RENO - When David Ellis visited Nevada last fall, he liked the environment. He felt it was like a second home.
The warm and fuzzy feelings he got from the coaching staff and players made the 7-foot 200-pounder from Capital City Christian High School in Sacramento, Calif., who averaged 15 points, 12 rebounds and 8.5 blocks per game, back out of a nonbinding verbal agreement to attend the University of California and sign with the Wolf Pack.
"It was a good program that I knew would get better," said Ellis, who is presently enrolled in summer school. "They were real fun to watch last year. People (I knew) didn't know a lot about Nevada in the beginning, and they started liking the program. They were real fun to watch."
It was a real coup for coach Mark Fox, who recruited him. Fox likes Ellis' upside.
"I remember him calling up, I can't remember what day it was, telling me that he was coming here," Fox said. "When you get that close to somebody ... after he left from his visit here, I was confident that he would come.
"Number one, he has great length. Number two, he has some really good skills. He can shoot the ball and score with his back to the basket. That, and his ability to finish plays, is what stands out. He's thin, but we can work with that. It's hard to teach a guy how to shoot."
At first glance, Ellis appears to be a clone of 6-foot-11 sophomore-to-be Nick Fazekas, who averaged 13 points a game last season. Ellis has almost as much range as Fazekas and is a good shot blocker, too.
"I'm working on low-post moves; finding a go-to move," said Ellis, who works out with the rest of the Wolf Pack players two or three nights a week. "I have a right-handed hook, but coach Fox wants something from both sides of the block."
"If he can do that, he'll be hard to guard," Fox said. "He needs to be able to score over both shoulders."
The big plan is for the 200-pound Ellis to get stronger physically. Fazekas came in at 215 pounds last year, and at times, got pushed around by bigger centers.
"He needs to get more strength overall, especially for his position," Fox said. "There is a lot of pounding and shoving that goes on. We're not as concerned with weight. We're looking more at strength and explosiveness."
And, just like Fazekas, Ellis comes from a family of big folks. His dad is 6-8 and 270 pounds, his mom is 6-foot and his sister, a sophomore at Capital Christian, is 6-6 and starting to draw attention from college coaches.
Ellis, as he was growing up, remembers getting ribbed more for his slender frame than his height, but sluffed it off. He's as easy going as they come until he gets on the hardwood, and then everything changes.
Ellis has always played basketball, but he really started taking to the sport when he started playing AAU ball.
"I got a chance to watch LeBron James play, and I really liked the competition and exposure," Ellis said.
Ellis knows he has plenty of competition at Nevada, and that's fine by him.
"He's going to have to battle (for playing time)," said Fox, who recruited Ellis last year. "There are some guys ahead of him."
The Wolf Pack have five players that occupy the power forward and center spots - Fazekas, Kevinn Pinkney, Chad Bell, who red-shirted last season, Jermaine Washington and Ellis. Washington saw time there last season because of his ability to rebound at the offensive end of the floor. Fox said those two spots are interchangeable.
Ellis realizes he's not expected to start, and that's fine by him.
"I'll get some (time)," Ellis said. "We'll see how the season goes. It depends on how much time I put in now. I know if I work hard, I can get in there. I can just come in, play and do what I have to do."
How much time he gets will depend on how well he defends. Obviously he can block shots, but a big key is how well he stands his ground against bigger players.
"Like any high school player, the biggest transition is how hard they have to play at the defensive end of the floor," Fox said. "Most high school coaches worry about foul trouble. Sometimes there is a transition from having to play every possession."
Contact Darrell Moody at email@example.com or 881-1281.