For a guy that wasn’t supposed to even be playing this year, Jerell Ellis is having a great season.
Ellis, 22, a senior guard from San Antonio, tore the ACL in his right leg in February 2015, during the last game of the season.
People told him he “should just sit out the whole year, shouldn’t play at all this season,” he said.
But Ellis had a different time table: he wanted to be back and playing within six months, in no small part because he was sure the Rams would have a great season.
They have, and Ellis — who stuck to his six-month plan and was back to “running, jumping and playing” in August, two months before the 2015-2016 season started — has been a huge part of the team’s success, which includes being ranked No. 3 in the nation and maintaining first place in the competitive Sooner Athletic Conference.
Ellis currently leads the team with 18.4 points per game; he’s been named the SAC’s player of the week three times, and the NAIA’s national player of the week once. While winning the award was great, he wanted more.
“As soon as I found out I won I was excited,” Ellis said. “But that excitement immediately turned to focus. I want everyone to have the feeling that we all won something.”
Head coach Brennen Shingleton was very proud of Ellis when he won the award.
“I’m very supportive of him and want the best for him on and off the court,” Shingleton wrote in an email. “But this has everything to do with Jerell , his work ethic, toughness and his team.”
The road back from the torn ACL has been tough. Ellis had surgery on the knee in April, and during his recovery there were days he wanted to quit because of the pain.
“My mom and dad and brother told me it was a process, keep going to the gym, take it day by day,” Ellis said. “I kept my faith strong, prayed about it every day.”
Ellis just wanted an opportunity to play this season, and that’s what kept him motivated during his rehab.
By August, he said, “I was back to running, jumping, and now I don’t even think about it.”
Shingleton wrote that seeing Ellis walk through the gym doors in August was a big moment.
“That was ALL on him, I didn’t want to rush him, he was the one that was telling me he was ready,” Shingleton wrote. “I was planning on him be ready second semester, just shows what he is made off, how he Is wired and his willingness to fight for his goals and his team’s goals.”
Ellis is in his second season for the Rams, after playing one season at Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio and playing one season at North Lake College in Irving.
Shingleton wrote that Ellis has been consistent in his two seasons for the Rams.
“He is one of the toughest guys I’ve ever been around and watching him develop into the man he is, has been a real joy,” Shingleton wrote.
Last season, Ellis averaged 18.3 points per game for the Rams, while being named team MVP and an honorable mention selection in the Sooner Athletic Conference. He played in 29 games and started 12. He hit double digits in scoring 27 times, according to ramsports.net.
Shingleton wrote that one of the biggest things he wanted Ellis to focus on in the offseason was his leadership abilities.
“I wanted him to be confident in his convictions and words,” Shingleton wrote.
Ellis says he feels himself getting stronger with each game he plays.
“Every game I feel myself getting better,” Ellis said. “I try not to just focus on one aspect I just think that defense is really important, so every game I just try to focus on defense because the offense will take care of itself.”
Tim McGraw, Ellis’s coach at North Lake College, wrote in an email that Ellis plays the same at Wesleyan that he did at Northlake.
“He has really stepped up his game,” McGraw wrote. “I thought he would do good for TWU but he’s taken it to a much higher level.”
Ellis picked Wesleyan because “I had known about the school, they were a good school, real tough and competitive. I just connected with the team, it just felt perfect.”
Shingleton wrote during the recruiting process, he was impressed by the player’s “ability to make shots, his demeanor and also his approach to the game. I loved his balance and personality, he wanted to be @ TWU…. That makes all the difference to me, and also the guys loved him.”
Ellis said he thinks the team has gotten stronger as the season has worn on.
“As the conference tournament and the national tournament approaches, we want to be playing our best basketball,” Ellis said. “I really think that every game we are becoming stronger and playing as one unit. I think that when the tournaments roll around, we will be playing our best basketball.”
Ellis is graduating in December with an exercise science degree and hopes to continue playing basketball after college, whether in the D-League or in the NBA.
“My dream has always been to play pro basketball,” Ellis said. “It’s all a journey and some people have to take different routes and longer routes to get where they want to be but I know if I just keep my faith strong I can accomplish anything.”