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Tracking the Stars of the Future

Hoops Recruiting Report
Thursday, January 29, 2009

By Thad Mumau

Asheville hoops star working for the future


Wakefield Ellison’s body and game have grown in the past year, but he realizes huge strides are still required to bridge his basketball career from high school to college.

Ellison, who signed with East Carolina in November, promises plenty of hard work as he makes the transition to Division I hoops and the Pirates’ tough Conference USA battles.

“They are getting a hard worker,” said Tiger Norman, Ellison’s coach at Asheville (NC) High School. “Last fall, before our season started, Wakefield woke up at 5:30 every morning and went to our local YMCA. He shot 300-400 jump shots and then came to school.”

The repetitions have paid off with a more consistent jumper this season, one which has seen Ellison average nearly 25 points per game to go with 5.3 rebounds and two assists. He is sinking around 53 percent of his field goal attempts, including 35 percent of his three-point shots, and 78 percent of his free throws.

In a typical Ellison performance, he had 32 points with three treys, seven of 10 from the line and six boards in Asheville’s victory over Charlotte Christian.

He threw in a career-high 46 points this season in a 98-96 double-overtime win against Veritas Christian. He nailed six three-pointers in that game.

Prolific scoring is nothing new for the 6-foot-5, 195-pounder. He averaged 20.7 points per game as a junior, helping Asheville finish 19-11 after losing in the 3-A regional semifinals. He had 38 points vs. Enka as a sophomore.

“Ellison is a scorer,” Norman said. “He finds a way to get points. He shoots the three ball, goes to the basket, and his mid-range game is his strong point. He uses a pump fake and a bounce to get a 12- or 13-footer, and I’ll bet he hits 60 percent or better on those jump shots. He’s a good slasher, and he finishes at the rim real well.

“In traffic, if he can’t jump over people – and he often does – he will maneuver through and around defenders. And he’s also a good passer; when he’s in a crowd, he will kick the ball out for an open three. Ellison is long and smart, and he has a nose for the ball. He scores quite a bit off of offensive rebounds.

“He has some ball handling skills,” Norman said, “but he could stand improvement in that area. Like most high school players, he needs to work harder on defense. He gets caught cheating a lot, going for steals.”

Norman described Ellison’s quickness as “average” and his leaping ability “far above average”, noting that “he is a quick jumper. He can go up, come down and go up again while the other guy hasn’t made his second jump yet. And, although he is not super quick, he is pretty quick with the ball. Part of that is because he reads defenses, sees things developing and recognizes double-teams before they come.

“He has to get stronger and also in better condition. It’s not that he isn’t in good shape. But college games are longer, and he will have to go harder every minute.”

Ellison acknowledges that he has a substantial amount of work ahead, and he doesn’t mind that one bit.

“There will be adjustments,” he said, “and I feel I can make them. I’m willing to work. That has never been a problem. Neither have grades. I am a good student.”

Describing himself in terms of a player, Ellison said, “My strength is scoring the ball and finding a way to score. I’m a good shooter with NBA range and I like the mid-range game. A lot of teams have been stepping out on me to stop the three, so I give them a jive step, a crossover, some hesitation or a pump fake. Then I find openings in that in-between space for jump shots or take the ball all the way to the basket if I can.

“I have improved tremendously this year. I have matured, grown a bit (from 6-4, 180 a year ago) and gotten stronger.”

Ellison chose East Carolina over Penn State, Ball State, Oregon State and Siena. His trip to Greenville was the first weekend of September, when he watched the Pirates’ football team defeat then nationally eighth-ranked West Virginia.

“My first official visit was to East Carolina,” he said, “and they had me after that. I knew during the visit that was where I wanted to go. The coaches were great, and they, along with the players, made me feel real comfortable.

“I was going to visit Ball State the next week, but I called that off. I called the other coaches and told them I was going to East Carolina.”

Asked to pinpoint factors which helped sway him, Ellison said, “Well, the two starting wings, James Legan and Sam Hinnant, are graduating. The coaches told me they expect me to come right in and compete for a starting spot. They plan to play me at the two and three positions.”

Ellison’s first scholarship offer was from UNC-Asheville during his sophomore year. UNC-Wilmington, Western Carolina and Gardner-Webb followed suit. East Carolina began recruiting him in mid-April of his junior year.

“East Carolina is getting a good athlete and a good kid,” Norman said. “He loves the game, and he loves to win. He finds ways to score, but more importantly, he finds ways to help us win.”

Dig into Thad Mumau's archives.

01/29/2009 02:26:56 AM


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