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Indians Begin Quest for Redemption

 

By DUSTIN KENT  
Jackson County Floridan

March 8, 2007

 

As the Tallahassee Eagles celebrated their state championship last season on the Chipola Indians' home floor, following a thrilling triple-overtime victory over the Indians in the final game, Jamarcus Ellis watched on in disgust.

 

"My heart was crushed," the 6-foot-6-inch Chipola star said Tuesday. "I couldn't take it, watching them accept their awards and trophies."

 

The agony of watching your arch-rival celebrate a championship on your home floor is enough to overwhelm a player with anger and bitterness.

 

For Ellis, it was enough to make him change his future plans altogether.

 

The star swingman, recently named Panhandle Conference Player of the Year by league coaches, decided to forego his plans to sign with the University of Iowa after his freshman season to come back to Chipola for another chance at a title.

 

"It was a quick decision for me after (last year's title loss)," Ellis said. "I knew as soon as the game was over that I was going to come back and we would do it better next time."

 

Chipola sophomore center DeAndre Thomas, a former high school and AAU teammate of Ellis' at Westinghouse High School in Chicago, was also on the floor for the Indians during last year's title game defeat and saw the pain in Ellis' eyes in the locker room afterwards.

 

"I've known him for eight years now and you could tell it really hurt him," Thomas said. "In high school, we really didn't lose. Right after, he promised (Chipola coach Greg Heiar) that we would win a state title the next year."

 

At 27-2 with an outright conference championship and top ranking in the state, the Indians will be the favorite this week to make good on Ellis' promise.

 

"We're real confident," Ellis said. "If we work hard, watch enough film and execute coach's gameplan, things will work out."

 

Thomas took it a step further.

 

"We're feeling like no one can beat us right now," the 6-foot-8-inch big man said. "We're so confident. I think the only team that can beat us is ourselves."

 

If Chipola does go on to win the state title, Heiar said that it will be in large part because of the experience and attitude of second-year players like Ellis, Thomas, Johnnie Harris and Ed Berrios.

 

"I've been talking all year about our sophomores," the coach said. "They have shown tremendous leadership. There's a real sense of hunger with this team. They're focused on doing all of the little things necessary to win."

 

While the Indians have been pretty consistent all year, the team appears ready now to hit an extra gear.

 

"This last week of practice, we've elevated our energy level, focus and our competitive spirit," Heiar said. "I think they can see the light at the end of the tunnel."

 

Ellis, who has signed on, along with Thomas, to play for Indiana University, echoed his coach's sentiment.

"Right now, we have to come out hard every game," he said. "At this point, it's win or you go home."

 

The Indians begin their tournament tonight at 8 p.m. with a matchup against Southern Conference runner-up Indian River. The winner faces the winner of Santa Fe/St. Petersburg Friday.

 

 

 

 
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