Evanston’s search for a new coach for the boy’s basketball team ended up downstate, where it landed a proven winner.
Mike Ellis, who guided Peoria Richwoods to two state runner-up finishes in his seven seasons there, has been named the Wildkits’ new coach. He replaces Bobby Locke, who resigned to become coach at Brooks after five seasons at Evanston.
“Mike Ellis is not only an outstanding basketball coach, but also the perfect fit for the ETHS basketball program,” Evanston Athletic Director Chris Livatino said. “He sets high expectations for his players on the court, in the classroom and in the community. He is one of the top high school basketball coaches in the state of Illinois and was instrumental in building the renowned basketball program at Richwoods High School and he will bring the same type of success and energy to ETHS.”
The 40-year-old Ellis compiled a 156-55 record at Richwoods, including a 30-3 mark last season for the most wins in school history. Richwoods lost to Hillcrest, 58-55, in the Class 3A state championship game on March 20. A three-time Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Coach of the Year selection, Ellis guided the Knights to four Mid-State Conference championships, six regional titles and three sectional crowns.
“Mike Ellis stood out for quite a few things,” Mr. Livatino said. “He obviously has a great track record during his seven years at Peoria Richwoods – leading the team to two state championship games. Last year, they did it without a Division I recruit, which is pretty telling of how he’s able to bring kids together for a common purpose.
“His experience and success rate is one thing, the high expectations he sets for his kids and his devotion to really working to make kids put team in front of all is immensely important. He also comes from a school environment and demographic very similar to Evanston High School. He was the best coach and the best fit.”
Coach Ellis inherits a team that finished, 14-13, last winter, and lost in the regional semifinals. Returning seniors Garrett Jones and James Farr are Division I prospects. Ellis coached four Division I players at Richwoods.
Jones admits he was shocked when Coach Locke, his coach for 3 years, abruptly left and his team was left without a leader.
“At first, it seemed unreal,” said Jones. “It was like, ‘How can this happen?’ We had a great summer, and we were picking it back up to make a run at the state tournament. But nothing’s really changed with the new coach.”
One big change Coach Ellis brings to Evanston is his love for full-court, man-to-man defense. Under Coach Locke, the Wildkits played primarily zone.
“The pace has picked up a lot more,” Jones said. “You have to be in really good condition to play for him. We are about to be a running team. The offense is about the same, a guard-oriented offense, lots of dribble drives.”
“My expectations right now are for everyone that is going to be a part of our program, from the freshman level up to the varsity level, is to be the pioneers,” Coach Ellis said. “I want them to set the tone for the rest of the teams that follow in the future. So we want to develop an identity.
“Coming to Peoria 15 years ago with no family in town, not knowing anyone in the community, was a challenge. We developed so many good relationships in Peoria. I’ve reached that point where I’m ready to take on a similar challenge. I think Evanston is a great place to pursue that.”
Coach Ellis and his new squad began the Lane Tech Thanksgiving tournament on Monday as a part of their opening week. The Kits go on the road again next Tuesday to take on Stevenson and go to Skokie to hoop it up against Niles North.