After experiencing success at high levels in both high school and junior college, Ellison appeared to be primed to make it at the next level, as well: He earned a scholarship to come home to North Carolina and play at UNCP, and then earned a starting forward spot for coach Ben Miller’s Braves.
But Ellison’s road has taken a few frustrating detours since then. A knee injury wiped out his junior season, forcing him to take a medical red shirt.
After a yearlong rehab process, Ellison is ready to resume the pursuit of his hoop dreams. He was cleared to return to practice Nov. 30 and has been working out with the team since then, gradually building his strength and endurance with a goal of returning to the court this month.
After an impressive career at Richmond - where he played under former coach David May — Ellison traveled west to Iowa, where he played at Southwestern Iowa Community College.
Ellison had offers to continue his basketball career closer to home. But he and his family decided a change of scenery would be good. So, off to Creston, Iowa he went.
There, he blossomed. As a freshman, Ellison averaged 9.0 points and 9.1 rebounds per game, to go with a pair of blocked shots per contest for the Spartans..
Those numbers were good enough to earn him preseason all-America recognition prior to the 2008-09 season. And Ellison didn’t disappoint the people who bestowed that prestigious honor on him: He took his game to yet another level, averaging 13 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per contest.
That performance got Ellison notice from some NCAA Division 1 schools. But he would have had to sit out a year, and that caused him to shift his focus to Division 2.
Enter UNCP. Braves assistant coach Corey Thompson had been following Ellison’s career in Iowa.
Former Richmond men’s coach David May also put in some good words for Ellison with UNCP coaches. So in 2007-08, Ellison transferred to the area school - a homecoming of sorts.
A bump in the road
Ellison’s NCAA Division 2 college career, however, could not have gotten off to a more disastrous start.
He tore the ACL in his left knee early in the 2008-09 season, washing out the entire campaign and forcing him to take a redshirt.
No problem: Ellison completed his rehab and played well enough to earn a starting spot at the “3,” or small forward position.
And then, in the Braves’ 2008-09 season opener at Iowa State, another setback: He tore the ACL in his other knee — the right one — early in that contest.
“It was one of those situations where your body falls one way, but your leg stays in place,” Ellison said.
As he rolled around on the floor, one thought reverberated through Ellison’s mind.
“I can’t believe this is happening again,” Ellison recalled.
Conflicting early tests created uncertainty: An Iowa State team physician told Ellison the critical ligament wasn’t torn. But an MRI done by the staff at the University of Northern Iowa confirmed what Ellison suspected the moment he hit the floor: The ACL was torn.
Another valuable year down the drain.
It’s the kind of renewed frustration that would make many in the same situation want to throw up their hands and walk away.
But not Ellison.
“You can’t give up on yourself,” Ellison said.
Surgery repaired the torn ligament, and another long rehab process began. Ellison stuck with his workouts, and was eager to keep on track and get back in time for the opening of the 2010-11 campaign.
Maybe a little too eager, actually. A few months into his rehab, Ellison tore the same ligament again. The clock was set back once again, and Ellison began the now-familiar rehab process anew.
With the Braves nearing the midpoint of the 2010-11 season, Ellison is finally back on track. He was recently cleared to practice again and is expected to take to the court again soon.
UNCP head coach Ben Miller has plenty of admiration for the perseverance Ellison has shown throughout his difficult rehab process.
Ellison’s return to the court will be a gradual one, Miller said: The plan is to find him minutes, and then, as the injured knee proves durable enough, gradually increase those minutes.
When Ellison does make his return to the court, Miller said, the Braves will welcome him back. His story is an inspirational one, Miler said.
Ellison brings size and strength to the court, Miller said. But the main quality Ellison will add to the mix is an intangible.
“His competitiveness,” Miler said. “That’s what Laurice brings to the table. He’s worked very hard to get back.”
That’s a quality that will be welcomed by a Braves squad that is currently 9-2 on the season (2-2 Peach Belt Conference).
A bright future
No matter how the basketball portion of Ellison’s story pans out, it will have a happy ending in perhaps the area that matters most of all: The education side. He will graduate this spring with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. With another year of eligibility remaining, Ellison will begin work on a master’s degree in physical education next fall.
Over the past few years, Ellison’s career goals have shifted: Instead of applying his degree in the criminal justice field, he would now like to moved into the coaching field when his basketball days are over.
Something he’s hoping doesn’t happen any time in the too-near future.
Contact sports editor David Vantress at 997-3111, ext. 14 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org