MIKE Ellis remains bewildered that son Cody looks unlikely to earn an NBL contract for the 2018/19 season but he couldn’t be more proud of the way he has conducted himself and it makes their push for an SBL title for the Stirling Senators all the more special.
Cody Ellis remains looking on from the outside without a contract at an NBL club for the 2018/19 season despite having more than proven himself during his career already at both the Sydney Kings and Illawarra Hawks, but not once has he let it get him down.
Nor did he let it bother him through the 2017/18 season with Illawarra when club management passed down the edict to coach Rob Beveridge to not play him and let his contract expire, and then let him move on.
However, Ellis maintained his dignity, bit his tongue and ended up having a strong finish to the NBL season before then returning home to throw himself fully into yet another SBL campaign with the club he grew up playing for, the Stirling Senators.
Ellis had another strong season with the Senators helping his team finish the regular season in sixth position and then to a quarter-final win over the defending champion Perth Redbacks that saw them out of the first round.
With a good core around him made up of imports Justin King and Robert Anshila, point guard Corban Wroe and then local products like Caleb Davis, Ash Litterick and Jayden Cockburn, Stirling is in the middle of a semi-final series with the Joondalup Wolves, trailing one-nil ahead of Game 2 on Friday night at Warwick Stadium.
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The Ellis family has such a strong connection to Stirling that dates back to Mike being part of a championship in 1975 and then playing in their only SBL Grand Final appearance in 1990.
He has been coaching now again since 2016 with son Cody part of that journey and he couldn’t be happier to now be in a semi-final battle with him.
But more than that, he’s proud of the way his son has conducted himself while remaining amazed no NBL team has signed him for 2018/19.
“The one thing that we’ve always been extremely strong on is family. Family is everything and if you haven’t got family then you haven’t got much, and that’s a sad thing,” Mike Ellis said.
“To be able to share this with Cody and be part of that, is huge because he has had some challenges recently. Certainly during the NBL season I thought he conducted himself over and above the way a person should conduct himself.
“That’s why I find it very difficult to understand why he hasn’t had a reward for that because he deserves to. But to just be part of this with him, this is his focus with this group and we are a very tight group. It is one of the best tight-knit groups we’ve had for a long time and I think it shows.”
Cody Ellis was always a promising player coming through the ranks as the son of a Perth Wildcats legend so he was a sought after product once he finished his college career at Saint Louis and he’s gone on to be a solid contributor in two seasons at the Sydney Kings and the last three at the Hawks.
He is now at the peak of his powers at 28 years of age and 127 games in the NBL under his belt, but it’s his strength of character more than anything that stood out during the 2017/18 when Beveridge received the edict from club management not to play him.
Instead of causing waves, Ellis took it on the chin riding the pine and instead waited for an opportunity to show what he was capable of while remaining positive with wife Lauren and son Chase back in Perth.
After not hitting the court at all for eight games, he came out and hit 14 points against Melbourne United and went on to score in double figures five times in the second half of the season and showing he was a more than capable NBL player.
However, he was out of contract and with a bulging free agency market, is yet to sign with an NBL team for the 2018/19 and suddenly there is a scarcity of spots left available.
Having spent five years playing in the NBL, Ellis rightfully feels he has plenty to offer but as yet he is unsure what the next nine months of his life will entail, and where in fact he will be living.
The frustration of that is obvious but until there physically is no spots in the NBL available for the 2018/19 season, he won’t be giving up on hope even if the time of coming up with a backup plan might be here.
“It sucks man, to be honest with you. It does suck and this has been such a massive off-season with so many guys off contract and big names coming into the league,” Ellis said.
“You have someone like Bogut coming into the league who draws so much attention and that is unbelievable for the NBL. To be on the outskirts of that and not really getting much of a look in is very frustrating for myself and my wife as well. We talk about it a lot, but I’m still holding strong and hoping that I get that call.
“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.
“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.”
Looking back on the difficulties he went through last season of wanting to be on the floor and thinking he deserved to be, but wasn’t through to factors outside his and the coaching staff’s control, Ellis just tried to be the best professional and teammate he could.
All he could control was being ready to play and do well when his number was called so that’s what he did, but avoiding social media is something he feels without question helped him get through the other side of it.
“My biggest thing was getting off social media. Everyone has an opinion and whether it’s good, bad or indifferent if you are taking part in it then it can be hard to ignore,” he said.
“I just needed to step away from that and from what people told me and that I heard around town, everyone had my back which was awesome to know. I appreciate everything that everyone did for me during the season.
“The Illawarra Mercury was amazing and especially Julian O’Brien who was actually my player sponsor. He was unbelievable. We’d talk pretty much every other day about it and it was one of those things that I didn’t want it to affect the team.
“I didn’t want the spotlight to me on me and the reasons I wasn’t playing. I don’t like that sort of attention and I feel like it did get to a point where it started to take away from the team.
“That’s when I jumped off social media and wanted to leave it alone, and the situation was what it was and I would just take my chance on the court when it came. I think I did that and it was obviously a frustrating year all-round, but it’s in the past now and I’m just trying to move forward from it all.”
Adding to the frustration Ellis is feeling over so far being left out in the cold in NBL signs for the upcoming season and not knowing if I might need to look overseas is the fact that he feels right at the peak of his game.
His body is in good shape now that he’s shaken off surgery on a broken nose while his all-round game is at its peak in terms of scoring inside and out, rebounding, distributing, hustling and doing all the little things that don’t always get measured.
“It makes it very frustrating knowing the shape I’m in, how good I’m feeling about my game and I’ve just turned 28 so I feel like I’m in my prime years now. It’s just a frustrating thing because I feel like my game doesn’t also revolve heavily on stats,” Ellis said.
“My numbers might not always standout, but I think there’s more to my game than what the stats show. I try to do all the little one percenters that don’t show up on the stat sheet. I feel like I did enough last season to earn another spot somewhere and hopefully it can still happen.”
The question Ellis copes above all others is why isn’t he playing for the Perth Wildcats where his father’s No. 6 is retired. That’s out of his control if his hometown team wants him on their books at some stage in the future, but it’s not something he gives too much thought.
“I don’t really have too many thoughts on the Wildcats, even though obviously I get asked about it all the time because I come back here every year to play in the SBL and with dad’s history,” he said.
“But in the four spot the time I’ve been in the NBL, they have been stacked with guys like Wagstaff and Shawn. They have that championship core together that are still tough and can still competing.
“Jesse and Shawn was a hell of a line-up in the four spot and everyone dreads playing those two just because they are tough as nails and knew how to play in this league.
“I don’t really have too many thoughts on it turning out I haven’t played there and it’s one of those things that if it happens it would be great, but if not then so be it.”
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.”