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"Playing for Louisville these past two years meant more to me than people know," the All-ACC honorable mention guard wrote in a statement posted to his Twitter account Wednesday. "I played every minute of every game like it was my last."
Before participating in Senior Night in February, Ellis said he planned to test the professional waters when the worst season in modern U of L history came to a close. In Wednesday’s statement, the Durham, North Carolina, native said he will do so while retaining the final season of eligibility he was granted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I'm going to see how everything goes," Ellis said last month, "and then I'm going to make my decision, if I'm coming back, based on that."
As of Wednesday, Ellis did not rank among ESPN's top 100 prospects for the 2023 NBA Draft, which will be held June 22 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. The 6-foot-3 guard told 247Sports he plans to forgo his final season of college eligibility if he is drafted or offered "a guaranteed two-way" contract that allows him to work his way up to an NBA roster through the G League.
Ellis said last month it was unlikely he would enter the NCAA transfer portal if he does return to the college ranks. At the time, his goal was to leave Louisville "as a winner."
"I just don't feel comfortable going to another school," Ellis said a month ago. "I feel like Louisville is the place for me, even through everything that's been going on — the coaching change, the records, everything like that. I feel like, if I'm going to come back and go to college again, I'm going to come back to Louisville, because I didn't finish the way I wanted to."
On Wednesday, however, Ellis told 247Sports he's not ruling out the possibility of transferring and playing his final season of college eligilbity elsewhere.
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"I'm still taking my time," he said. "I am just going to focus on the NBA first and, if that's not what I want to do, then I will make my decision — if I will go in the portal or return to Louisville."
Here's a breakdown of Ellis' 2022-23 season and the key dates in his upcoming decision-making process.
El Ellis' 2022-23 season with Louisville basketball
Payne tasked Ellis with orchestrating Louisville's offense as its point guard — a heavy burden that Ellis said ultimately shaped him into “someone who’s looking for his teammates more, trusting his teammates more, trying to make that right play almost every possession.”
"To Coach KP, the staff and also my teammates: That you for everything," Ellis wrote in his statement Wednesday. "This past year meant more to me than you could ever imagine."
Ellis started every game for the Cardinals as a senior, and his minute share (89.9%) ranked among the top 25 in Division I. Taking 30.1% of the team's shots, the All-ACC honorable mention guard averaged 17.7 points on 41% shooting while dishing out 4.4 assists per contest. He facilitated 30.8% of U of L's baskets while on the court, totaling 140 assists on the season, and turned the ball over 120 times.
Ellis averaged a team-best 17.7 points on 41% shooting — good for third in the ACC and 83rd nationally. He ranked eighth in the conference with 4.4 assists per game.
Ellis' high-water mark came Feb. 11, when he scored a career-high 33 points on 60% shooting to go along with five assists in a loss at Miami, becoming the first U of L player since Darrell Griffith to notch multiple 30-point, five assist outings in a season. He was named ACC Co-Player of the Week on Feb. 20 after averaging 24.5 points on 55% shooting alongside 4.5 rebounds playing 39.1 minutes per game in a three-point defeat to Virginia and a win against Clemson.
There are two knocks on Ellis' game: ball security and defense. The former improved during the second half of the season — over the final 18 games, he tallied 82 assists against just 54 turnovers — but Payne was still waiting by the season's end for the latter to follow suit.
"I'm challenging him to go out and not only — (I say), 'I know you're playing a lot of minutes, but guard people the way they're guarding you,'" the coach said in mid-February.
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2023 NBA Draft entry and withdrawal deadlines
Ellis now has until until 5 p.m. on June 12 to withdraw his name from consideration for the NBA draft and still return to college for one more season. The transfer portal closes May 11.
Per NCAA rules, Ellis must hold off on declaring and hiring an NCAA-certified agent until he has submitted a request from the NBA for an evaluation from its Undergraduate Advisory Committee to maintain his final year of eligibility.
He will also be deemed ineligible to return if he agrees orally or in writing to be represented by an individual who isn't certified by the NCAA, among other guidelines.
Reach Louisville men's basketball reporter Brooks Holton at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at @brooksHolton.
This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Louisville basketball: El Ellis enters NBA draft; thanks Kenny Payne