Adam Lindner | Sports Editor
Feb. 7, 2019
Although he’s ineligible to practice or play with the Duquesne men’s basketball team this season, James Ellis is very much a part of the team. He may even be the team’s biggest fan.
A 6-foot-11 freshman, Ellis was academically ineligible coming out of high school, but will be qualified to compete at the Division I level next season for the Dukes if things go according to plan.
For now, all he can do is watch.
“Everyday, I think about playing basketball,” Ellis said. “Watching [the team] practice to watching them in games — it gets me amped up. I keep a marked calendar, a countdown to my first day on the court.”
If it weren’t for Keith Dambrot and Duquesne, it’s likely Ellis wouldn’t be in Pittsburgh at all right now. Instead, he’d be in Cumberland, Maryland, at Allegany College — one of the junior colleges that Steve Francis attended before ultimately transferring to the University of Maryland.
Ellis said he’s thankful for the opportunity that was afforded to him by Dambrot and Duquesne, and he sounds adamant on making the most of his chance here on the Bluff.
“At first, I wasn’t eligible to go anywhere, and no school wanted to really redshirt me or anything,” Ellis said. “But Coach Dambrot, you know, he wanted to give me an opportunity — it was the only actual opportunity that I had other than the community colleges or Division II schools, so I took it.
“Look where it got me!”
To be exact, it got Ellis to one of Chuck Cooper’s alma maters. Cooper, who attended Duquesne from 1947-50, went on to become the first African-American player to ever be drafted by an NBA team when the Boston Celtics selected him No. 14 overall in 1950.
Interestingly enough, though, Ellis already hails from one of Cooper’s old stomping grounds: Westinghouse High School, located roughly six miles from Duquesne’s campus.
Ellis would be the first Westinghouse grad to play for Duquesne since Cooper, and the first Pittsburgh City League player at DU since Schenley’s Jack Higgins in 2004-06.
How about that for pressure?
“It puts a little bit of pressure on my back, but I’m used to pressure already from high school.”
For now, Ellis will continue in preparation for next year. He said that he’s been committed to putting on muscle, among other things.
“I’ve been in the weight room. I gained around 30 pounds,” Ellis said. “I got here at 222, and I weigh 250 now.”
Otherwise, Ellis said that he’s been focusing on his schoolwork and conditioning, too.
In fact, he’s turned into quite the early bird.
“I get up early, so I start my day off early,” Ellis said. “Go to the gym, put in some work, and then I lift. Then, it’s class time.”
As far as adapting to life on the Bluff goes, Ellis said it’s been “easy, but different” compared to life on the east side of Pittsburgh. He added that it’s not anything that he can’t get used to over time.
While his acclimation to life at Duquesne may be going smoothly, watching Duquesne enjoy its fair share of early success this season has only made Ellis hungrier to get back on the hardwood.
“I cheer ‘em on everyday,” Ellis said, referencing his soon-to-be teammates. “I love the way everyone’s playing. I feel like I’ll be … an even bigger help next year.”
For the time being, Ellis will continue to prepare, all while cheering on the Dukes. He noted the growing number of people attending games at the A.J. Palumbo Center, saying, “it is exciting. It’s overwhelming, actually.
“I know the fans are the ones that can actually take the game over if they needed to.”