Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Marquette’s Henry Ellenson Could be First Big East One-and-Done in Three Years
NEW YORK — The Big East hasn’t exactly been synonymous with one-and-done talent in recent years.
While Kentucky and Duke regularly churn out NBA players after one year on campus, no Big East team has had a one-and-done player since Steven Adams left Pittsburgh in 2013.
Yet here comes Henry Ellenson, a 6-foot-10 freshman forward from Marquette projected as the No. 8 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft by DraftExpress.com. Another Big East player, Providence junior guard Kris Dunn — the Big East Preseason Player of the Year — is projected at No. 7.
“For me obviously it’s a goal and dream of mine to play in the NBA, but until that time comes I’m going to stay focused on what we have,” Ellenson said Wednesday at Big East Media Day at Madison Square Garden. “I haven’t played a minute of college basketball yet, so just working hard every day in practice and just getting better is my main focus right now.”
Of course, eventually Ellenson’s goal is to play in the NBA.
“Yeah, to be in the NBA for sure,” he said.
Before Adams, the last Big East one-and-done guys were Andre Drummond (UConn) and Maurice Harkless (St. John’s) in 2012. Before that, you have to go back to Lance Stephenson (Cincinnati) in 2010. Pittsburgh, UConn and Cincinnati are no longer in the Big East.
Ellenson considered Kentucky and Michigan State — schools more recently associated with producing NBA talent than Marquette — but ultimately decided to stay home in Wisconsin. He was a Parade and McDonald’s All-American at Rice Lake (Wis.) High, where he scored 2,275 points in his career. His older brother, Wally Ellenson, has also transferred into Marquette from Minnesota, which was a factor for Henry.
“I didn’t go on my Kentucky visit but I was close to [head coach John] Calipari,” Ellenson said. “And I had enjoyed myself at Michigan State, [head coach Tom] Izzo is a great guy and so obviously that was another tough one. But in my gut it just felt right to be with Coach Wojo [Steve Wojciechowski] and Marquette.”
Even as the new Big East has lost the likes of Syracuse, Louisville, UConn and Notre Dame, Ellenson believes the league can still attract NBA-type talent. Aside from Dunn, Villanova features Jalen Brunson, the Big East Preseason Rookie of the Year who is projected as the No. 27 pick in 2017 by DraftExpress.com.
“Yeah, for sure because a lot of players are going to see elite players go to those teams and they come out of the Big East, too,” he said. “There’s always a lot of top draft picks in the Big East and they are going to know it’s a rich basketball conference like I knew. I always was a fan of the Big East growing up. That was the conference I wanted to play in just because of the tournament at Madison Square Garden. That’s something special to be able to play in the Mecca for your Big East Tournament so that’s something I always grew up dreaming about.”
So you can go to Marquette and not necessarily Kentucky, Duke or Kansas and be a one-and-done type player?
“Yeah, for sure,” he said. “Just with the talent across the board it’s a strong conference, it’s a basketball conference and you don’t need [to go to] those programs..I think you can still do it at other schools. It takes hard work, that’s how you get there. I haven’t played a game yet, so I know just me working hard every day, I can give myself that opportunity.”
Creighton coach Greg McDermott, whose son, Doug, was the National Player of the Year in 2014 and the No. 11 pick in the 2014 Draft, believes Big East teams need NBA-level talent to compete for Final Fours and NCAA championships.
“We had the [National] Player of the Year two years ago and we have some people’s pick for Player of the Year this year [Dunn], so there aren’t a lot of leagues that can say that,” McDermott said. “I think we’ve continued to draw a high quality student-athlete to our programs. The reality of it is, if we want to compete for Final Fours, which I think is everybody’s goal in this league, you have to have some of those types of players, and I think we can continue to attract them.”
Of course, players like Ellenson still must go out and prove themselves on the court.
“Wojo will do an unbelievable job with him and Henry’s got unbelievable ability,” McDermott said. “So when Doug decides to come back and it works for him [at Creighton], when Kris decides to come back and it works for him [at Providence], Henry decides to go to Marquette it works for him, that helps all of us in the long term.”
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.