RALEIGH — Throughout the season, junior forward David Ellis had been a bit of an unsung hero for the Wilson Prep boys basketball team.
After the Tigers captured their second NCHSAA 1-A state title in three years with an 84-73 victory over Eastern Randolph on Saturday, everyone in attendance at Reynolds Coliseum had every reason to sing Ellis’ praises far and wide. The 6-foot-8 Ellis posted a mammoth double-double, picking up 14 points and pulling down a whopping 19 rebounds, along with four blocks, earning him the game MVP award, voted on by NCHSAA credentialed media covering the game.
“I play a big role on the team, so it’s just something I’ve got to step up to and do,” Ellis said. “I thank God for letting me be here, letting me get this experience and letting me have a great coach like Anthony Atkinson. I really appreciate it.”
Ellis came into the game as Wilson Prep’s leading rebounder with 10.3 per game on the season, and averaging 8.2 points per contest.
He saved his best for last in the Tigers’ biggest – and final – game of the season, coming up with big bucket after big bucket and dominating the boards on both ends of the court.
“He’s come into his own,” Atkinson said. “People don’t even realize he didn’t play his ninth-grade year. He’s still learning the game, and now he’s starting to get it. But one thing he buys into is rebounding and defense. … He’s out there disturbing everything. When you have a kid like that who just buys in and now he’s starting to buy into the leadership role, the sky’s the limit for David.”
Ellis, who completed just his second year of high school basketball, produced several offensive highlights throughout the game, including a steal and dunk in transition.
On numerous occasions, with the Wildcats making a run and WPA needing an answer, Ellis responded.
“All year, we’ve been asking him to score, begging him to score,” Atkinson said. “He doesn’t want to score. All he wants to do is rebound. That’s something he does every night. But now tonight, you add on his 14 points, and they were big. When he scored, it was big. It was momentum swings.”
No shot was bigger than his thunderous put-back dunk late in the third quarter that put the Tigers up 12 and sent their supporters into a frenzy.
“I was just proud of myself,” Ellis said. “I knew we were going to take it then. The momentum changed.”
Ellis pulled down 10 defensive rebounds and nine on the offensive glass, both allowing Wilson Prep to generate second-chance points and get its guards going the other way in transition; Wilson Prep scored 25 fast-break points.
“That’s where most of our points come from,” said Wilson Prep guard Brandon Anderson. “Without that, it would be a different story. So having him as our big man is a blessing.”
Ellis had the opportunity to battle a top-tier opponent on the boards; Eastern Randolph’s DaVonte Banks tallied a game-high 34 points to go with 19 rebounds.
“When I play somebody, I don’t talk to them in the game, I don’t talk junk,” Ellis said. “I guess we were just battling without talking, because I wasn’t giving up on any boards and he wasn’t either.”
Ellis’ most punishing play may have been one outside the scorebook. After hauling in a defensive board with the first-half clock ticking down, Ellis attempted to launch a full-court buzzer beater.
The shot went higher – much higher – than he intended, however, striking the Reynolds video board and knocking a panel loose.
“I wasn’t aware of what I did,” Ellis said as Atkinson and his teammates laughed. “When I caught it, I threw it, but I didn’t mean to throw it that high.”
The hope for Wilson Prep now is that Ellis uses his state title performance as a springboard into next season, as he takes on the role of a senior leader for a Tigers team that will be looking to run it back.
“Dave is figuring out that he can really do what he wants to do on the court,” Atkinson said. “And he doesn’t really get a lot of credit for it, because his skill level is not quite there. He’s still raw. Nineteen rebounds and 14 points, that’s incredible. Every time I looked up, he had the ball in his hands. … For him to have this moment now, that’s huge.”