More than 100 people, including some of Ellis’ former players and colleagues, Cumberland University officials and students, public officials and representatives from ESPN, packed the stadium to honor the legendary coach.
Ellis said he was humbled and honored to have the court named after him, but spoke highly of his players, saying they deserved just as much credit and recognition.
“This is where I got my start back in 1972 – I was 26 years of age – now it’s come full circle, and to have this honor is truly humbling,” Ellis said. “I really feel that the players who played for me and all those people who have followed me really deserve their name on it, but somebody gets the name, and my name will be for those players who have played here and for those that have followed me and have given me a career that I’ve been blessed so much with.
“To come back and be honored with this is truly very special because it’s brought back a lot of memories, a lot of our guys are back from those days, and it’s allowed me to look back and be thankful for all that’s been accomplished, and the start that Cumberland gave me.”
Wayne Buckingham, who played under Ellis at Clemson University from 1989-93, spoke of Ellis’ mentorship and friendship. Buckingham is now the player development coach and recruiter for the Music City Icons, a women’s basketball team in Nashville.
“Coach Ellis met me at my youngest years,” Buckingham said, “So he’s more of a mentor, not just a coach, but a mentor and father figure to me. He helped me to get where I’m at today. We talk three or four times a month. We’re always there for each other, and he’s just like a father to me.”
Pat Lawson, another former athletic director at Cumberland, praised Ellis’ character and role to make Cumberland the school it is currently.
“This reflects and represents the long tradition of excellence that this university has had, and the heritage of the athletic department here from when it was a junior college up until now is one that’s filled with pride, and Coach Ellis certainly reflects that,” Lawson said, “It’s a great day for the institution and also for the community. For people to be able to come back and remember the time that Coach Ellis was here and the standard of excellence that he set when he was the coach.”
Ellis holds a 79-12 record during his three years as head coach at Cumberland. He won seven championships and has earned more than 14 awards throughout his career at various schools, including a spot in the Cumberland Athletics Hall of Fame.
Cumberland University president Paul Stumb, along with colleague and friends of Ellis, spoke of his dedication, drive, passion and skill. They recounted story after story of Ellis rising to the occasion to inspire and achieve greatness on and off the court.
Ellis thanked the crowd and spoke directly to the student-athletes in the crowd, to encourage them to pursue their dreams and efforts with discipline and strength.
“If you have the desire and the dedication and commitment to do good things, good things will happen,” Ellis said. “Good things will happen. It’s important that you be a team. There are five players that go on the court,” Ellis said as he raised an open hand, “But if you take those five players, and individually they work off of each other, and they’re separated, and they’re all on their own, you’re not going to win. But if those five players come together,” Ellis said, raising a clenched fist in the air, “What does that form? That is powerful.”