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Meet Emarion Ellis, the newest commit in Shaka Smart’s 2021 class

The four-star Iowa prospect can play anywhere at guard and possesses high upside for the Longhorns.

NCAA Basketball: Baylor at Texas Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports

Head coach Shaka Smart and the Texas Longhorns picked up a surprise commitment from 2021 guard Emarion Ellis nearly two weeks ago. Except it wasn’t really a surprise to Ellis nor the Longhorns.

The combo guard from Davenport (Iowa) Assumption has sneakily moved up recruiting ranking websites over the past few months — going from a three-star to a four-star in the Rivals ranking and is now ranked 94th nationally. The 6’5 Ellis may look like a raw prospect on paper, but the tape tells a different story. I spoke with Emarion himself along with high school coach Matt Fitzpatrick and his AAU coach Tanner Carlson of the Iowa Barnstormers to get a look at the newest Longhorn.

“The Ceiling is the Roof”

The best word to describe Emarion Ellis? “Upside.” Turning 17 just a week ago, Ellis could technically be apart of the 2022 class but is classified under the ‘21 class. His young age combined with canceled showcases and tournaments this year due to COVID-19 explain why Emarion was not high on the radar of many schools.

“If he waited, there definitely would have been a lot of other high-major [programs] that would have gotten involved,” Carlson told me.

While only at 175 pounds, Ellis possesses the ball-handling skills of 5’10 guard and both coaches raved about his first step and ability to score off the bounce.

“We haven’t found anybody that can keep him in front of them,” Carlson said. “His burst is elite and then in transition he’s almost unstoppable.”

Ellis has been with the Iowa Barnstormers for the past two years and started off playing as a shooting guard but has developed into a combo-guard. He’s comfortable shooting from three or can attack the lane and win off the dribble. Besides scoring, both of his coaches complimented his playmaking ability and vision on the court.

“He has great feel, but also makes great decisions,” Fitzpatrick said. “Some plays that people take for granted that he just makes and the games looks a little bit easier.”

Smart will have a plethora of options to use Ellis on the offensive side. He can bring the ball up and initiate the offense or come off ball screens and drive to the lane to score off the bounce or kick to the corner. Ellis can also push the tempo in transition and get buckets for himself or teammates and could be an ideal fit for a more up-tempo version of Smart’s offense that he used more frequently at VCU.

Of course, at 17 years old, no one is a complete and finished prospect. If you want to find an area for improvement in his game, you could point at his catch-and-shoot ability. Ellis has been working on improving his craft and both coaches mentioned his dedication to the gym to improve.

“You can just tell when someone’s in the gym that they just love a ball in their hands,” Fitzpatrick said. “You can tell he has a passion for the game and loves being in the gym working on his game.”

Ellis is not only young for his class, but given his potential and the opportunity to continue rising in the rankings before he arrives at Texas, Ellie could eventually become a massive steal for Smart and the Longhorns.

Why Texas?

While the commitment might have been surprising for some, it was expected for Smart and his staff. The Longhorns had been talking with Ellis for “four to five months” prior to his commitment and built a strong relationship with the Iowa prospect. So much so that Ellis was ready to go ahead and announce his decision even though he has another year left in high school.

“We really believe that Coach Smart was the perfect coach for Emarion,” Carlson said. “That’s why it didn’t take too long to pull the trigger.”

You have to commend the Longhorns staff for evaluating Emarion early on before he began to rise up the ranks and turn some heads. When the other high major schools began calling — Carlson mentioned at least five schools were starting to heavily recruit Emarion — the decision to commit to Texas was easier because they “did the work early and believed in him before everybody else.”

Ellis also has no problem with the long distance between Texas and his home in Iowa. In fact, he made it known to his coaches and college recruiters that he wanted to attend a university out of state. That wasn’t the only reason for picking Texas, though.

“I want to go for school and not only be there for basketball,” Ellis said. “I already knew I wanted to go far and didn’t want to wait to commit.”

Off the court

I could practically hear the coaches smile through the phone when talking about who he is off the court and as a human being. Both Fitzpatrick and Carlson gushed about his personality, leadership, and the effect he has on other players and even the college coaches who were recruiting him.

“He’s just a joy to be around,” Fitzpatrick said. “Any college coach that was recruiting him, the common theme was that they loved talking to him on the phone and that he’s a great personality and always positive.”

Carlson expressed the same sentiment about the positivity and joy Ellis brings to everyone.

“All the time away from your family, taking all these phone calls, we’re pretty busy as coaches,” Carlson said. “Emarion is the type of kid that makes it worth it.”

Smart has done a great job of finding high-character kids to play for his program and Ellis might just be one to help Smart finally put it all together.

Ellis joins power forward Keeyan Itejere as the second member of Smart’s 2021 class.