Henry Ellenson Anchors USA Front Court For Nike Hoop Summit
When 6-foot-9, forward/center Henry Ellenson (Rice Lake H.S./Rice Lake, Wis.) takes the floor for the USA Junior National Select Team in the 2015 Nike Hoop Summit on April 11 in Portland, Oregon, the USA will get the benefit of a USA Basketball veteran with a gold medal from the 2014 FIBA U17 World Championship and four junior national team training camps under his belt.
“It was really exciting,” Ellenson said of being asked to join the USA team for the Nike Hoop Summit. “I’m really proud and really honored to represent my country.”
In his last USA Basketball experience, Ellenson tallied team-highs of 21 points and 10 rebounds in a 113-71 rout over China in the quarterfinals of the 2014 FIBA U17 World Championship. Overall, as the USA compiled a perfect, 7-0 record on the way to the gold medal, Ellenson averaged 8.7 points and 5.1 rebounds per game.
He spent nearly four weeks with his USA coaches and teammates as they traveled from their Colorado Springs training camp to Dubai, United Arab Emirates by way of Doha, Qatar, where they visited with U.S. troops at two military bases: Al Udeid Air Base and Camp As Sayliyah.
“Honestly, it was a great experience,” Ellenson said. “I never thought I would go to Dubai, but basketball takes you to crazy places. That was really fun, and it was a great trip. Still, it was a business a trip to go win a gold medal overall.
“It was a great feeling to know that all of the hard work you put in during training camp and to make that team paid off,” said Ellenson when asked what it felt like to win the tournament. “It was just a great feeling.”
Unlike a world championship or zone qualifier, however, the Nike Hoop Summit is an annual basketball game that pits 11 top U.S. high school seniors against 11 of the best international players who are 19 years old or younger from around the world.
“I know it’s a big event,” Ellenson said. “It’s the USA against the world, and it’s got a history of a lot of NBA talent that has played in the past.”
In fact, 165 Nike Hoop Summit alumni have been drafted into the NBA, and as of Dec. 5, 2014, 68 U.S. and 26 former World team members were active in the NBA.
“I think the USA does have something to prove (in the Nike Hoop Summit), because people are saying the world is getting better, but we want USA Basketball to be the best,” said Ellenson. “I know the last couple of years the USA has struggled. But they won last year, so I want to try and win again.”
Ellenson will have plenty of stellar teammates by his side as the team looks to improve upon the USA’s 12-5 series advantage. For the first time in Nike Hoop Summit History, all 11 U.S. team members are international gold medalists.
Balancing team chemistry with that much talent and experience on one roster is a familiar and welcome challenge for USA Basketball, and the solution often is to shift the focus of the individual athletes onto one shared outcome.
“It’s all about winning the gold medal,” Ellenson said of playing with USA Basketball. “You get better throughout the process. It makes you a more unselfish player and more of a team player. It’s all about winning the gold medal. You feel good when you pass the shot up and get a better shot.
“We have a group of guys who everyone can go out for 40 points, I know I could have a good night,” Ellenson explained. “It’s really just a team-first mentality. With USA Basketball, it’s not about you. It’s about your team and your country. You have to have a team-first mentality.”
Ellenson’s USA Basketball experience, however, hasn’t been a perfectly scripted path. After his first mini-camp in 2012, Ellenson returned for the 2013 U16 national team training camp and despite being named as a finalist, he did not make the 12-man roster USA for the FIBA Americas U16 Championship.
He showed up for the October 2013 mini-camp and then again for the 2014 U17 training camp, and this time ended up with a better result when he was named to the roster for the USA U17 World Championship Team.
In the year between training camps, Ellenson lost weight and at the time of the U17 camp, he credited his father for the good advice that helped him to compete.“My dad says, ‘you’re going to be tired and you’re going to be challenged, but just go after it because some kids who aren’t here would love to be here, so just give it everything you’ve got and don’t take it for granted,” Ellenson told USABasketball.com back on July 28, one day before he made the team. “If it’s something you want, go after it.’”
When asked how he is trying to improve his game this year, Ellenson gives a broad answer.
“Where I start when I’m in the gym, I like to work on everything, because I want to be able to do everything on the court,” stated Ellenson. “I want to be able to bring up the ball. I want to be able to post up. I want to hit shots. I want to be “the guy,” so I work on everything when I’m in the gym.
“But, I know from the high school level to the next level in college, the physicality and the speed of the game get a lot tougher, so I am trying to hit the weight room harder now.”
In the midst of the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association state playoffs, Ellenson is sharpening his focus on winning a state championship.
On Friday, March 6, he scored a game-high 25 points in a 72-51 win over River Falls, and then on March 7, helped his team to a 69-26 rout of Menomonie in the region final. Ellenson and Rice Lake will face Onalaska (16-8) on Thursday, March 12 in the WIAA Division 2 Sectionals.
“It’s really time to lock in and focus, and just take it one game at a time,” he said. “Our goal is to win the state title at Rice Lake this year. We just finished our regular season with our fourth conference title in a row.
“I have goals I am trying to reach, and I am really goal-oriented. So, I stay focused. That’s probably one of the things I do a really good job of, staying focused.
I know that I need to be in the gym everyday, because everyone else wants to be an NBA player, and that’s what I want to be, too, so I have to put the extra work in to get there.”
Another of Ellenson’s goals was secured when he signed a National Letter of Intent with Marquette – the same university where his father played basketball and where his brother, Wally, will play his senior basketball season alongside Henry next year.
“A lot of things went in to my decision and what made Marquette the right school for me,” Ellenson explained. “A lot of it was the coaching staff and how comfortable I felt with them. The vision they had for me and the vision I have for myself are similar, so I like that a lot. The way they play, their style, and how they will prepare me for the next level. And also, I have the chance to play with my brother, again. That was a huge bonus.
“It is going to be lot of fun again. I got to do it my freshman year (of high school) when he was a senior, and now I will get to do it again when I’m a freshman in college. He’s a good player, and we will have a chance to do some big things next year.”
Look for Ellenson and his USA teammates to do big things long before the 2015-16 NCAA season on April 11 in the Nike Hoop Summit. Stay tuned to usab.com for television broadcast information. If you are in the Portland area, get your tickets now.