If you click on the Henry Ellenson player link and scroll back to stories written a year ago, you'll see a different looking player. I don't even mean different in terms of how he looks on the court, I mean physically and facially he looks very different.
That's the nature of maturity for many young athletes — and especially tall young athletes — and Ellenson's game has evolved so sharply that he now projects as a national top 10 talent in the Class of 2015.
His older brother, Wally, was a high-major prospect himself a few years ago and signed with Minnesota. He transferred this summer to Marquette, where he'll sit out this season with two years of eligibility to play thereafter.
Henry, meanwhile, likely won't need more than a couple years of college. He boasts the kind of modern style that will make him highly appealing to NBA franchises.
But first things first, how he did arrive in this position? At one time a little heavy on his feet, Ellenson emerged this spring as a far more mobile big man. Speed has become an integral part of his game, and along with that he has polished a wide arsenal of ball skills.
He proved at numerous stops in the spring and summer that he belongs among the elite, regularly out-dueling players who previously had enjoyed loftier national status.
He ultimately pledged to the Golden Eagles in early October to deliver a monumental boost to the MU program.
Ellenson does two things very well that could propel him to long-term success playing the game: He runs the floor with grace and tireless stamina, and he also buries facing jump shots to the three-point stripe.
Touring with Playground Elite on the EYBL circuit, he averaged 18 points per game in 16 contests. He proved he can spend a great deal of time on the perimeter, as his 20 made threes in those 16 games suggests. More than a stretch four, however, Ellenson handles very well for a big man and is particularly effective driving past fellow frontcourt opponents to his right. He's also a gifted passer.
|For Ellenson, outrunning his opposing number is an everyday thing|
He possesses long arms as well and utilized those to average nine rebounds and just under two blocks per outing. He's more of a defensive big man than an offensive big man, a topic I also explore in the dreaded Deficits section below.
But if you're reading this article seeking one takeaway, it's that Ellenson's reputation largely exists on the basis of the two factors I cited above. He plays a reasonably complete game, but he's unique in the senior class with his ability to run and play outside at 6-10.
Additionally, he weighs a solid 235 pounds and isn't far from a college-appropriate weight, though of course he'll need to become much stronger. Still, he faces less of a physical hurdle than most teenaged big guys.
While Ellenson is both capable and productive, he's far from efficient. Yes, he played for an undermanned team that failed to qualify for the Peach Jam — forcing him to hoist more shots than might be ideal — but even so his shot selection can be poor.
He converted on just 40 percent from the field, an alarmingly low number for such a mobile big guy, dragged down in part because he made just 29 percent from three. That wouldn't seem to be a huge deal, but he took 70 threes in 16 games, jumpers that sometimes came at the expense of potential mismatches in the post.
In addition to the long bombs, he also sometimes settles for long, one- and two-dribble pullups from 16-19 feet. These are good shots to possess for NBA purposes, but he'll need time to become consistent from that range and in college he needs to focus on higher percentage attempts.
That's why I reference above that he's more of a big man on defense, where he unquestionably hits the glass and blocks shots. But on offense, he must cultivate greater comfort with his back to the basket and in the paint overall.
Though far from smoothing the rough edges, Ellenson's long-term potential is tremendous. His game is well-suited for the current NBA, and as long as he stays healthy and continues to improve at a normal pace, he should have little difficulty ascending to that level.
Handicapping him for college is a little trickier. He'll obvious help and play a meaningful role at Marquette, but the coaching staff will have to drill him on shot selection as well as playing a more balanced game. He's too talented not to produce as a freshman, but how quickly will he realize his all-around potential? And will he spend sufficient time in college to get (mostly) there? Only time will tell.
But clearly in terms of a legitimate, long-term talent, few 6-10 or taller peers can perform the skill work that's obviously natural to him. Coaches want guys with innate, unteachable qualities, because they believe they can handle the rest. Ellenson easily fits the bill in that regard, and thus there's little wonder he ranks as an elite talent and top recruit.
Note: Story updated on Oct. 9 to reflect Ellenson's commitment to Marquette.