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February 28, 2014
Ellis excited, emotional to have jersey retired
Dale Ellis was barely a minute into a Friday afternoon press conference at Thompson-Boling Arena when he found himself holding back tears.
"I can remember the last game I played ... it was emotional," Ellis said, when asked his most vivid memory of his Tennessee career.
"Beating VCU in the (1981 NCAA) Tournament. Coming into my own as a player, giving myself the confidence that I could get it done as a first-year player playing with some great players."
Ellis, multiple times All-SEC first team, the 1983 SEC Player of the Year and a 1983 consensus All-American during his 1979-83 Tennessee career, will have his No. 14 jersey retired into the Thompson-Boling Arena rafters before today's noon tip between Tennessee (17-11, 8-7 SEC) and Vanderbilt (15-12, 7-8).
The game will be broadcast on ESPN2. The jersey ceremony is scheduled to begin around 11:40 a.m.
"I'm always excited to get back to Knoxville," Ellis said. "When I left and went and played professional ball, it took me years to get back here."
"I've always considered Knoxville home," Ellis added.
Ellis played like he felt right at home, too.
Playing in a collegiate era with no 3-point line, he scored 2,065 points (third on Tennessee's all-time list) in four years as a Vol.
He left holding both career (59.5 percent) and single-season (65.4 in 1981-82) records for field goal percentage.
He scored a then career-high 38 points against No. 13 Alabama as a junior in January 1982, then scored 39 in a win over Oklahoma City as a senior in December 1982.
Ellis was the ninth pick in the 1983 NBA Draft and spent 17 years playing professional basketball for nine different franchises.
He's eighth on the NBA's list of all-time 3-point field goals made (1,719) and tied for 25th in career 3-point percentage (.403).
Ellis was told in 2006, while in town for Alan Houston's jersey retirement, that, when it came to his Tennessee jersey being added to the rafters, it was only a matter of when.
"The call came in when Alan's jersey was being retired," Ellis said. "I was asked to come and participate, show support. I was told at that moment, 'Pick a game, we'll get it done.'
"It just so happened that we couldn't get it done until this moment. But I'm excited about it."
Ellis addressed the Tennessee basketball team after the Vols' Friday afternoon practice at Thompson-Boling. But beforehand, Ellis said he didn't know the specifics of the message he planned to share.
"It's going to be a first for me," he said. "I don't really know, I'm just gonna wing it.
"I don't believe I can say anything that's going to hurt these kids. I never had the opportunity to speak to a professional basketball player as a youngster, at their age, so I know they'll be attentive."
After 17 years in NBA, Ellis knows plenty about being a professional.
"I'll tell them what I know about how you prepare for games; how you have to be professional on both ends of the floor, off the court as well," Ellis said. "You have to play both games."
He said he plans to tell the Vols it's not too late, too.
"They still have an opportunity to do something special," Ellis said. "There was situation where I was traded to Seattle, and we were picked to lose more games than anybody in the NBA, we were picked to be dead last."
That was the 1986-87 NBA season, when Ellis and the seventh-seeded Supersonics overcame a 22-point loss to the Dallas Mavericks, the No. 2 seed, in Game 1 of the four game series in the first round of the playoffs, winning the final three games of the series and eventually advancing all the way to the Western Conference Finals.
It was the first time a No. 7 had eliminated a No. 2 seed since the NBA moved to a 16-team playoff field.
"We gelled at the end of the season," Ellis said " ... so you just have to keep working at it."
The Vols, at 17-11, are in a similar position. After an underachieving season, they're still on the NCAA Tournament bubble with three must-win games left, starting today with Vanderbilt.
"Anything can happen in basketball," Ellis said. "You just have to go out and play as hard as you can, try to limit your mistakes."