2022 NBA Draft Q&A: Alabama's Keon Ellis on path from JUCO, his game

2022 NBA Draft Q&A: Alabama's Keon Ellis on path from JUCO, his game

With the 2022 NBA Draft less than a month away, will have you covered from top to bottom. Last week's NBA Draft Combine began the pre-draft process for a number of hopeful prospects as they try to break into the league.

I had the opportunity to catch up with Alabama guard Keon Ellis, who averaged 12.1 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game for the Crimson Tide this past season. We discussed his path from JUCO to Alabama, his game and last week at the Combine.

Prior to your time at Alabama, you had deep Florida roots. Could you start off by giving us an idea of what your childhood was like growing up there?

Keon Ellis: "Growing up in Florida was pretty smooth. I mean, it was me, my three siblings and my mom. So we were all we had in that sense. I looked up to my older brother, a lot. You know, he kind of led the way for a lot of things; I wanted to be like him and play sports like him. I’d say he’s the reason I found out that I liked playing sports.

"After playing sports for a minute, I realized that I was actually kind of good. But I figured if I was going to do anything serious and in a sport, it was going to be basketball. So, I quit the football side of it and tried to focus on basketball, and I became pretty good. I played AAU for Team M.O.A.M. and we were under the radar as an Adidas Silver team, then ended up going to JUCO, made my way to Alabama, and to now to here (at the Combine)."

When you opted to go the JUCO route, what was the biggest takeaway from your time there, about that level of basketball?

Ellis: "It's definitely not what everyone thinks it is. When people hear 'JUCO,' they think it’s a bunch of unorganized basketball or the kind of guys who aren't really skilled or good enough. JUCO definitely taught me a lot. I built some great relationships and am happy that I actually went that route. I learned a lot from that."

When you decided to play for Nate Oats and Alabama, what was it about the program, or him, that enticed you to go? 

Ellis: "Honestly, it didn't take much from the coaching staff. Alabama was my favorite school growing up. So once I got the offer from them, I knew I was going there because I mean, it's my favorite school. That was all the motivation I needed."

With your first year at Alabama being affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, how did that season compare to your expectations?

Ellis: "It was the opposite of what I expected. I thought COVID-19 was going to go away a lot faster than it did and things were going to be normal. I didn't expect us to have the amount of team success we had in that first year. From the amount of success we had as a team, to the fans not even being in the stands, those were two things that were opposite of what I had imagined."

For those who haven't seen you play, how would you describe your game?

Ellis: "I describe myself as a 3-and-D player. I think I can do more than what people see. I’m just trying to buy into a role and, you know, not play outside of what I can do."

What are some things that you worked on during your time at Alabama? And what other things are you improving in your game right now? 

Ellis: "The biggest things that I worked on at Alabama were my three-point shooting, shooting off of moves and off screens. Handling the ball, making decisions with the ball as a primary ball-handler, making the right reads and my decision-making with the ball."

What short-term or long-term goals do you have for yourself?

Ellis: "Well, short-term goal, obviously, I just want to land somewhere in the NBA. Get my feet in the door and start somewhere. A long-term goal is to sign that second contract. I think that's a goal for a lot of people."

What does your day-to-day routine look like right now as you're preparing for the draft?

Ellis: "Day-to-day routine, it kind of varies. I've been on the road a lot lately. On a regular day, if I'm back home training, I probably wake up to get some breakfast, go to the gym for a morning workout and lift after that. Then, get some food and refuel from that; then, I'd take a nap. Then, I’d have a shooting session again and be done for the day."

How has your week in Chicago gone?

Ellis: "It's been good. I've seen a lot of players that I've played against, and now some of them are on my team. It’s been good to get a new experience, as it’s my first time ever in Chicago. All the stuff that I've been put through, like our stations, media training, whatever it's been. I think it's definitely a good experience to be a part of this journey."

What did you think of the scrimmage? 

Ellis: "I think it went well. My team, obviously, got the win by a large margin and that’s all I cared about coming in. A lot of the scouts already know what you do as a player. So in this setting for me, it’s about coming in and doing what I'm capable of, doing what I will be expected to do. I'm just happy that my team got the win."

Who is one player, past or present, that you model your game after?

Ellis: "I wouldn't say I model my game after one player specifically. I try to pick up things from a lot of different players because different players do things differently, or better, than others. So I try to pick things from a lot of guys."

Alright last question, one you've probably been asked quite a bit here in Chicago.

You're in an elevator with a general manager or decision-maker for a team, and you've got one 20-second pitch as to why you are their guy in next month's draft. What are you telling them?

Ellis: "I’ll tell them that no one plays harder than me. I’m a great 3-and-D player. I think every team needs that. No problems off the court — you will never get a late-night phone call about me. I’m about the right stuff. I’m a great locker room guy and willing to buy into the team's success."

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