Who wouldn’t want to be like Donovan Mitchell? After all, he was an all-conference player in college and is now a four-time NBA All Star and Slam Dunk Contest champion who is making $30 million annually? El Ellis, Arkansas basketball’s newest transfer guard, that’s who.
That’s not usually the kind of thing you want to hear from a new player — especially one that looks to be an integral part of the Razorbacks’ basketball squad next season — but hear him out on his reasoning here.
In a recent interview with ESPN Arkansas’ Tye Richardson, Ellis explained one major aspect of the Cleveland Cavalier star’s game he no longer wants. The 6-foot-3, 180-pound guard entered last year as a rising star with Louisville, but the Cardinals had lost five of their top seven scorers from the previous season. This, combined with a new coach and a freshman class that didn’t deliver quite to the level expected, left Ellis with trying to carry almost all of Louisville’s offense.
“I had the same usage rate (last year) as Donovan Mitchell and he’s in the NBA,” said Ellis, talking about how he felt like he was Louisville’s only option on the offensive end of the floor.
“I’m glad I’m not in (Louisville) anymore. I’m not saying it was a terrible situation…but it was a lot on me.”
Donovan Mitchell-Like Role with Louisville Basketball
El Ellis’ usage rate, which indicates how large of a role a player has within an offense, was almost 30 percent. Although that’s a bit below that of Donovan Mitchell this past season, it was still higher than any Arkansas basketball player from last season. The average usage rate for a college player is unknown, but for an NBA player it’s 20 percent.
In Ellis’ opinion his usage hurt his efficiency. He shot just 31.9% from three and led the ACC in turnovers.
“That’s something that was talked about throughout (last) year, I wasn’t efficient,” Ellis said. “I turned the ball over at a high rate. I didn’t shoot the ball as well. I didn’t finish as well as I wanted to.”
Basically, Ellis was on a one-man team last year and Louisville’s disastrous season has given him some humility, making him even more of a team player. This is great news for the Razorbacks, who will have a backcourt more crowded than anything you’d find at classic live casino games in Las Vegas or Atlantic City. With a better supporting cast, Ellis has good reason to believe his efficiency will improve this year.
“We’re going to have to come together this year and a lot of guys are going to have to take a lesser role coming from schools where we averaged way more points,” Ellis said. “Now that we’re mature, that’s something we can do. It’s just going to benefit all of us. We are all going to be way more efficient… That’s something I’m ready to show.”
Over the last few years, Ellis has shown plenty already.
El Ellis’ Journey to Arkansas
El Ellis’ road to Fayetteville began in Durham, N.C., where he grew up with Ricky Council IV – a transfer who transferred from Wichita State to Arkansas last offseason. That relationship later proved pivotal in Ellis’ decision to make a similar move.
In high school, Ellis was a standout player, but was not highly recruited. Instead of taking his one Division I scholarship offer, he chose a junior college instead. It was there that he learned to play within a team.
“I really had a good group of teammates that pushed me every day.” Ellis said in an interview before joining Louisville.
After starring at Tallahassee C.C., Ellis committed to Louisville. At the start of his career with the Cardinals, when the team had more talent and the offense, he played a role more similar to what can be expected at Arkansas.
His usage rate when he was on the floor was only about 25% his first year. As a result, his 3-point percentage was 36%, a rate Arkansas would love to see him recreate this year, and his turnover rate was significantly lower than his final season with the Cardinals.
During that final year, Ellis’s minutes jumped from 20 to 36 per game. He was now “the guy” for the Cardinals, but the problem was he was the only guy on a very bad team. Louisville went 4-28 and won just two conference games. Ellis’ three-point percentage dipped and his turnovers rose. The only areas which Ellis improved were his assist rate and his free throw percentage.
At the end of the year, Louisville basketball coach Kenny Payne essentially told Ellis he didn’t want him back after Ellis entered his name into the draft.
“They had their guards coming in and I felt like (Payne) wanted a change, and I felt like that’s something I needed as well,” Ellis told ESPN Arkansas. “They brought in Skyy Clark. They promised him things. They told him I wasn’t coming back.”
So Ellis entered the transfer portal. It was then that Arkansas reached out and Ellis in turn reached out to an old friend from Durham, Ricky Council.
“I asked him how was his time at Arkansas and, ‘Do you think it would be a good move for me?’” Ellis said. “He gave me the green light and said, ‘El, I think you should do it.’”
Ellis felt confident in his friend’s advice, especially after all the success Council had at Arkansas.
What’s Next for El Ellis
Now, the next chapter begins.
Where he should excel won’t necessarily show up in the box score. While he may not score the most points or hit the most 3s next season, he can be expected to show the wisdom to do what this team needs him to do: fill in the gaps, play within the offense be an efficient player and connect with others like he has the best data plan from Cox Internet.
El Ellis is a seasoned leader who can speak to what happens when a team depends on only one guy. He knows what kind of results that will bring.
Early feedback about Ellis is that he’s already forming a rapport with his teammates, especially Khalif Battle. Look for that tandem to excel next year as part of a stacked Arkansas backcourt.
Some may feel the team could be too guard-heavy – although too many ball handlers is a problem Arkansas wishes it had in its most recent years – but don’t expect Ellis to resent sharing the load. Instead expect him to set an example for his teammates.
“I knew I was going to have an opportunity to be a leader, to be an elite guard on a top-15 team in the country,” Ellis said. “A lot of people have been talking about how many guards we have. It’s not going to be a problem at all…It’s just going to benefit all of us.”
Eric Musselman, in early August, added some clarity to Ellis’ expected role in 2023-24: “El has been traditionally a scoring guard who has played the point. We’re going to want him to continue to score but also be a little more of a facilitator than maybe what he has been able to show last year.”
Mussleman then contrasted his game to those of other lead guards from past Arkansas baskeball teams: “I think when we look at Jalen Tate and Jimmy Whitt and Anthony Black, I mean those guys were freaks from a length and size standpoint. Cody Martin and Lindsey Drew at Nevada. Those guys are 6-6 with seven-foot wingspans that guard one and a half guys every possession just because of their length.”
“So, we’re a little bit different this year when El is out there and when Layden is out there. But we’re also a little bit different because they have a little bit more traditional point guard mentality of some things we want as well. Probably not going to defensive rebound as well as we have in the past at that position because Anthony Black is one of the best defensive rebounders in college basketball. Jimmy Whitt was incredible rebounding the ball. Tate was great at it as well. We’re a little different in that aspect.”
Listen to the full El Ellis interview with ESPN Arkansas, including the Donovan Mitchell comparison, here:
El Ellis Notes
- Led the Cardinals in scoring in 21 of 32 games, including 13 games with at least 20 points and led the team in assists in 30 of 32 games with 25 games having at least three assists, including 15 games with at least five.
- In the ACC, ranked 2nd in minutes, third in scoring and sixth in both free throws made (128) and attempted (158) … Shot 81% from the free throw line, which ranked 12th in the ACC.
- Played 89.9% of the possible minutes in the season, the second-highest utilization rate in program history behind Jim Price’s 94.2% in 1969-70.
- Only UofL player along with Darrell Griffith with multiple 30-point, five-assist games in a season.
- Named one of three team captains.
- 1 of 5 UofL players since at least 1992 to have 565 points and 140 assists in a season, joining Russ Smith, Francisco Garcia, Reece Gaines and DeJuan Wheat. Had 28 double-digit scoring games, as well as 13 games with 20-plus points.
- Named ACC Co-Player of the Week on Feb. 20 after averaging 24.5 points vs. Clemson and Virginia.
via Razorback Communications
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