For most NCAA Division II student-athletes, their athletic careers end with the sound of the final buzzer in their last game as a senior, but there are a select few who find a way to continue to play the game they love at a higher level. Fans lucky enough to witness James Ellisor play for the Bemidji State University men’s basketball team, won’t be surprised to hear he has carried his game to the professional ranks.
After an All-American 2011-12 season, Ellisor participated in a pre-draft tryout with the National Basketball Association’s Minnesota Timberwolves in May and then headed back home to Glendale, Ariz. to workout until he decided on what and where the next step would be. After considering his options, Ellisor decided to pack his bags and head to Russia to play for Planeta-Universitet, in the Russian Basketball Superleague.
“At the time I decided to go to Russia, it was the best option for myself,” Ellisor said. “I knew that I had an opportunity that few others had, so I took the offer to play there right away. Also, it is a once in a lifetime experience to be able to travel the world and experience something new, which is something I always wanted to do.”
The Superleague was the top professional basketball league in Russia until 2010 and currently is considered the second-tier division of the Russian professional basketball pyramid. Currently there are 15 clubs in the league, spread throughout Russia. Ellisor’s team, Planeta-Universitet, is based in Ukhta (oook-tah) in the Komi Republic of Russia - Western Russia, approximately 1,053 miles north east of Moscow, which is about the distance from Bemidji to Golden, Colo. where BSU traveled to play in the NCAA Tournament.
“I have been able to adjust to the new lifestyle here just fine,” Ellisor said. “So far it has been everything I imagined. One of the major things that is really different compared to America is the food. I am a person who loves to eat, so the adjustment to eating certain types of food here is not easy, but there are some foods that I like and I am starting to get used to.
“It has been very difficult trying to learn a new language, however. I am thankful that some of my teammates and coaches know English because it has benefited me. Hopefully as the season goes on, I can develop a great relationship with my teammates, coaches and with the community.”
Ellisor finished his two-year career at Bemidji State with 1,129 points to become the 15th 1,000 point scorer in BSU men’s basketball history and currently sits 13th all-time in scoring. Last season, the 6-5 forward led the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference in scoring and finished third nationally with 21.9 points per game. He also shot the ball at a 57.8 percent clip to finish third in the conference and 25th in the nation. Those pieces to Ellisor’s game weren’t lost in the 15 hour flight from Phoenix to Moscow. He ranks first on the team and seventh in the Superleague with 14.6 points per game and is shooting 50.5 percent from the field.
“I am able to use my athleticism, speed and quickness to create my own shot or create shots for my teammates,” Ellisor said. “Also, I have been able to shoot the ball well from the perimeter.
“The major difference between European basketball and college ball is the skill level,” Ellisor said. “Most of the players are very skilled at their position and have a high ‘basketball IQ’. The court is more open to play pick and roll, isolation and penetration basketball. It is one thing to be an athletic player, but if you are skilled, athletic and have a high ‘basketball IQ’, then you can be very successful playing European basketball.”
Fifteen games into the season, the team owns a 6-9 record to rank 11th in the conference standings. Ellisor has played in 12 games and is averaging a team-high 32.4 minutes per game. He is shooting 47.1 percent from beyond the arc and is 25-for-31 (80.6%) from the free throw line. He is pulling down 4.4 rebounds per game and dishing out 1.5 assists per contest. At the mid-way mark of the regular season, Ellisor’s goals are simple.
“My goals are to continue to improve everyday, individually and as a team, as well as be a game changer who can make game-changing plays. With my athletic ability, I help speed the game up by running the floor and getting defensive stops, as well as creating plays for others on offense. Hopefully I can continue to do that and win as many games as possible.”
One thing the 2011-12 NSIC Player of the Year hasn’t had to adjust to is the weather, thanks to spending two winter seasons in Bemidji. With average highs in Ukhta ranging from 19 degrees in November to 27 degrees in March, the Arizonian has been well prepared for cold and snow.
“Coming from a very hot climate, I had to adjust to extreme cold conditions in Bemidji for two years. Like Bemidji, it is very cold where I am and it started to snow earlier than I thought. I made sure I was prepared for the Russian winter by bringing a lot of warm clothing.”
No one can say what the next step for Ellisor will be after this season in Russia, but if he can continue being successful, his options to continue playing the game will be vast.
For more information on the Bemidji State men’s basketball program, follow the Beavers on Twitter (@BSUHoops or @BSUBeavers), like them on Facebook (facebook.com/Bemidji-State-Basketball or facebook.com/BSUBeavers) or sign up for the TXTUpdates from BSUBeavers.com text-messaging system through the "Mulitmedia" pull down menu on the main page of BSUBeavers.com.
Nestled in Northern Minnesota’s wooded region and located on the shore of Lake Bemidji, Bemidji State University sponsors 15 varsity athletic programs with NCAA Division I men’s and women’s hockey membership in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, while its 13 NCAA Division II programs hold membership in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference (NSIC).