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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

Spokane-based relatives of Grand Canyon guard Walter Ellis trading in Gonzaga gear this week

March 16, 2023 Updated Thu., March 16, 2023 at 9:54 p.m.

Grand Canyon guard Walter Ellis reacts after hitting a shot during a practice Thursday at Ball Arena in Denver.  (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Grand Canyon guard Walter Ellis reacts after hitting a shot during a practice Thursday at Ball Arena in Denver. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review) Buy this photo

DENVER – LaPhonso Ellis is normally on ESPN’s College GameDay live set Saturday mornings, but the college basketball analyst had to make a rare exception on Feb. 26 when the roving television show traveled to Spokane.

Family obligations called.

Ellis’ youngest son, Walter, was going through Senior Day ceremonies at Grand Canyon University the same night, so the ESPN analyst patched in from the Lopes’ arena in Phoenix.

He still managed to bring a piece of Spokane with him.

Near the end of the two-hour program, cameras panned back to LaPhonso, who was cradling 4-month-old granddaughter Hattie Ellis between his arms. The infant wore a red Gonzaga onesie with a matching bow wrapped around her head.

“Hattie Ellis, Spokane-born and raised here,” Ellis said before revealing his pick for the Gonzaga-Saint Mary’s matchup at McCarthey Athletic Center later that night.

“I’ve got Gonzaga winning this week,” he said.

Hattie Ellis made her national television debut in Gonzaga gear, but she won’t have any choice in the matter when she attends her first NCAA Tournament game on Friday at 5 months old.

“Obviously, she’ll have her GCU purple on tomorrow,” Walter Ellis, a reserve guard for Bryce Drew’s Lopes, said of his niece.

P.J. Ellis, the older brother of the Grand Canyon senior, resides in Spokane with wife Danielle, a teacher at Regal Elementary School. Danielle Ellis, formerly Danielle Doornink, is the daughter of former Washington State and Seattle Seahawks running back Dan Doornink.

“So, ordinarily they’d swing Gonzaga,” Walter said.

Every other day of the year, maybe, but not Friday.

It’s one of a few funny coincidences this week for Walter, who’ll be making his NCAA Tournament debut in his fifth and final college season.

Friday’s game is taking place at Ball Arena, home to the NBA’s Denver Nuggets. LaPhonso Ellis was a fifth overall draft pick of the Nuggets in 1992 and played six seasons with the franchise.

Denver-based reporters peppered the Grand Canyon player with questions about his dad’s time with the Nuggets. One television crew pulled up a few of LaPhonso’s NBA highlights, hoping to get the younger Ellis’ reaction.

“It’s really cool, like a reunion, for Walt growing up here a little bit in Denver and coming to this arena and watching his dad,” Drew said.

A standout player at Notre Dame, LaPhonso made the NBA’s All-Rookie team and eventually played 11 seasons with the Nuggets.

“I think this city just means so much to me and my family,” Walter said. “Being able to make it happen here and get an upset tomorrow, that would be super sweet.”

It would also give Walter instant credibility the next time he visits the Inland Northwest. The Grand Canyon guard and other family members spent Christmas in Spokane each of the past two years, traveling for his brother’s wedding in 2021 and returning last December to meet Hattie for the first time.

“They’re a great family,” Walter said. “I love them to death, and it’s been so awesome to spend the last two Christmases with them and obviously having them on my side throughout this whole thing.

“Mr. Doornink, he’s just the best.”

Walter is vaguely familiar with Dan Doornink’s athletic career. The former WSU tailback played for Jim Sweeney, Jackie Sherrill and Warren Powers from 1974-77, rushing for 1,739 career yards before playing eight NFL seasons – seven of those in Seattle.

Basketball games are usually on the menu whenever the Ellises and Doornink gather for the holidays.

“We just sit around and watch basketball and enjoy each other’s time, spend time with Hattie,” Walter said. “I don’t get to spend as much time with her while I’m playing basketball. Spending time with my niece is just the best thing ever.”

The Gonzaga onesie might get some wear later on in the tournament, if the heavily favored Bulldogs are able to move into the Round of 32 or beyond, but Hattie and everyone in the Ellis clan will be dressed in GCU’s bright purple when Friday’s game tips off.

That includes LaPhonso, who’s again working from a remote College GameDay set this week in order to accommodate a special moment in his son’s waning college career.

“They have his little setup in his hotel, he can still take care of his GameDay things and stuff like that,” Walter said. “He’ll be locked into the game tomorrow and we’ll just be enjoying it as a family, for sure.”

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