The UC Clermont men’s basketball team has had an unexpected season to say the least. From starting almost a completely fresh team to losing a few players, the winding road led to a positive turnout overall. However, Coach Steve Ellis had only positive thoughts: “I think it was successful overall. We started from scratch with only having a couple players return from the previous year. We had to basically get a whole new team. After Christmas everything started gelling together.” This was due in part to picking up senior Jack Engleman from Milford High School, who according to Ellis, turned out to be an extremely aggressive player.
Early in the season, they were scheduled against some of the best teams in the league. Their first games were against top ten nationally ranked teams, two of which were ranked first and second. They made the best out of this and were able to establish a clear focus for the remainder of the season. They went about fixing the loose ends, and came back to win three games in a row, followed by a few struggles against other nationally ranked teams
The team had a couple turning points in the season, the most notable one when they won four games in a row starting against Kent State, which was almost a thirty-point victory. After that the players built more confidence with their skills. They were able to relax and play better together. That boost of confidence resulted in the team shutting out the next three games. They played Kent State a second time, for their final game of the season, and defended the Cougar court with a lopsided victory yet again: 102-65.
Coach Ellis was asked if there were any individual players who stood out during the season, and he replied that overall the team worked as a whole. “I’ve been coaching for a long time. I have [coached]teams where one stood out, but [this year]no one individual stood out from the pack. They were all very talented guys who were able to mesh well, which was surprising with a basically all-freshman team.” However, he went on to highlight the role of freshman point guard Adrien Baker, who ended the season ranked seventh in the country in assists. Ellis also stated that Baker was the most improved throughout the season. “He started getting more comfortable with passing and shooting; he really impressed me with the amount of assists he was able to consistently bring to the table.”
For Coach Ellis, one of the most notable observations he had was that compared to high school players he’s coached in the past, Clermont players are all older and more experienced. “High school players require a little more structure, [but]players at this level have the skill and knowledge, and it’s just a matter of putting it all together as a team. The shot clock was a first to deal with, the games are longer, and there’s more possessions and chances to score. The amount of three-point shooting is way higher than that of high school ball. Every team has two, three, sometimes four players who can consistently drain them from the three-point line, which forced me to expand my typical approach to defense.”
Another question posted to the coach had to do with player training, and whether it focuses more on the team in general, or if it’s more concentrated on bringing out individual player’s strengths? According to Ellis, “It’s definitely all about the team—to get players to gel and play together on both ends of defense and offense. Assists are a huge factor for us. Getting rebounds with easier inside shots plays a big factor as well.”
Ellis stated that he had high hopes, but with a mostly freshman team, he didn’t know what to expect. “Starting the schedule against really good teams actually turned out to the best route. We used it as a learning curve regarding what to improve on and where we were lacking.” According to Ellis, this season was generally a great experience, and ending the season on a successful note made him extremely confident for next year. “We’re planning on recruiting strong shooters and tough players to give us an aggressive defense. Our goal is to pressure the ball full court and prevent easier shots.”
Ellis said he plans on around seven or eight returning players next season, as opposed to the three returning players he had this season, “We have a good base to work with, a good core. Out of the seven or eight returning, at least four are solid starters.”
Open gym tryouts start in April, and they are held two days a week. Ellis sent flyers out to every high school in the tristate area to invite seniors interested in playing college ball. He also spent some time scouting high school seniors competing in their own tournaments, and is planning on making a couple offers. Filling the roster as he goes, he plans to start practice in June and take off in July and August.
Well done on your first year here, Coach Ellis. We all look forward to your next season.