Jamarcus Ellis is a warrior on the court. In fact his green Chicago Westinghouse jersey says it on the front. Ellis oozes with potential. You don't have to look around the court long to figure out which guy is the man his friends call Tone Tone. Jamarcus Ellis and Co. took down a talented Limestone squad that was previously ranked #5 in the state. The main story however was not the game that had just finished. It was about getting to know the true Jamarcus Ellis. I wanted to hear straight from his mouth what the issues and rumors were and why certain colleges have backed off of him.
It didn't take long for Ellis to say what I knew he wanted to get across. "I really wanted to go to Illinois, that was my top school," Ellis said. That statement is still ringing in my head. I can't figure out why I had to watch a man as talented as Jamarcus Ellis play a superb game against DeAaron Williams, then listen to him tell me that he'd love to play for the Illini. Illinois fans have been longing for this type of player. They thought they had their man in Shaun Livingston. He burned them. They've had 2 other guys practically beg Illinois to recruit them but to no avail. This is not the current coaching staffs fault however. Bill Self never did get after DeAaron Williams so he signed with Wisconsin. Jamarcus Ellis has been surrounded by rumors that he was a "thug" or a type of player that would be a cancer off the court. So Bruce Weber and his staff laid off of him. Is it time for them to put his past behind and look to his future?
Ellis claims that the rumors aren't true. " The rumors that went around about me, I just want to prove to everyone they're not true. I'm the same Jamarcus as when I was a freshman. I sat back and said to myself one day, do I really have to prove to these people or do I just have to stay Jamarcus Ellis? I figure if I want to go to college I'm going to have to prove to these people that I'm not a bad person."
So what exactly did happen to Jamarcus Ellis? "My grades dropped and that's why I was in summer school. That's how the rumors started. They had it in the Chicago Sun Times but I don't know what happened. My grades dropped because I was hanging around the wrong crowd. When I went to summer school I stopped hanging around and started staying in the house more. I stayed out of trouble. I was never in trouble but I stayed in just to prevent trouble," Ellis claims.
So who do you believe? Do you believe the rumors from various sources that the off court issues are too much for major programs to recruit him? How do you explain Oklahoma actively recruiting Ellis? "Oklahoma calls me every night," Ellis said. Why would a major top program continue to pursue someone with such a troubled past and grade issues? Ellis thinks it's ironic how all of this has played out. "At one point every school in the country wanted me, I have at least 4 thousand letters at home in a box, so I find it very remarkable how this has happened," Ellis says. Will Ellis even qualify academically? Ellis told us that his first time taking the ACT he received a 16 and that he needs an 18 to qualify. " I'm looking forward to taking it again in February. When I was a freshman I had a 3.0," Ellis said. It doesn't look to me that he should have that tough of a time qualifying if he stays as committed as he has been all summer. " It was hard sitting out this summer because I really wanted to play ball, but if I didn't have the grades there wouldn't be any of this," Ellis said. So where will Jamarcus Ellis end up? Ellis was asked if he believes that the major programs will again come calling once they realize their mistake. "Yeah they will. Rumors got out and some of the people don't even know me. The way I look at it is they can say what they want to say, I'm gonna let people find out for themselves." Ellis was then asked why he didn't stop the rumors as soon as he heard about them, specifically after he missed the highly touted ABCD camp. "I didn't hear none of the rumors until the beginning of the season. I wasn't worried because I knew where I was and my coach knew where I was." One thing is quite clear. Somewhere along the way things got out of hand.
Jamarcus Ellis is either getting unfair treatment or he's saying all the right things to stay out of trouble. As I talked to Ellis on Tuesday night it was quite clear that this is a man that is on a mission to prove everyone wrong. Even if his past is not so great, he's making up for it with hard work in the classroom and an incredible work ethic on the court. Illinois is on the hot seat. Ellis is a top 30 talent that is begging them to recruit him. Illinois has had recent trouble with players getting suspended this year for off court issues. Is it worth the risk for them to gamble on a high major talent or do they let him go and hope he doesn't come back to punish them? Ellis makes his love for Illinois and some of their players quite clear. "I've played against Dee but he's a very good friend of mine. Him and James Augustine, that's my best friend, James Augustine," Ellis says. As I let Jamarcus wrap up his interview he left me with one last gem. "I'm gonna try and hurry up and watch Illinois play tonight but we taped it so it's not really a problem. I would LOVE to go to Illinois," Ellis said with fire in his eyes.
Jamarcus Ellis is watching and waiting on Illinois. It's up to them to respond.
Photos by Michael Bates