True story from courtside at the Coliseum: a kid in a letter jacket scanned the Adna Pirates and actually asked, “Which one’s the 7-footer?”
OK, so Jeff Ellis was actually folded into a chair at that moment, waiting for his pregame introduction.
He can sit, but he can’t hide.
Not at the State B basketball tournament, anyway. In its 50-year history - 38 of them at the melan-Coliseum - 7-footers have been as rare as civility in our city councilmen.
This has been packaged, needlessly, as part of the B’s charm over the years - as if someone really tall irreparably skews the notion of a tournament with 16 underdogs.
That logic stuck to the soles of Jeff Ellis’ size-18s the day he set foot in Lewis County.
And it got even thicker on Wednesday, when the junior center took over a tie game with Kittitas and carried the second-ranked Pirates into the quarterfinals with 17 fourth-quarter points in a 62-53 victory.
He caught it, shot it and - if he missed - went and got it.
“This might sound kind of funny,” said Adna coach Jeff Beasley, “but he played big today.”
The implication is that there are other games when Ellis is still 7-feet tall but comes up smaller in the outcome than his 28 points and 12 rebounds made him Wednesday. And for three quarters, he was exactly that against Kittitas - a peripheral figure in an upand-down game. Fatigue often slowed him to a walk and once when he ventured outside to guard his man, a voice in the cheap seats cautioned, “Not too far, big fella, you’ll never make it back in.”
“It’s a lot more intense here,” offered Ellis. “You can’t slow down and I was having a hard time keeping up. It’s not like a league game.”
The league games, by and large, were ones Adna won by 20 or 30 points with Ellis hulking over 6-foot4 opponents. The State B loomed as something different after the draw, when Tacoma Baptist and its 6-10 senior Wiebe Van Der Hoek snuggled into the same bracket.
Alas, the Crusaders fell to Almira/Coulee-Hartline on Wednesday. This is turning out to be quite a tournament for ACH’s Pat Andersen, a 6-2, 240-pound football lineman who played Van Der Hoek to a relative standoff.
Now he gets Ellis.
“He’s only one guy,” Andersen managed, “but he’s even taller and it sounds like he’s a little better.”
Mostly, he’s a little more impassioned.
The State B’s first 7-footer got his height early and often, reaching 6-10 as he entered high school. At that point, however, he didn’t much like basketball, if only because he was expected to.
“Off and on, I didn’t want to play,” he admitted. “I got to the stage in the summer of my ninth grade year of, ‘Why am I playing this game?’ Coaches just wanted me because of my height. That’s what I was thinking, but deep down I knew it wasn’t true and finally said ‘I’m playing.’ “
But not where he thought. Having raised their family in San Bernardino County in California, Dave and Cindy Ellis “got sick of California and the smog and everything,” according to their son, and made a lifestyle change. Dave Ellis, a doctor, found a practice in Chehalis and settled in Adna.
“Coming from a bigger place, I thought a lot of things were missing,” Ellis said. “I thought (Adna) was some village, but once you grow immune to it, it’s not a bad little town.”
Adna’s impressions, meanwhile, were grander.
“A lot of people thought, ‘Here comes the white Moses Malone - this guy’s going to take us to the promised land,’ ” acknowledged Beasley. “That’s not fair to him.”
It was less fair a year ago, when Ellis was carrying about 20 pounds more than his current 250, as well as the additional baggage of learning the game.
“It took us awhile to get used to him and him to us,” Beasley said. “We had to slow down our offense to make sure we took a good look inside. We like the transition game, but when we play that fast, it’s not apropos to him. And it took Jeff awhile because his coordination hadn’t caught up to his size. He made a bundle of mistakes and the other kids had to have some patience.”
In time, it was clear: Ellis has a good pair of hands and a decent touch. And he is 7 feet tall.
Best of all, he’s not the only Pirate who can come up big.
MEMO: Contact John Blanchette by voice mail at 459-5577, ext. 5509.