Ellis, Marquette making waves in Big East
Sometimes things that appear obvious in retrospect are more like revelations when they happen. So it seemed to Krystal Ellis when she and her mother, Brenda, were driving to a volleyball tournament in Milwaukee a couple of years ago and Ellis suddenly said, "You know what? I want to go to Marquette."
It made sense. Ellis wasn't heavily recruited, although now she has become one of those, "Why didn't we know better?" players to other programs. Back then, though, hometown Marquette was the school that most wanted her. She is from Racine, Wis., and playing for the Golden Eagles would allow her to keep seeing her family all the time, and for them to watch her.
"I like being close," Ellis said.
A 5-foot-9 guard, Ellis is a big reason No. 19 Marquette has been kind of a surprise team in the Big East this season. The Golden Eagles, 17-2 overall and 5-1 in the league, are in the gantlet stretch of their schedule. Three of their next four games are against the "marquee" teams of the Big East: Notre Dame (Tuesday), Rutgers (Jan. 30) and UConn (Feb. 3).
The Irish and the Huskies will visit Milwaukee, and the Scarlet Knights will play host to the Golden Eagles. The fourth game in that stretch is at Cincinnati (Saturday).
Ellis has proved her scoring ability all season. She has been in double figures in 16 of 19 games, getting 20 or more points nine times. And check out her points in her past six games, from the most recent back: 24, 21, 27, 29, 19 and a career-best 33.
However, Marquette has needed Ellis to do more than score; she generally is handling the point guard role, too. She's averaging 19.3 points, 4.0 assists, 3.6 rebounds and 2.4 steals. She's shooting 47.1 percent from the field.
Guess what? Those look a lot like the kind of numbers current Phoenix Mercury standout Cappie Pondexter put up when she was at Rutgers.
I've always called players such as Ellis "the kid who keeps making the roundup." As in the roundup of games in the newspaper, where every few days, it's the same thing: "Player X had 20-something points to lead ." So that if you didn't really recognize that player's name when the season started, you certainly knew it very well by January.
This is a senior-heavy Marquette team -- there are four of them in forwards Christina Quaye, Danielle Kamm, Jasmine McCullough and Efueko Osagie-Landry -- and it shouldn't be overlooked that they are a big factor in why Marquette has been as successful as it has been thus far. Quaye is averaging 15.7 points and 6.5 rebounds, Kamm 10.6 and 5.8.
But it's a sophomore, Ellis, who typically is running the show on court. And that always can pose its challenges.
"I'm actually still adjusting to it," Ellis said. "It's hard, especially since we have our seniors. But I'm learning that I need to be the leader."
Marquette coach Terri Mitchell said, "She's made a lot of progress -- at the beginning of the year, she still wouldn't say a word. Now, unless I feel adamant about a certain play, I'm looking for her to make those decisions as much as possible on court.
"She's still looking at the bench sometimes to get that extra communication in running the team. But like at DePaul, when it's so noisy you can't hear anything, I don't want her to be looking back at us. We want her confident enough to be able to read the game."
Mitchell sized up Ellis in high school as a player of great promise who hadn't really figured out what hard work was. Some kids balk -- to say the very least -- when that topic comes up. But Ellis didn't.
"We had some honest conversations about what it would take to succeed at this level," Mitchell said. "And she didn't back away; she was willing to listen to criticism. She jumped at the opportunity to get better at everything. But I can't say we knew for sure it would happen like this when we saw her in high school. We saw an athlete who had the potential."
Last season, Marquette made the postseason WNIT and didn't lose until the final at Kansas State. By then, Ellis already had moved into the point because Marquette really had to have her there after a teammate's injury.
"When I was a freshman, I didn't understand why I needed to be the point guard," Ellis said, sounding as though that was a very long time ago. "So I had to learn how to set things up, and it became something I knew I could do."Mechelle Voepel of The Kansas City Star is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.