Just as the NBA has experienced an influx of European talent in recent years, the college game as also undergone the same metamorphosis, with a number of talented prospects from Europe making an impact for their respective college teams. Therefore at first glance, 6-7 F Aaron Ellis, a German-born player currently lacing up his sneakers for the Wichita State Shockers, may not instantly grab headlines. After all, Germany has supplied more than a few college basketball players, from North Carolina having Henrik Rodl and Ademola Okulaja in the 1990s, to current German players Andrew Buechert and Luca Staiger, now playing at Winthrop and Iowa State respectively.
A closer look however, reveals some unique qualities pertaining to Ellis' trek to major college basketball. Ellis, though born and raised in Germany, is as they say, "American as apple pie." Ellis and his family lived in Germany due to his father's service in the United States military. Throughout his elementary, junior high, and part of his high school years, Ellis attended United States Department of Defense Dependent Schools (DoDDS), the schools located on military installations throughout Europe where most children of American military families stationed in Europe enroll. Ellis lived in the Kaiserslautern Military Community, which ranks as the largest military community outside the continental United States.
Ellis attended Kaiserslautern High School from ninth until 11th grade, developing into one of the better players in the DoDDS system. However, Ellis' hoop exploits flew under the radar due his lack of exposure in Europe. The turning point, according to Ellis, came during his sophomore year, when the American team selected to him to play in the prestigious Albert Schweitzer Tournament, which features 16 of the top under-18 national teams in the world. The tournament has unofficially become known as the World Championships of basketball for juniors. The American team only selects two players from DoDDS schools to play, while the remaining members of the team all hail from the United States. Fueled by his selection and the doubt that many of his peers expressed, Ellis challenged himself to become a better player.
"With only two kids coming from DoDDS schools on the team, that lit a fire under me,"
he said. "Nobody believed that I belonged there or could do it. My own high school did not believe that I could do it."
Even after the selection for the American team, most DoDDS players do not receive minutes on the talent-laden teams, but Ellis excelled for the American team. Because he did not live in the United States, he did not follow the traditional path of playing for prominent AAU organizations in the summer, like most high school prospects do. He had to rely on one summer camp for exposure.
"I didn't know anything about AAU living in Germany," he said. "I had never heard of it in my life until I got to Carolina Forrest."
On the heels of his impressive showing at the Albert Schweitzer event, he delivered a standout performance at a Five-Star summer camp session in the United States that garnered attention from major college programs. After telling the college coaches that he lived in Germany, he typically found the same response.
"They told me that they liked me a as player, but that they could not make a trip that far to see me play," according to Ellis.
At the conclusion of his junior year at Kaiserslautern, Ellis and his family, with the idea of gaining access to more college exposure and a higher level of competition in preparation for college ball, decided that he would move to South Carolina with his brother and attend high school there. He enrolled at Carolina Forrest High School in Myrtle Beach, reclassified as a junior, and proceeded to lead his team to their best record in school history. Along with the team success, Ellis started to get the attention of major college programs. About four games into his junior campaign, he started to receive letters from top-notch college programs, making their interest in Ellis known. This attention and the team success served as an accelerant for Ellis, igniting his desire to improve his game.
Early in his recruitment, he verbally committed to play for South Carolina and remained loyal to his commitment, though his recruitment continued to gain momentum due to his stellar play. In order to focus on strengthening his academic standing and play against a high level of competition, Ellis enrolled at Bridgton Academy, a prep school in Maine for a year post-graduate work. A few weeks before his scheduled enrollment at South Carolina, he received word that the school would not admit him, despite Ellis' assertions that he met all requirements for admission. Enter Wichita State and coach Gregg Marshall, who previously coached at Winthrop. Due to Winthrop's location in South Carolina, Marshall had become very familiar with Ellis from his days at Carolina Forrest. Ellis went to Wichita for a visit and signed shortly after, with the semester very close to starting.
Ellis has seen minutes this year for the Shockers and should receive more playing times as his development progresses. His considerable shooting ability and athleticism should help him to become a better wing prospect. If he continues to add strength and muscle to his frame, in addition to improve his ball-handling, Ellis will have a successful career with the Shockers. The interesting journey that delivered Ellis to Wichita State has provided him with a mature perspective on his otherwise young basketball career.
"Coming from Germany, Nobody believed that I could play at this level, he said." I am here now I will continue to work hard and get better."
Ellis also believes that his career serves as an example for other DoDDS players in Europe. He feels that other DoDDS players have the talent to play at a high level in college, but suffer from the same lack of exposure that plagued his early high school career in Germany. He wants his plight to show that if those players remain dedicated, they can play college ball in the United States. Ellis feels that he represents DoDDS players, believing that if he continues to enjoy on-court success, more college programs will recruit DoDDS players.
"I wear zero because its motivation," he said. "It shows how many people believed that I could make it this far and how much they expected me to play at this level."
Just like Arenas, doubt and second-guessing has spurred him to a higher plane. With his previous basketball history functioning as indication of his indomitable will, all doubters should prepare to face Wichita State's version of Agent Zero.
Antonio Williams is a recruiting coordinator for Scouts Inc. He previously worked as an NBA scout for Marty Blake Associates.