with the Cardinals.
“I feel like Louisville is the place for me, even through everything that’s been going on — the coaching change, the records, everything like that,” Ellis said before participating in Senior Night. “I feel like, if I’m going to come back and go to college again, I’m going to come back to Louisville, because I didn’t finish the way I wanted to.”
What Ellis Brings to Arkansas Basketball
Similar to other players Eric Musselman has recruited out of the transfer portal, Arkansas got an up-close look at El Ellis this season when it played Louisville in the first round of the Maui Invitational.
The Razorbacks cruised to an 80-54 win while limiting Ellis to 11 points on an inefficient 4 of 16 shooting with only two assists to seven turnovers. It wasn’t a very good performance, but it’s also worth noting that he was at the top of the scouting report because he was coming off back-to-back 29-point games against Wright State and Appalachian State.
“He’s a dynamic scorer,” Musselman said leading up to the game. “We’re going to have to shrink the floor, we’re going to have to spy on him.”
The goal was to hold him under 12 points and Arkansas achieved that with one point to spare. Other teams weren’t so lucky. Only Texas Tech (7), Miami (7), Notre Dame (8) and Pitt (7) held him to single-digit scoring this season.
That scoring ability is what made Ellis such a desired prospect at Tallahassee C.C.
“El is an extremely gifted scorer who has the ability to play both on and off the ball,” then-Louisville basketball coach Chris Mack said when he officially signed. “He is quick, shifty and has the ability to shoot the three.”
Of course, it’s hard to ignore the fact that he led the ACC and ranked sixth nationally in turnovers and his 3-point percentage dropped from 36.0% to 31.9% this season.
However, part of that can be attributed to Ellis being the only good player on a terrible team. The offense ran through him, leading to him having the third-highest usage rate in the ACC in 2022-23. He also played 89.9% of Louisville’s total minutes, which ranked 25th in all of Division I, according to KenPom.
“I struggled with turning the ball over, but I was in a difficult situation and my usage was very high, higher than it has ever been in my career,” Ellis told 247Sports. “I want to show (NBA teams) that I can really run a team and be solid so they can trust me with the ball in my hands.”
That won’t be the case at Arkansas if he ultimately makes it to campus. He’ll be one of several very good players and capable scorers, which would presumably lower his usage rate and help those areas of his game.
Of course, whether or not a player will buy into such a role change is another factor that won’t be known until he actually joins the team. Based on comments by his former JUCO coach, Zach Settembre, though, his personality should fit what Musselman is looking for.
“His humility allows him to accept constructive criticism and embrace hard coaching,” Settembre told the Tallahassee Democrat when Ellis signed with Louisville. “While he has always scored the ball at a high rate, his commitment to studying film has helped him evolve into a true collegiate-level point guard with excellent court awareness.”
Arkansas Basketball Roster for 2023-24
The addition of El Ellis once again puts Arkansas one above the NCAA scholarship restrictions for Division I men’s basketball.
The Razorbacks had just got back down to the 13-man limit Friday, when Barry Dunning Jr. – who had previously announced he’d return for his sophomore season – entered the transfer portal.
If Arkansas doesn’t add any more players, which can never be ruled out under Eric Musselman, it must lose one more player before the 2023-24 season. The two most likely candidates are Davonte Davis and Jordan Walsh.
Davis has already declared for the NBA Draft, but is keeping his options open for a potential return to college, while Walsh has yet to announce his intentions for next year, but is a borderline first-/second-round pick.
It is also possible that Makhi Mitchell, who hasn’t made any sort of announcement either, could follow his twin brother into the transfer portal or pursue professional opportunities.
Of course, after Dunning’s reversal, it’s also possible that one of the other players who’ve already indicated they plan to return — such as Jalen Graham, Joseph Pinion and Derrian Ford — ultimately leave, too.
Here’s what the roster looks like as of Monday, pending a final decision by Davis and announcements from Walsh and Mitchell:
- Jalen Graham — super senior
- Makhi Mitchell — super senior (yet to announce his decision)
- Jeremiah Davenport — super senior (transfer from Cincinnati)
- El Ellis — super senior (transfer from Louisville)
- Davonte Davis — senior (testing NBA Draft waters)
- Tramon Mark — redshirt junior (transfer from Houston)
- Khalif Battle — redshirt junior (transfer from Temple)
- Trevon Brazile — redshirt sophomore
- Jordan Walsh — sophomore (yet to announce his decision)
- Keyon Menifield Jr. — sophomore (transfer from Washington)
- Joseph Pinion — sophomore
- Derrian Ford — sophomore
- Layden Blocker — freshman (2023 signee)
- Baye Fall — freshman (2023 signee)
Check out some highlights of new Arkansas basketball transfer commit El Ellis:
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