LaPhonso Ellis well remembers walking up the Pit ramp in the tenuous air of Albuquerque as the 17-year-old basketball star in April 1988.
But the Lincoln High School star of East St. Louis, Illinois, who went to college and NBA stardom, remembers even more about his trip to Albuquerque as the one of the headliners for the nationally televised McDonald’s All-American basketball game.
“I just remember the people there,” Ellis told the Journal this week. “The locals were really, really nice and supportive and receptive to us, and I thank them for that.”
Now, 36 years later, the ESPN college basketball analyst is looking forward to a return visit to the Pit, this time as the coach of Team Heartfire, the No. July 18-21 regional round in New Mexico of the $1 million, winner-takes-all TBT (the basketball tournament).
Heartfire is one of eight teams playing in the New Mexico Regional, a field that includes The Enchantment, a team of former UNM Lobos, and The Panamaniacs, a team of former NMSU Aggies, who will face off on the night. opening of the action on July 18. .
On the same side of the spectrum is Ellis’ Heartfire team – a roster that earned the No. 1 seed. Last year, it went 1-1 in the TBT with a five-point loss at the second round against eventual champion Boeheim’s Army, who defeated Team 23 in the championship game. Several of Team 23’s players are now on Heartfire, earning the team a No. 1 seed.
“I’m really excited to come back out there (to Albuquerque) and coach this team again,” said Ellis, who last year coached in the TBT. “It was such a great experience with these young men and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to do it again this year.
“It’s a bit different, obviously, because we’re the number 1 seed this time and we were the 11 seed last year, so I know there will be a greater level of expectation. , but I will again have a chance to train quality young men with character.
Ellis, who also called an UNM game for ESPN a recent year in the pit but hasn’t otherwise returned since that 1988 McDonald’s All-American game, said he knew Albuquerque was a strong basketball community and was happy to host an event. as TBT during the offseason.
His memories of that 1988 game are more about the other players than his own performance. He only scored two points in the game.
“I don’t remember playing that much and I don’t remember doing that much because the stars of the stars were in that game,” Ellis said. “I know Shawn Kemp played well. Billy Owens played well. I know Alonzo Mourning did it too.
The East roster, which included Ellis, was coached by Bob Hurley, the nationally renowned head coach of St. Anthony High School in Jersey City, New Jersey. The West squad was coached by Jim Hulsman of Albuquerque High.
Shawn Kemp led all scorers with 18 points, including one of the best dunks in McDonald’s All-American game history, and was named co-MVP with Syracuse-bound Owens, who had 10 points and 14 rebounds.
Ellis and UNM as host of the regional are hoping the TBT games can draw large crowds for a group of former NBA and college stars, much like that 1988 game. A reported crowd of 12,815 at the Pit went to watch a collection of high school players they didn’t know at all.
“There are a lot … former college baseball players who were elite level players in their respective colleges,” Ellis said. “The fans will recognize a lot of them, and they still play at a very high level.”
ON THE AIR: In addition to the seven New Mexico regional games broadcast or streamed on any of the ESPN family networks, all seven games and coverage between games can be heard locally on 101.7 KQTM-FM , ESPN Radio.
The team anticipates that Scott Galetti, a current play-by-play announcer for the station and former Lobos radio play-by-play announcer, will call the first four TBT games on Day 1 (July 18) of the regional with the radio. Current UNM. announcer Robert Portnoy taking over for the two games played on 19 July and the regional championship game on 21 July.