CODY Ellis might have a lot playing on his mind right now but he is channelling all his energy into a big playoff campaign with the Stirling Senators and he sees no reason why they can’t go all the way in the SBL.
Ellis has continued his commitment to play with the Senators in the SBL during his off-season from the NBL and after the last two years where Stirling has been knocked out in the first round by quality opponents, he is confident they can turn that around in 2018.
The Senators finished the regular season in sixth position to book in a quarter-final match up with the defending champion Perth Redbacks with Game 1 to take place this Friday night at Belmont Oasis.
That’s quite the challenge for the Senators to tackle, but Ellis has full faith in his team and the depth and quality of the squad that they are capable of going all the way over the next five weeks.
And for Ellis, every time he steps onto the floor he feels he has a point to prove both for what he could have provided more of to the Illawarra Hawks during the 2017/18 NBL season and what he could provide any interested party in 2018/19.
Despite having now played 127 NBL games between both the Sydney Kings and Illawarra Hawks following his college career at Saint Louis, Ellis doesn’t currently have a contract for the 2018/19 season, but he’s trying to not fret about that and focus on the job at hand with Stirling in the SBL.
This is now the third season with Ellis’ dad Mike coaching the Senators as well and the father-son duo see things in a very similar way in terms of how far Stirling should be aiming to go over the next five weeks.
“In the past, Stirling has been that club that’s happy to make the finals just because we went through those years of being a bit average and not looking like even making finals,” Ellis said.
“Then once dad took over as head coach, his big mantra was don’t be happy to make finals, we want to win the thing and we can be happy when we win it. That mindset is slowly starting to sink in a little bit with everyone and the last two years we’ve had tough outings with Geraldton and Willetton in the first round.
“They’re two tough teams but we gave it to Gero especially last year. We went there and got that Saturday night game and that instilled a lot of confidence in us, and we had our chances on the Sunday but just had a couple of shots that didn’t go down and that was literally the difference.
“We have a lot of returning guys from that year and confidence shouldn’t be a problem for us. We’ll go into the finals with confidence and we know we’re good enough to beat anyone.”
Stirling is not just a team for Ellis to come back and spend time with during his off-season either. Having grown up playing with the Senators, he remains loyal and committed to the club and it really does mean the world to him along with his family including wife Lauren and five-year-old son Chase.
That’s why any success the Senators are able to achieve would mean all that more to Ellis.
“The club means the world to me. To be able to play for a club your whole life is pretty special. Obviously dad’s number hangs in the rafters and all my uncles and my grandad and grandma are all part of the club,” he said.
“I love coming back and playing for Stirling, it’s such a family club and my wife and little guy are fully invested in it as well. Chase runs around like he owns the place as a five-year-old does and I love the place. It’s awesome to say that I’ve played for the one club in my hometown for my whole life.”
Ellis has been part of the Stirling team that lost in the quarter finals to Willetton back in 2016 and the Geraldton in three games last year, but he has a very different feeling about this group in 2018.
With Corban Wroe running the point and Ash Litterick inside, Ellis and Caleb Davis sharing wing duties and imports Justin King and Robert Anshila prolific in their own ways, it’s a Senators team that deserves to be a genuine contender too.
When you add in young players like Jayden Coburn and then veterans like Austin Bruton and Tom Witts, they appear to have every area covered, it’s just the small matter that the Redbacks are one hell of a first round opponent as a first round opponent with a deep and experienced squad.
But Ellis is more than happy to be going into the battle with this Stirling team and he can’t speak more highly of how much he rates the mix they have put together.
“This is probably one of the most talented teams we’ve had across the whole board. Our young guys have stepped up big time, the guys coming off the bench are starting to play really well for us and it’s one of those strange years where there’s not really one standout team,” Ellis said.
“I think we’ve got a bit of everything in this team. Corbs is having his best season and with our imports, we have Justin King and he’s as tough as. Once he gets to his spot, he knocks that shot down nine out of 10 times and then we have Rob Anshila who is just an animal on the boards for us.
“That’s something we have been missing in the past. Then Caleb Davis came in late for us and give him half a second and that’s up and in. He’s been able to stretch the floor for us and all the young players have stepped up big time with the extra year under their belt of training and playing a bit.
“Our veteran guys like Aussie and Tom, as much as they don’t get too much of an opportunity, when they do come on they spark us. It’s definitely the most well-balanced squad we’ve had and that’s why I think we have a legitimate shot at winning this thing this year.”
Ellis is particularly impressed with the way point guard Wroe is running the team this year coming off his first season not being in the NBL system at the Perth Wildcats.
Davis is coming off spending the 2017/18 season at the Adelaide 36ers, however, and Ellis has no doubt he has all the tools to make it as an NBL player.
“With Corbs, this has been his best year in the SBL by a long shot. As a facilitator he has just been unbelievable for us and since he’s come back from his ankle he fancies himself as a shooter now too. People step off him but he can knock down that three,” he said.
“I think he has a legitimate shot at being an NBL player. The big thing for CD is his toughness and he’s one of the better shooters going around. Give him half an inch and it’s up and in.
“Plus he’s long, he’s 6’9 and has a good wingspan and can rebound the ball pretty well. He is working well on his body now too and he has all the right tools, if he keeps with it he’ll have contract sooner than he thinks.”
Away from the SBL and it’s fair to say it’s been a challenging 12 months for Ellis. Management at the Hawks sent down the edict to the coaching staff that he wasn’t to play this past NBL season and that did happen for a while.
Eventually he hit the floor and finished the season strongly showing how much he can contribute in so many different ways in the NBL.
But in the months since, he hasn’t been given a contract by the Hawks or any other NBL club leaving him in and his family in limbo right now about where his future lies.
He’s tried to remain positive about the whole situation but admits now it might be time to think about a backup plan.
“I’ve tried to not think about having a Plan B really but I think it’s almost getting to that stage where I probably need to start actually putting something in motion. I’m certainly not completely out of the picture in the NBL I don’t think and in talking with my agent, we’ll find something,” Ellis said.
“I’d like it to be in the NBL obviously, but if it happens to be overseas then no matter what, I’ll still work my butt off. Especially with new teams coming into the NBL, that could open up doors for more Australians to play in the league and that’s massive.
“There are so many good players around who aren’t in the NBL just because there’s not enough spots. I feel like I deserve a spot somewhere and last season I think I proved enough when I got on the court that I could earn a spot.”
While basketball remains Ellis’ great passion, nothing compares to what he feels for his wife Lauren and five-year-old son Chase.
Having them both in Perth while he was dealing with what he did in Wollongong last year added to the challenge and he’ll forever be thankful to the support of roommate Nic Pozoglou for helping him through it.
But being back in Perth in the months since has only highlighted how important family is to him.
“It’s crazy how quickly time flies when you have a family. The other tough part about last year was that I was away from Lauren and Chase all season,” Ellis said.
“They came over for a few weeks over Christmas but apart from that I was away from them the entire season while they were here in Perth. A lot of people don’t actually know that and that built up on top of the pressure.
“It’s crazy watching him grow and every time I saw him after a little while apart last year, something was different and he was talking different or better.
“It’s such a cool experience to be a parent and watch your kid grow, and develop. I wouldn’t change it for the world, I love it. Being a dad’s awesome and it’s one of the proudest things I’ve done. Hopefully we can be together next season wherever we are.”