Catching Up With: Wayne Ellington

When Kobe Bryant was sidelined for the Lakers game against league-leading Golden State on Tuesday, Wayne Ellington stepped into the starting lineup and played a part in one of the biggest upsets of the NBA season.

Ellington has had success as a reserve contributor in his first season in Los Angeles -- and fifth pro season overall -- but is coping with the devastating loss of his father last month. Wayne Sr. was murdered in their native Philadelphia, and Ellington took a leave of absence from the team to return home.

He has found the support and confidence he's needed with the Lakers, being reunited with veteran NBA head coach Byron Scott, who had previously coached him in Cleveland, and teaming back up another fellow Tar Heel in Ed Davis.

Ellington recently sat down for an Inside Carolina Magazine interview, providing a progress report on his career and explaining how he's trying to move forward in the absence of his biggest fan.

How has your time in LA been thus far?
So far with the Lakers, it’s been great. Obviously, we started the season off a little slow, not the way we would like but things have been good. Coach Scott, I’ve always said he’s one of my favorites. He’s believed in me and gave me the confidence I need in the type of player I am to be able to contribute and I feel like so far it’s been great for me.

Talk about being teammates with Ed Davis.
It’s great. We’ve been in the trenches together. When you’ve been through the trenches with somebody, it’s always nothing but love when you come back together. We won a national championship, so we have a forever connection. For us to be on the same team, it’s been great. It’s been fun to connect and think back to some of the fun we had back in college and try to translate it here to the Lakers.

What is your role with the Lakers?
My role is to come off the bench, bring energy, be a shot-maker and strap up on the defensive end of the floor by playing team defense, putting your body out there, doing what you’ve got to do to get that extra effort, that extra boost when you come into the game.

How does it feel to be playing for Coach Scott again?
It does feel good. Like I said earlier, Coach Scott has been great for me. It was kind of like that for me in Cleveland when I was with him. I came from Memphis, where we had a lot of guys, a lot of guys in the rotation and I was playing every night but I wasn’t playing as much as when I got to Cleveland and was playing for him. He kind of gave me a boost, that boost of energy, that boost of confidence. That really helped me and same thing when I got here. He’s a guy that has tremendous confidence in me and I thrive off of that as a player.

How do you think your career in general has gone thus far?
So far, it’s been up and down for me. I feel like I’m at a point where I’ve learned so much. I’ve been in so many different situations that I’m getting better from it obviously. I feel like the chance I’ve been given here has been unbelievable and I feel like I’m going to continue to get better and better as the season goes on. I feel like this is the place for me honestly.

How supportive has the team been for you?
It’s been great. The guys welcomed me back with open arms. Everybody’s been very supportive. Everybody’s been checking on me making sure I’m OK. Soon as I got back, it was a great feeling. It’s been tough going through this, but it feels like getting back to my other family as they say, so it’s a good feeling.

What do you remember most about your father?
So much, man. There’s so much I remember. Right now, obviously his text messages before every game. He would always text me and give me something to think about before the game and then after the game, he’d give me some more to think about the game. Right now, that’s the No. 1 thing.

Talk about the timing of this tragedy.
Like I said before, I was on a pretty good high. We’d just won our first game. Everybody was excited in the locker room and not even 15 minutes after that was the lowest of all lows I’ve had in my life. Life can play some tricks on you, man. It’s crazy, but it’s been tough.

Basketball becomes secondary in times like this, right?
Yeah, exactly. Basketball comes very secondary very fast when you’re dealing with life issues like that. It’s something that you can’t really talk about how it feels, something that I can’t really explain.

Did you hear from the Carolina family after this happened?
Everybody, almost everybody I know from Carolina reached out. Coach Williams was there at my father’s funeral. That’s really all that needs to be said about that. That’s the way it is, man. That’s what it is with him.

What advice did your dad give you?
Just never take anything for granted. You’ve got people in your life that you love, tell them every day, every chance you get. Every time you talk to them, tell them how you feel and make sure you tell them you love them, reach out to your loved ones and just take that with you because life is short. You never know what could happen, man, never.

Where is your mind at with all of this going forward?
It’s something that you’ll never get over, that you’ll never be OK with, but just taking it day-to-day. Obviously, he would want me back here, doing this right now, so I’m going to finish this thing out for him strong obviously and leave it all out there….
This is what he wanted for me so much after Carolina. He’s the guy that was always talking about tradition. He’s always talking about ‘You go to Carolina, you look up, you see all the banners ‘and he was so ecstatic when I signed with the Lakers before camp. He was telling me how proud of me he is and (the Lakers are) kind of the same situation. He said ‘Back in the Carolina family type situation. I feel like this is the spot for you.’ I feel like that. Yeah, man. I’m leaving it all out there every single day. Every single day, every time I step out on that floor I know he’s looking over me.

This interview will be in the February 2015 Issue of the Inside Carolina Magazine. To learn more about the publication and how to subscribe, CLICK HERE.

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