COLUMBIA —As a 20-year old, Jason Ellis had a dilemma.
After finishing his two years at Moberly Community College, Ellis had a difficult decision to make: He could continue to play basketball at a 4-year college or help at home where his father was having financial problems.
Ellis chose family.
“It was tough, basketball was my life," Ellis said. "It was tough to get adjusted to that lifestyle, working 9 to 5 every day.”
Ellis moved to Columbia from Los Angeles when he was in the fifth grade and graduated from Hickman High School in 2002.
After finishing up at Moberly, Ellis worked two years at a factory in Columbia, processing new and used textbooks. The youngest of five children and the only child still living at home, Ellis felt an obligation to help out his father. But after working those two years allowed his father to become financially stable again, he said he felt himself getting anxious.
“I was ready to get back to playing,” Ellis said.
Ellis had played in various basketball leagues with Bret Burchard, the son of Columbia College men’s basketball coach Bob Burchard. When Bob Burchard saw Ellis in a summer league two summers ago, it was obvious Ellis could still play.
“I always told him, whenever you’re ready,” Bob Burchard said. “It speaks the world of someone to come back and play like he did. It is hard on your body.”
Now a senior for the 15-6 Cougars, Ellis, a 6-foot-1 left-handed shooting guard, is the team’s third-leading scorer at 11.9 points per game. Ellis has shown how unselfish he can be in life, as well as on the basketball court.
“I don’t think he shoots enough,” said fellow Cougars senior Terrell Turner, Ellis’ first cousin. “He’s a really efficient player.”
Ellis has been one of Bob Burchard’s biggest contributors the past two seasons, offensively and defensively.
“Jason is a very strong defender, and he has the ability to score in bunches,” Bob Burchard said. “He really has the respect of his teammates.”
When healthy, Ellis has been a mainstay in the Cougars' lineup the past two seasons. But one drawback to his career as a Cougar has been nagging injuries. He missed three weeks last season with a bruised hip and has been battling with a high-ankle sprain this year.
“Injuries were my biggest fear factor coming into this season,” Ellis said.
Ellis hopes to help the Cougars reach the NAIA national tournament for the second consecutive season. He thinks this year’s team has a better chance of postseason success because of better team chemistry. If any of these games come down to free throws, Ellis is the man the Cougars want on the line, shooting a staggering 87.5 percent.
“Down the stretch, they win and lose ballgames,” Ellis said.
The Cougars have a number of key games remaining, but the contest Ellis wants to win the most is on Feb. 17 at McKendree. The Cougars are 0-4 against McKendree the past two seasons.
“Hopefully next time will be a different outcome,” Ellis said.
While Ellis said he is excited to put the finishing touches on a successful collegiate career, he has big aspirations as to where he wants to go from here.
“I hope to play overseas. I don’t want to stop,” Ellis said. “Basketball is my dream, it’s my gift from God.”