The seed was planted last summer, when Scott Ellis and his brother, Brian Ellis, started discussing what to do to change Danville High athletics.
“We talked about it. We still talk about it constantly,” said Brian Ellis, who coaches baseball at Danville. “Both of us have a really deep sense of loyalty and love to this community. We want to see the kids here be successful.”
For Danville boys basketball, that idea — that this year is different — has trickled down, as the Hawks top Class 3A, Area 14 heading into area tournament play.
It is a feat believed to be the first since the 2005 team won the Northwest Regional.
“At the end of the day, the group has to do something to change the culture,” Scott Ellis said. “When you look at it years down the road, if we have a good run, you might be able to point back to the team this year that laid the foundation.”
In addition to winning Area 14, Danville is 17-11 and finished runner-up in the Morgan County Tournament.
“It’s exceeded our expectations a little bit,” said Justin Morgan, a 5-foot-8 senior and go-to player, who leads Danville with 16 points per game.
Morgan said compared to last year, everyone on the team is trying harder.
Ask any player on the team, and all will agree Ellis, in his first year as head coach, has changed the atmosphere. Though he saw potential after working for two years as Danville’s assistant coach, many doubted that he could make a difference for the team that finished last season 7-21.
“You kind of heard comments along the way like, ‘Why would he want to
take that job?’ ” Scott Ellis said.
He had his doubts, too.
“Big picture, I felt like there was potential for something to be done,” he said. “But you never really know until you actually get in there and start working.”
In November, Danville realized it had potential as it edged West Morgan when Kyle Evans scored a 3-pointer to put the Hawks ahead 85-84, upsetting the county rival.
The message was heard: Hard work pays off.
“That was the first game that we actually came out and to our potential,” said Justin Tomlinson, a 6-0 forward. “No one expected us to win that game.”
Five seniors make up the team’s core, including Morgan, Tomlinson, Tyler Fields, Tyler Jolley and Evan Anderson. Their comments point to coach Ellis for their success. They say he’s the kind of coach who jokes with his players before practice, but is all business when it is time to work.
“He’s had faith in us from the beginning. He’s pushed us like nothing else,” Jolley said.
Belief in Danville boys basketball works in tandem as Ellis’ commitment to the team has helped the players work together.
“It’s a collage of guys who really improve each other. They really bring out the strong points in each other. They’re not worried about who gets the credit. The senior group, they want to win,” he said.
Since beating the Rebels, the Hawks are bent on breaking expectations, and stopping the reputation that Danville will be an underdog.
“They certainly have a little bit of that quality where they’re trying to prove a point,” the coach said.
Tomlinson hopes the team can continue its success heading into area tournament games this week.
“Nobody gave us a shot, and we came out and played like we’re supposed to,” he said about the season. “If we play like this all the time, we’re going to do something.”
Meredith Qualls can be reached at 256-340-2395 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Justin Morgan, starting point guard: Averages 16 points, 4 rebounds and 2 steals per game.
Tyler Fields, starting guard: 2 ppg., 1 rpg.
Justin Tomlinson, starting forward: 3 ppg., 3 rpg.
Evan Anderson, forward: 2 ppg., 1 rpg.
Tyler Jolley, center: 1 ppg., 2 rpg.