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August 14, 2006

Ellis winning over adversity
Mike Pegram & Inside Indiana

There's perseverance and then there is perseverance.  The saga of Jamarcus Ellis is part of the latter.  At age six his father was tragically stabbed to death.  Then while in eighth grade he lost his mother to lung cancer.  Growing up in the tough streets of Chicago with six younger siblings to look out for, it was probably enough to break many kids.  But the 6-foot-5, 200-pound Ellis found refuge in the game of basketball.

Ellis hung with the game and school at Westinghouse despite some struggles in the classroom. After graduating from Westinghouse High in 2004, he kept his basketball dreams alive by heading to Chipola Junior College in Marianna, Florida, a town in the middle for the Florida panhandle.  

"He comes from a tough family background and is so strong willed and has a great heart coming from that type of background," says Chipola head coach Greg Heiar.

Ellis was pretty highly regarded coming out of the Chicago high school ranks but the Chipola coach think he has taken his game to another level.

"He has really matured as a basketball player," said Heiar.  "I think he'll be in the top five (Juco rankings) and top 10 for sure.  I think Indiana is getting the most versatile basketball is going to be hard to find a kid with more versatility than Jamarcus Ellis.  He averaged 9.9 rebounds as a three as a freshman.  Go across the board in the NCAA and find me another three that averaged 9.9 boards.  He is just a great get for them."

To go along with those 9.9 boards, Ellis produced 13.5 points, 5.5 assists, 2.5 blocks and 2.5 steals.  Impressive stats for a freshman on a team that had to feature D1 bound sophomores.

"Last year I had seven guys average between 9.5 and 15 points per game," said Heiar.  "Both my guards from last year are going to the Big 12 and one is going to Bowling Green, one is going to Louisiana-Monroe, one is going to Fresno we really had some good players."

The commitment to Indiana may have took other high major schools by surprise.

"Oklahoma came in to see him, Oklahoma State was looking at him a little bit," said Heiar.  "I think a lot of one thought he was going to sign early, so they were kind of waiting until the fall to come in and see him.  Texas A&M was in to see him."

"I think there would have been others that would have been interesting in hosting him for a visit but Jamarcus was serious about Indiana and that is how it went down so quick."

Some leg work last year didn't hurt.

"(Indiana assistant) Coach (Ray) McCallum recruited him when he was at Oklahoma," said Heiar.  "He saw him play once last year."

The Hoosiers are also tracking another Chicago area player on the Chipola roster.

"I think they are watching DeAndre Thomas's progress throughout the year," said Heiar.

Thomas also played his high school ball at Westinghouse. He is beefy (6-foot-7, 270-pound) power forward.

The coach told us that Ellis will be finished with his classwork at Chipola in early May of next year.  He added that another trip to Bloomington is expected soon.

"I know (last week's visit) was an unofficial visit because they were talking about taking him back up there in the fall," said Heiar.

While he went to junior college for academic reasons, that issue seems well under control now.

"They (Indiana) couldn't believe it when they got his transcript," said Heiar.  "He only needed 14 hours and could have graduated this summer but he wanted to come back for another year."

While there was talk that off the court issues kept some away back in his Westinghouse days, the Chipola coach was pretty adamant that Indiana is getting a pretty mature player.

"He is a great kid, low maintenance when it comes to off the court," said Heiar.  "I will be honest with you, people said a lot of stuff about him when he was coming out of high school but I have had no problems with him. He has done everything I have asked him to do.  He has gotten good grades in the classroom. What some people may say and what I see on a day to day basis are two totally different things and I am with him every day."

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