SAN DIEGO — They slowly left the USC locker room in late November, one by one, players packing up for the day shortly after practice ended and carrying scooters and equipment out of the Galen Center.
It had just been decreed, on the orders of a press release from a spokesperson for the James family, that Bronny James was authorized to resume basketball activity after recovering from heart surgery. And some members of the media, including the Southern California News Group, awaited the emergence of senior guard Boogie Ellis, waiting to hear what the captain thought about his fellow freshman returning to arms.
Waiting for. And wait. And wait.
He didn’t let anyone down. That’s what Ellis does. He stays when there’s no one left on the hardwood, lifting extra shots, getting extra work. He has shaped himself, in the forge of Galen’s training grounds, from a diminutive guard with a plucky nickname to a stalwart who carries the weight of USC on supple shoulders. He assumes his responsibilities verbally, during post-loss press conferences, even though the responsibility does not always belong to him. He also takes responsibility for the job he did over three years as a Trojan, welcoming freshman guard Isaiah Collier under his wing.
Finally, he came out this Thursday afternoon. And he laughed, grinning from ear to ear, when asked if he always stayed this late at work.
“Almost every day,” Ellis said. “You know, it’s just… I’ve made it part of my routine. It’s always a question of success, when you have this routine.
“I’ve been doing this most of my life,” he continued. “I’m always the guy who’s first in the gym, last in the gym. Just who I am.
But not quite like that all his life. USC coach Andy Enfield noted that Ellis has “come a long way” since arriving in 2021; It’s enough of a way for Enfield to often position Ellis as USC’s figurehead, declaring before the season that “he knows he has to lead this team.” And it all made Ellis, truly, one of the most important and influential Trojans of the Enfield era at USC.
“If we can continue to highlight him like that,” wing Kobe Johnson said after Ellis scored 28 points against Eastern Washington, “and if he can continue to put up those numbers, he’s going to continue to give us put in a very good position.”
Quietly, Ellis became one of the nation’s best sharpshooters as a super-senior, hovering around 20 points per game since starting at USC and shooting 44 percent from 3-point range. His repertoire is complete and advanced; catch and shoot 3-pointers, pull-ups, pick-and-rolls and step-backs. CalmlyHowever, even though he was often able to put USC in a good position, the Trojans didn’t always capitalize during their 6-5 start.
He was banged up at times early in the season, a trend that continued with a hip bruise in USC’s final game against Alabama State. If he’s limited in USC’s Pac-12 opener Thursday night, the Trojans will need sharp decision-making from Collier and consistent shooting from Johnson to stabilize against Oregon, a team bristling with talented guards — including freshman Jackson Shelstad, who crossed over. with Bronny James for a West Linn (Ore.)-Sierra Canyon game during their senior years of high school.
USC (6-5) at Oregon (8-3)
When: Thursday, 6 p.m.
Or: Matthew Knight Arena, Eugene, Ore.
Television/radio: ESPN2/790 AM
California Daily Newspapers