COLUMBIA — Throughout the NAIA national championship game that took place between Columbia College and Rocky Mountain College on Tuesday night, different evocations could be heard across Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City as a means to try and turn the tide of the game in favor of the Cougars.
Rufus Broadus and Tracy Edwards were among those shouting encouragements and they shouted often at the Cougars' Jason Ellis.
“Jesuuuuuuus,” yelled Broadus, as Ellis went for a jump shot.
“Go to work, Jesus,” called Edwards as the team set up for defense.
The men, along with Terrence Williams and Rodney Estes, went to Kansas City to support a player they used to coach. They first coached Ellis when he was in fifth grade and played at Douglass Park.
The basketball games that he played there in an Amateur Athletic Union program helped Ellis earn his nickname "Jesus." The nickname was based off the character Jesus Shuttlesworth from the movie "He Got Game," starring Ray Allen as a young basketball player with a coveted left-handed shot.
Much in the same fashion, Ellis’s left-handed shot continues to impress those who watch him play. Edwards, Estes, Williams, and Broadus, who also worked with Ellis through Moonlight Hoops – another basketball program open during the summer in Douglass Park – said he was an exceptional player even as a child, and continued to get better as he played basketball at Hickman High School.
The men described Ellis as quiet and coachable, and Williams said he “would listen without giving us any lip.” Ellis speaks highly of his former coaches as well. He says he keeps in touch with them and sees them around Columbia every once in a while. He also credits much of his early success to what he learned at Douglass Park. He called it “the spot” during summertime, and said there is good competition among those who play there.
“When I used to play at Douglass Park, I took it as practice too,” Ellis said. “Not only am I having fun, but I’m improving aspects of my game.”
Edwards remembers Ellis as one of the “Three Amigos," along with his cousin DeAndre Turner and another friend who played on "The Dream Team." Fellow teammate and first cousin Terrell Turner also remembers hanging out at Douglass Park as a child, tagging along with his older brother and cousin.
“Sometimes you know you can get the best games down there,” Turner said.
Around 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Broadus, Edwards, Williams and Estes met at A Cut Above The Rest Hair Salon, with two of their sons, to hit the road to Kansas City. Throughout the drive, Broadus continued to receive and send calls to others who wanted to follow the game in support of Columbia College.
Close to two hours later, the group arrived in Kansas City. The first stop was a Krispy Kreme Doughnuts shop where they enjoyed their complimentary doughnut, and after a few soft drinks – and a few more doughnuts – they were headed downtown.
Before making their way to the convention center, the group stopped in front of Willies Sports Bar to meet Bryant Chambly, who received All-American Midwest Conference honors while on Columbia College’s basketball team in 2007. He nearly jumped off the ground as he told the men how excited he was about the Cougars.
The next stop was the arena, where they bumped into other friends and family members of Ellis and Turner that they knew from Columbia.
Throughout the night, many other fans came to say hello and talk with the men. As the night came to a close, DeAndre Turner, Terrell Turner’s brother came over. He said that he was proud of is brother and cousin.
“This might be the end for them, but they’ve come a long way,” DeAndre Turner said.