By Joe Henricksen
The Evanston basketball coaching job has long been considered one of the top coaching positions in the Chicago area. Now the highly-successful and respected Mike Ellis of Peoria Richwoods will get a crack at running it.
The 40-year-old Ellis has been named the new head coach at Evanston, capping off a search process that included a ton of interest and high-profile candidates. Ellis replaces former coach Bobby Locke and brings a whole lot to the table and an impressive résumé.
"When I first started looking into the job and talked with various people, everyone mentioned what a great job and place Evanston is," said Ellis, who has averaged over 22 wins a season in the basketball hotbed community of Peoria. "When I went up there and made my visit I immediately recognized that and knew this was the place for me and my family. Evanston has a great tradition, has had some terrific coaches and has had a lot of success. What I hope to bring to Evanston is a teacher and coach that the faculty and students can believe in."
Evanston welcomes a coach who possesses the rare combination of still being young in the coaching profession but with experience and a high level of success. And with that combination of youth and past experience, Ellis can bring stability and a potential long-term answer to the Wildkit basketball program.
Over a 63-year period at Evanston -- from 1921 to 1984 -- the program had just three coaches in Roscoe Hampton, Jack Burmaster and Herb Williams. Since that time no coach has remained on the bench for more than six years, a group that includes Mike Hart for five years, Conte Stamas for six years, Paul Pryma for five years and Bobby Locke for the past five years.
Ellis, who was named the Best Young High School Coach in Illinois by the City/Suburban Hoops Report in 2007, led Richwoods to a 30-3 record and a second-place finish in Class 3A last season. The Knights, who were the only team of the eight playing in Peoria without a Division I recruit, fell to Hillcrest in the state title game. Richwoods also finished second in the state in 2006, losing to Derrick Rose and Simeon in an overtime heartbreaker.
In seven seasons as head coach in a town that loves its basketball, Ellis led Richwoods to a 156-55 overall record with six regional championships, three sectional titles and a pair of second-place state trophies. In addition, he is accustomed to coaching in a high-pressure job. Richwoods spent weeks ranked No. 1 in the state a year ago and has constantly battled rival heavyweights Peoria Central and Peoria Manual for respect in a basketball town.
Prior to taking over the Richwoods program, Ellis spent time as an assistant coach under a pair of former successful Richwoods coaches -- Wayne Hammerton and Bob Darling. In a rather short time since taking over for Darling, Ellis has built a reputation for being extremely organized, with his teams being prepared and opponents well scouted.
In addition to the teaching and basketball side of things, Ellis also felt a sense of community at Evanston, something that was certainly different than what he was accustomed to in the multiple high school town of Peoria.
"One of the real attractive things about Evanston was that sense of community and pride, both within the high school and in the community," said Ellis. "Peoria is a great community, but the fact is the people are split up with those that go with Central, some with Manual and some with Richwoods. I love what Evanston offers in that regard."
Ellis will get the ball rolling in less than two months with a pair of Division I prospects to jumpstart his Evanston coaching career. The return of veteran guard Garrett Jones and the rising and still-improving James Farr instantly makes the Wildkits a contender in the Jereme Richmond-less Central Suburban League South.