Leigh Ellis recently sat down with The Pick and Roll to offer a rare glimpse into his journey and poignant advice for those wanting to follow his footsteps. If you haven’t already, we highly recommend you go back and read our extensive analysis on how Ellis turned a childhood obsession into the life he always wanted.
On top of explaining his own journey, Ellis also discussed some of the biggest topics in Australian basketball. Here is an extract from our interview with Ellis, where he discusses Andrew Bogut, Ben Simmons, the growing power of the NBL and much more.
Special hint to all fans of The Starters: stay until the very end, for a glimpse into potential plans to bring the show down under.
What are your thoughts on Andrew Bogut returning to play for the Sydney Kings? Having been in North America for most of his NBA career, what is one thing Aussie basketball fans will notice seeing Andrew up close?
Andrew is certainly not one to hold his tongue. He will say what he feels and I think that’s great. You like a guy who has got personality and is not afraid to say what he is really feeling. Some people like that and some people don’t.
I think it’s really good for the NBL to have a successful player who has won an NBA championship, he was on the NBA All-Defence team, and he should have been an All-Star in 2010. It’s great for the NBL to have him back there.
Over the past couple of years, Andrew bounced around a little bit in the NBA and couldn’t settle into a home. But I think he can still provide enormous value in the NBL.
Not just in the sense of playing for the Sydney Kings. Hopefully at the grass roots level, for young boys and girls coming through to see a guy who grew up in Melbourne, played his junior basketball in Melbourne and went on to have a really successful career. I think that is really encouraging.
Basketball in Australia is very well represented in North America, by both men and women. Lauren Jackson is one of the best players in the WNBA that we have ever seen. Penny Taylor has been fantastic. There have been so many other women who have made it in the WNBA. Just as many men have made it in the NBA and gone onto have success and win championships.
You look at Matthew Dellavedova and Patty Mills. The tremendous success Ben Simmons has had this year. I think it’s great now that kids can see the ultimate goal is to make the NBA, but let’s also try grow the NBL and make that a stronger league.
It used to be really strong. It’s not as strong anymore, but if guys like Andrew can return towards the end of their career and provide some valuable minutes and play some really good basketball, then it just makes the whole game and the whole league in Australia stronger.
Ben Simmons enjoyed a dominant first season in the NBA. Did anything take you by surprise in year one?
Just the fact he was able to play as if he was a veteran in his first season. Because he missed all of last season, he didn’t get any reps under his belt. To see him out there, picking up the game so easily and be so dominant and consistent for Philadelphia, that was incredible.
We know that he doesn’t have a great shot on him. That didn’t detract from the rest of his game. He was very engaged defensively.
As a point guard, he never shied away from contact when teams tried to hack him and send him to the free throw line. He would always step up and do his best at the free throw line. To me, that shows that he has tremendous confidence in his ability.
The shot is going to come in time. A lot of rookies don’t have a shot; guys like Chris Paul, Tony Parker and Derrick Rose, those guys couldn’t really shoot during the first few years of their career either. They all developed to have a reliable mid-range jump shot later in their careers. I’m encouraged with everything I have seen from Ben.
Also his physical maturity. For a young guy, his body already seems to be at a physical stage which is rare for young guys. He was able to hold his own against some of the bigger stronger guys of the NBA, and I thought that was great.
It’s also great to see Brett Brown there and finally having some success. Those first four years in Philadelphia were very rough. Now for Philadelphia fans and Australian fans, we might have another one there in Jonah Bolden next season. It’s a team that has a lot of Australian heritage and a connection with Australian basketball.
Team USA is coming down to Melbourne next year for two games against The Boomers. What are your thoughts of what those games can do for Australian sport? In your wildest dreams, did you ever think Team USA would, one day, come down to Melbourne and play in front of 50,000 Australian basketball fans?
I guess in my wildest dreams, yes, I always hoped that would be the case. The funny thing is: I was lucky enough to speak with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver at the Finals last year and I asked him about this. I said ‘there have only been two continents in the world that haven’t hosted an NBA game. One is Antarctica and the other is Australia.’
I said ‘Australia has had the Olympics, we’ve had the number one pick in the 2016 NBA draft, three of the last 11 number one overall draft picks were born in Melbourne, so when are we going to see an NBA game there?’
His response at the time was that it’s a long way to go and it’s not the biggest market in the world so we are working on it, but there is nothing imminent happening. I was a little bummed out by that, because I thought that a game would be there soon.
So when the announcement came out a couple months ago that, not only was an NBA team coming, but basically an All-Star team was coming to play two games in Melbourne against Australia, it couldn’t have been better if you ask me. This is going to be incredible for Melbourne and this is going to be incredible for basketball in Australia.
Team USA, regardless of who they send out, will be favourite going into those games. But as an Australian, and a Melburnian, I know that Australia is going to fight hard and those games are going to be incredibly competitive. I would not be surprised, if they come down to a couple of possessions at the end of the game to decide it.
Is there any chance that you can bring The Starters down to Melbourne for a week? You can show the crew around Melbourne and watch The Boomers defeat Team USA.
Well, I can’t say yes or no right now, but I am certainly working on it. I am certainly hoping that we can do that. I think we would have a great following of fans. It’s still well over a year away until the games happen and there are a lot of logistical things that have to happen, and budgetary concerns as well.
It’s certainly something that I’ve talked about with the guys, and I hope we are able to do it. I know that The Starters have a huge following in Australia and it’s not just because of me. There are connections with me, but I know that Skeets, Tas and Trey are just as popular in Australia and would be in just as much demand if we were to go out there for a couple of shows.
Getting a basketball game in Australia was a dream for me 20 years ago. Right now, this is my dream; to maybe take my work colleagues out there and have some fun and try to involve some Australian basketball personalities as well. I think that would be a fun night.
It’s something I am working on, but nothing to announce right now.
A very special thank you to Leigh Ellis for taking the time to speak with us on all things basketball. His journey is an incredible story of perseverance and offers inspiration for every aspiring journalist who wants a career within NBA media. For more on his journey, go back and read about how a kid from Victoria made the big time.