LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Even though we are over halfway through the month of May, we still don't have a clear idea as to what the back court for the Louisville men's basketball program will look like. While newly-hired head coach Kenny Payne is involved with the recruitment for a handful of guards in the transfer portal, as of May 20, the only true ball handler on the roster is El Ellis.
That being said, no matter what guards that Payne and the Cardinals land between now and tip-off of the 2022-23 season, Ellis is going to have a major role in his second year with the program.
In a recent interview with Floyd Street's Finest's Jeff Greer, the former JUCO product discussed his conversation with Payne that led to him opting to return to Louisville, and revealed that he will playing a lot more on the ball than he did under former head coach Chris Mack.
"The conversation was really like, they're gonna be dependent on me," he told Greer. "I'm gonna have to be that leader, I'm gonna have to be the that point guard, like a guy that's gonna be an extension of a coach on the floor. That's what I wanted to hear, and I didn't hear that coming in. I just came here off this jump that it was Louisville. It was in the ACC, and it was a big time program."
Ellis came to Louisville from Tallahassee Community College last offseason, averaging 17.7 points, 4.3 assists and 3.4 rebounds per game while shooting 41.7 percent on threes in his second and final year. As Tallahassee C.C.'s primary ball handler, he was not only named an NJCAA All-American as both a freshman and sophomore, but was the Panhandle Conference Player of the Year in both seasons.
But when he got to Louisville, he found himself buried on the point guard depth chart behind both Jarrod West and Mason Faulkner. With it being the final year in college for both players, Ellis settled for more of a two guard role with the occasional instance of him running the point.
"There's only 40 minutes at one position, so it was hard to just squeeze me in there at times,"he said. "Having those two guys, being older and already played so much at the highest level, I just felt like it was just meant for them to go out there last year and play as much as they could."
The 6-foot-3, 175-pound guard admits that it was "difficult" that he wasn't going to be playing his typical role during his first year at the Division I level. However, he took the opportunity to learn, adjust and add to his overall game. He wound up averaging 8.7 points per game to finish as Louisville's third-leading scorer, while also dishing out 1.6 assists per game and shooting a team-high 36.0 percent on three-point attempts.
"I'm not gonna say it was totally bad, but it was just a lot to get used to," he said. "I feel like I had a decent year, and with the position I was in, I feel like I made the best out of what I could, honestly."
Once the season was over and Louisville hired Payne to be in charge on Mar. 18, it took Ellis less than two weeks to decide he wanted to come back and play for him. He was the second of six Cardinals that wound up announcing they would be back, and he can't wait to showcase his ability to run the floor.
"Not having the ball in my hands, not being able to be the playmaker that I am, that I really didn't get to show," he said. "I was able to show in spurts, but just not being able to play my game: make plays not just for myself, but for others. I love doing that. I love seeing my teammates hit big shots, I love just setting my teammates up so it can be easier on them."
The Durham, N.C. native even took to Twitter to reiterate that, despite his role last year, he is a point guard by trade. But he did admit to Greer that he knows he likely won't exclusively be a point guard next season. His skill set - as Louisville fans know by now - translates to both the one and the two, and whoever his backcourt mate will be is likely going to get some run at point as well.
"I know there'll be another guard with me," Ellis said. "It's easier, especially in this day and age where most teams are playing two guards. He'll be able to set me up, I'll be able to set him up. That's really how that conversation (with Payne) went. I'm gonna be the lead guard, I'm going to have to be a leader. They're going to be depending on me."
(Photo of El Ellis: Jamie Rhodes - USA TODAY Sports)
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