ATHLETE OF THE WEEK

North Bergen’s Ellis: Entering higher altitudes

North Bergen junior guard DeAvion Ellis
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North Bergen junior guard DeAvion Ellis

His name is DeAvion Ellis and he plays basketball at North Bergen High School, where he’s a junior.

The name DeAvion means of the air in Spanish.

And there’s no question that the 6-foot-3 guard has been playing in rarified air this season.

Before the 2019-2020 high school basketball season began, Ellis was the lone proven commodity from the Bruin team that went 13-14 a year ago. As a sophomore, Ellis averaged 10 points per game, but he showed signs of greatness. You just had a feeling that Ellis was poised to have a solid junior year.

“We were counting on him to do a lot of the scoring,” said veteran North Bergen head coach Kevin Bianco. “We had to put the ball in his hands with the game on the line. He had helped us last year, but most of that team is all gone. Now, this year, it was his turn.”

Ellis was not going to shy away from his new responsibilities.

“I think I have more confidence than I had last year,” Ellis said. “I don’t want to take a bad shot. We just needed to build a little team chemistry with the new players. Basketball is a team sport and I had to bring my teammates into the game. I’m pushing my teammates and they’re doing a good job of getting me the ball and allowing me to get to the basket.”

Perhaps Ellis’ greatest strength as an off guard or shooting guard is his incredible ability of getting to the rim. In a flash, he’s driving to the basket to either score close to the rim or get fouled and head to the free throw line, where he is money, connecting on 85 percent of his extra chances.

“We put the ball in his hands and let him make decisions,” Bianco said. “Late in the game, the ball is in his hands. He then steps to the line and makes his shots. He also is very good in open space. I believe he has a very good understanding how to play in space and attacking the angles to get by people.”

That’s so evident, especially in a game against St. Peter’s Prep three weeks ago, when Ellis exploded for a career-high 33 points, albeit in a loss to the mighty Marauders.

But that 67-62 overtime setback on Jan. 28 was the last loss the Bruins suffered. They’ve won seven in a row heading into this weekend’s showdown with Snyder in the Hudson County Tournament.

There’s no question that Ellis is the major reason why the Bruins are the county’s biggest surprise this season. This season, Ellis is averaging 18.8 points per game, one of the most proficient scorers in Hudson County.

Ellis has failed to reach double figures in scoring only one time this season – and that game he had eight in a big 61-40 win over Memorial Jan. 21. Every other contest, Ellis has reached doubles. He had one stretch of games where he was averaging 23.2 points per game, tallying 24 in a win over Hoboken, 21 in a win over Dickinson and 20 in a clutch 64-62 win over rival Union City.

Over the last week, the consistent Ellis had 18 points in a huge 55-52 win over Hudson Catholic, tallied 19 in a blowout win over Kearny, tossed in 14 in a win over Memorial and closed out recent play with a 19-point performance in a win over Carteret.

For his efforts, Ellis has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week.

Ellis said that he spent a good portion of the offseason preparing for his breakthrough season.

“I just keep working hard,” Ellis said. “I played a lot over the summer, playing with my teammates in summer leagues and also playing AAU [for the Playaz program, headed by former NBA star Tim Thomas]. There’s a lot of talent there and that helped me, getting the experience.”

“He put a lot of time in working on his game,” Bianco said. “He spent a lot of time in the weight room getting bigger and stronger. He worked on his conditioning so he could stay in the game longer. He matured a little physically and that helped him a lot, especially with his shooting range. His overall approach to the game impressed me a lot.”

And then there was this special basketball savvy that Ellis possesses. That cannot be taught.

“He understands basketball,” Bianco said. “He has that knack to make basketball plays. You just have that. He’s been able to pick up certain things just from watching a lot of basketball. He does certain things going to the basket that are rare, but he has the understanding that he got from watching older guys play. Now, he’s getting more chances. He’s not watching. He realized he could do it.”

And Ellis is achieving new heights by having a sense of humility.

“He’s a very humble young man,” Bianco said. “It’s just the way he is. He gets along with his teammates well.”

That’s for sure. In a 15-minute interview, Ellis mentioned “my teammates” 12 times. It wasn’t about him at all, even though the feature here is supposed to be about him and his ascent into Hudson County royalty.

“We’re doing great right now,” Ellis said. “My teammates have really picked me up. My teammates make me feel more confident with the ball. If we win the county and the state, then that should get me and my teammates on the map. It gets us more exposure.”

Ellis knows that he’s still a junior, that he has another year to build on what has become an epic junior season.

“I think I did a decent job this year, but we’re not done yet,” Ellis said. “We want to keep going and see where we can take this.”

Ellis would love to play college basketball in the future. He’s already received one scholarship offer, but it’s safe to say others will follow. Bianco knows more college coaches will make the call on Ellis.

“I’m just trying to get to that point,” Ellis said. “I have a lot of things to do.”

It’s just all in the air or should we say, of the air, for “Air” DeAvion Ellis. – Jim Hague

Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com