Tyrone Ellis is a former professional player from Dallas, Texas that currently is head coach of D-League team Northern Arizona Suns. As a player he had a stellar career in Europe showing that a player can make a career coming from a NAIA school from Southern Nazarene playing in countries like Germany, Italy, Turkey and Spain. In 2004 he helped the Opel Skyliners win the BBL league title. He played for three Spanish teams Girona, Cajasol Sevilla and Asefa Estudiantes Madrid playing six seasons in the best league in Europe. He also played for teams like Eldo Basket Napoli and Besiktas ColaTurka Istanbul . He retired in 2012 and went into coaching being an assistant for D-League teams Tulsa, Reno, Grand Rapids and Bakersfield. He spoke to German Hoops about the death of former teammate Chris Williams and coaching the Northern Arizona Suns.
Ty thanks for talking to German Hoops! Where are you at the moment and how is your basketball life treating you at the moment?
No problem Miles, my pleasure. I’m currently on the road trying to finish up the season strong.
Before we talk about your coaching career, we have to talk about your ex teammate and friend Chris Williams who passed away recently. How did you hear about it and what was your first thought?
Our friend, Marlon Garnett, sent me a text after my game around midnight. Marlon played with Chris in Iran. I was confused, hurt, and in disbelief. I am still mourning my friend’s death. I don’t want to believe he is gone.Chris Williams was 36 years old and just suddenly past away due to blood clotting. Did you have any more contact to him the last years? When you remember having your last conversation with him?
Yes, Chris and I kept in touch. He was the best man in my wedding. The last conversation I had with Chris was when I got this job. He called to congratulate me and tell me how proud of me he is.
You played two seasons with Chris Williams with the then Opel Skyliners in Frankfurt. What was your first impression of him when you saw him on the court?
My first impression of him on the court was, “He can do everything!” He was very unselfish and always played with poise. He never panicked and was unstoppable at the 4 position.
He belonged to the top players in the BBL and fans will never forget his amazing athleticism and moves that he had in his game. What will you always remember most about his game?
Teams always played off of him because he wasn’t a great shooter, but that only gave him space to use his “Killer Crossover.” I knew when we needed a basket or a stop, he would come through for us.
You didn´t play the same position, but the club was successful with a roster that had great personalites and knew how to play together on the court. Despite not playing the same position how do you feel did you both profit from each other on the court?
We trusted and respected each other! He knew how to get the best out of me and I knew how to get the best out of him. The championship year was the best year of my career! We had a great team and captain, in Pascal Roller, a fantastic Coaching staff, and great leadership in Gunnar.
Shortly after the death of Chris Williams, your ex head coach Gordon Herbert told me this. “Tyrone Ellis helped Chris become a better professional and taught him how to build his career better” You were only 3 years older, but did you sense to have that older brother responsibility in mentoring him and advising him with things on and off the court?
I did not feel like I was an older brother because he helped me just as much as I helped him. Areas were I needed help, he was there for me and vice versa. True, I have always been a “Thinker” I always have a plan A,B,C and I believe I helped him in that regard.
Everyone always spoke of Chris in the best way. He was a guy that was always friendly and tried to help you. What memory do you remember where he showed just how strong of a character guy he was?
Chris never complained! A lot of American players I have played with or against, do not embrace the culture. They complain about practice, the food, the language, etc. Chris NEVER complained! We always talked about how fortunate and blessed we are to play basketball as a profession. He genuinely cared about all of his teammates and would do anything for us.
What personal one on one memory do you remember most with him on and off the court that you will never forget?
When we first got to Germany, everybody talked about how good Berlin is. They won 8 Championships, Blah, Blah, Blah! We told each other that we will bring a championship to Frankfurt. The moment the horn went off and we won the Championship, we embraced each other and were so proud of each other. We were proud to be the Americans that were able to bring Frankfurt their first Championship.
Congrats on the head coaching job with new D-league team Northern Arizona Suns. After paying your dues for 4 years as a D-league assistant you have finally your first head coaching job. How satisfying has this experience been and what do you enjoy most about the job?
Being a Head Coach is very satisfying, because I’m able to develop these young men on and off the court. I enjoy the being a leader! Being a leader is very challenging because you have to earn the trust and respect of the players, its not just given to you. The rewarding part is when the trust and respect is earned, the players completely commit to the process. I love it!!
You played for many head coaches as a player and for different head coaches like Otis Smith, Chris Jent, Joe Abelson and Darko Rajakovic. You probably got something from each guy, but if you had to choose one of these coaches that was most instrumental in your development who would you choose?
The most instrumental Coaches I have played for or coached with is my college coach, Bobby Martin and Gordon Herbert. Bobby Martin, taught me in college how important it is to have integrity and to respect the game. Gordon held everybody on the team accountable, he trusted me, Chris, and Pascal, and he genuinely cared about the entire team. I went through a divorce my first year in Frankfurt and he helped me in so many ways get through that difficult moment. Once I saw that he cared about me as person and not just a player, I was willing to run through a brick wall for him. Because of these two coaches, I invest in my players, I’m transparent, and genuinely care about them.
You are in your fifth coaching season. How would you define the Tyrone Ellis coaching philosophy and what is the most important thing for you in your relationship with each player?
The foundation of my coaching philosophy is based on Humility, Trust, and Discipline. The X’s and O’s change depending on your personnel, but if the players have these character traits, we can adapt to any situation. The three most important things in my relationship with each player are Communication, Trust, and Respect.
You have many interesting players that have played in the NBA as well as guys out of college looking to get to the NBA. One very interesting player is 201cm forward Derrick Jones who played one season at UNLV and already played with the Phoenix Suns this season. How have you seen his development as a rookie and how much NBA potential does he have?
Initially DJ was supposed to be with me the majority of the D-League season, but he developed faster than expected and they recalled him. DJ’s NBA potential is very high. He is an unbelievable athlete and also an unbelievable person. He embraced the process and got better.
I can imagine your long term goal is to being an NBA coach, but have you ever thought of testing the waters overseas as a head coach?
Absolutely, I will definitely coach overseas! I’ve learned this season that you never know where basketball will take you.
You last played for the Opel Skyliners in the 2004-2005 season and 12 years have gone by. Do you still have contact to some of the guys or have you lost all contact?
I have kept in contact with Gordie over the years. I spoke with Pascal on linked in last summer. Chris, is the only other person I kept in constant contact with.
One of the last BBL dinosaurs from back in the day your ex teammate Bernd Kruel retired last year at the age of 40. What memories do you have of him and does his underrated passing out of the post still dwell in your mind?
When I think of Bernd I immediately start to smile. I have more memories of his jokes and his dancing, Bernd was freaking hilarious!! Basketball wise, he accepted his role and was great at it.
You played in countries like Spain and Italy, but when will you make a visit back to Europe and come to Frankfurt? Gordon Herbert is still there as head coach and could probably come up with some unforgettable Skyliner stories from 2004.
I would love to come and visit Frankfurt. I have a lot of great memories in Frankfurt, I miss the staff, and I would love to hang out with Gordie. We have a lot of great memories!
If you had to construct your own NBA Rushmore, which 4 heads would you choose?
Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kobe Bryant, Lebron James
Lebron finally brought an NBA title to the Cavs. Where does he stand at the moment in the never ending debate with where he stands as the best of all-time?
Lebron is amazing!! I’ve seen him in person and he is amazing. I would never consider him to be the best. Lebron doesn’t play both sides of the ball like Michael Jordan and Kobe did. Just compare the 1st All Defense awards.
What was the last movie that you saw?
The last movie I saw was Get Out.
Thanks Ty for the Chat.