Son of former NBA star enjoys time as MCHS assistant

Theo Tate

LaPhonso Ellis Jr. yells out instructions to his Montgomery County junior varsity team in its season opener against Winfield on Nov. 24. Ellis is in his first year as JV/assistant coach for the MCHS boys basketball team. THEO TATE PHOTO

After playing basketball in China for the last five years, LaPhonso Ellis Jr. returned to the Midwest this winter.

This time, the son of the former NBA star LaPhonso Ellis is working as the new junior varsity/assistant coach of the Montgomery County High School boys basketball team.

“Everything is going great,” Ellis said. “It’s been a great environment for basketball. They really love basketball out here. So for me, it’s very family oriented. I came in and fit right in. My boys in JV and varsity are playing really well right now. It’s also great to be part of the community. They just welcomed me with open arms, so it’s been great.”

Ellis was hired to take over JV/assistant coaching duties in September. He also was selected to work as a paraprofessional at MCHS.

“I love working with kids and I love helping them develop,” the 33-year-old Ellis said. “It was one of those things that I knew it was going to have me here in the community where I don’t want to just pop in and out of coaching. I just want to be around and be involved and be in the community. Now, it has brought a lot of great relationships with the staff. It’s just a great community out here in Montgomery.”

MCHS head coach Scott Kroeger said Ellis has been a solid addition to the coaching staff.

“He’s just a great guy,” Kroeger said. “I’m really excited to spend a lot of time with him and get to know him. We feel like we’re pretty close friends already. I feel like it’s only going to get better from there. On top of that, I’m excited to see what he learns about basketball. It’s the first time coaching in a high school setting, so I’m interested to see what he learns and how he handles that.”

Ellis’ father played 11 seasons in the NBA, including six with the Denver Nuggets. Ellis said after he got hired at MCHS, he found out that the only older people knew that his father played in the NBA.

“I go by coach Zo,” Ellis said. “But when they find out, ‘Oh, my God, LaPhonso Ellis, Jr.? Your dad played in the NBA.’ That’s what comes out, especially for the older folks from the area who watched my dad in college and the NBA. That older generation really knows. The younger kids might have seen my dad in (NBA) 2K (video game) and that’s about it. It goes with me everywhere I go, so I’m used to it.”

Ellis played high school basketball at Belleville East (Ill.). After enjoying an outstanding college basketball career at Greenville University  (Ill.) that included 1,601 points and three all-conference awards, Ellis competed with semi-pro teams in St. Louis, Chicago, New York, Dallas and Champaign, Ill. He played overseas for 10 years before heading back to the U.S. due to the worldwide coronavirus pandemic.

Ellis found out about the MCHS job while coaching an AAU team in Columbia in September.

“(MCHS senior) Collin Parker ended up coming to the team, so I’ve got really close with Collin, their dad Chris and their mom Carla,” Ellis said. “In our last tournament in Omaha, Neb., Chris was asking me when I’m going back. I told him I didn’t know when I was going back to China. A few days later, he was like, ‘Hey, would you be interested in assistant coaching in Montgomery County?’”

Ellis quickly became interested in the MCHS job after meeting Kroeger during a visit to the school.

“We just clicked and bonded right then and there,” Ellis said. “It was a great fit right off.”

Now, Ellis is looking to help MCHS become a state powerhouse. The Wildcats won 25 games and captured the Eastern Missouri Conference title last year. MCHS will take a 5-3 record into its home game against Fort Zumwalt East at 7 p.m. on Jan. 6.

“For me, I want to help them achieve a state title,” said Ellis, who lives in Montgomery City. “I think we have a state caliber team. If we do what we need to do and work really hard at it, we can go up there and make some noise and shock some teams.”


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