PITTSBURGH, Pa. – Duquesne has added a potential impact player for the 2019-20 season with the signing of Westinghouse senior James Ellis.
Ellis stands at 6-foot-11 and has a 7-6 wingspan, the type of measurables Division I coaches drool over. He was named the City League Player of the Year and a first-team all-state pick in Class 3A after averaging 21 points, 12 rebounds, and seven blocks for Westinghouse. Despite his length and talent, Ellis was overlooked on the recruiting trail, failing to secure any Division I offers.
He was prepared to attend junior college due to academic issues, but Keith Dambrot saw him play during the regular season and stayed in touch. The head coach eventually put together a plan to keep the skilled big man in Pittsburgh. After meeting with several members of Duquesne’s athletic staff and Dambrot, Ellis was sold and officially signed Tuesday.
“We knew he was going to go to junior college, and we thought that was not a great deal for him,” Dambrot said of Ellis. “We thought potentially he had really good ability. We kept watching him and monitoring him closely and felt like he had really good potential both academically and athletically.”
“We wanted to recruit Pittsburgh, and we felt 6-11 guys with huge wingspans are hard to come by. We just thought he was a good mix for us.”
Ellis will be a non-qualifier next year, meaning he will not be on scholarship, nor will he be allowed to practice with the team or play in games. He’ll have a full academic year to focus on classes and build up strength—he only weighs 235 pounds.
With another year to improve, Ellis has the chance to be an impact player in the Atlantic 10 right away. The Dukes were thin on the interior during Dambrot’s first season, but he’s significantly upgraded the front court since taking over the program. Ellis is the fifth player 6-foot-9 or taller to commit to Dambrot since last fall.
Dambrot’s latest recruit evokes memories of former Pittsburgh 7-footer and Akron great Zeke Marshall.
“The last big one we had out of Pittsburgh is the all-time leading shot blocker in MAC history,” Dambrot said of the comparison. “So we feel like James has a lot of those same qualities as Zeke Marshall had. We just have to get it out of him and work with him to get him better.”
“Obviously, he needs to get bigger, stronger, but he’s got good touch, he can run, he can jump…we feel like he has a chance to be a special player.”
While excited to land a talent like Ellis, Dambrot said the goal is to take it one step at a time with his newest commit.
“First and foremost, we’re going to take it one step at a time with him,” Dambrot said. “We’re going to make sure we do a great job with him academically first. We feel like if we do a good job in that area, the rest will take care of itself.”
Dambrot is thinking long-term and hopes he uncovered a big diamond in the rough.
Ellis’ commitment is reminiscent of current Duquesne sophomore Eric Williams Jr., who was an A-10 All-Rookie team selection last year. The Dukes were the only Division I program to offer Williams Jr., and he committed late in the recruiting cycle much like Ellis.
If Ellis can uphold his end of the bargain academically, Duquesne might have another impact freshman in the fold.