Eagle has landed... in the ACBF HOF
By CHRIS LARICK
For the Star Beacon
For years, Brad Ellis was king of the road, trying to find the perfect circumstances for him and his family.
The road eventually circled back to where he started, Geneva. Whatever his expectations, Ellis found you can go home again — and prosper.
“This is where I was meant to be,” said Ellis, who will be inducted into the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation Hall of Fame on March 25 as a player and coach.
“I never felt stress at Geneva,” Ellis said of coming back to become a high school head coach again.
BRAD ELLIS: “We had a good administration at Geneva — (principal) Joanna Daniels, (superintendent) Ron Donatone and (athletic director) Norm Urcheck. I had great kids from good families. In eight years, I never had a problem (with stress). I enjoyed my eight years here.”
He couldn’t say the same of his previous stint as a head coach at Hudson, when he thought he was having a heart attack in his second of two years at that post. The pain turned out to be acid reflux caused by tension, but it was enough to get him to step away from the head job and become an assistant at Stow for five years under David Close, the former head coach at Riverside.
“We had a good administration at Geneva — (principal) Joanna Daniels, (superintendent) Ron Donatone and (athletic director) Norm Urcheck,” Ellis said. “I had great kids from good families. In eight years, I never had a problem (with stress). I enjoyed my eight years here.”
Eagle fans enjoyed them, too. Ellis’ success at Geneva in eight seasons at the helm included a a 94-58 (.618) overall record, two Northeastern Conference championships and a district final appearance. That followed a span in which the Eagles went 29-88 (.248). Since he left the head basketball job, Geneva has posted a 22-81 (.214) mark.
Ellis showed that he was a basketball prodigy early. His father, Ray, was coaching a Geneva Midget League team and took Brad to practice when he was 7. A youngster had to be eight years old to play in the league, but Brad impressed everyone enough in drills that halfway through the season they made an exception especially for him and allowed him to play.
He played for Geneva’s junior high school team, then moved on to start at shooting guard for three years in high school under legendary Bill Koval, a member of the first class inducted into the ACBF’s Hall of Fame. Koval, now his father-in-law, stressed fundamentally sound play.
“We were very patient and played for a good shot,” Ellis said. “His philosophy was to make the other team play defense, move the ball around, get good shots and not turn the ball over.”
In Ellis’s sophomore year the Eagles went 15-5. They were about a .500 team when he was a junior before hitting their stride the following season, when they went 18-2 and won the NEC championship. That Geneva team started Ellis, Tony Tersigni at the point, then-sophomore Jay McHugh (also in the ACBF Hall of Fame) at a third guard, 6-foot-2 or 6-foot-3 Tony Hassett at forward and 6-foot-5 Mark Legg at center.
“We were seeded number one in the districts but got upset in the sectional championship against Nordonia,” Ellis said. “Mentor wound up winning the district and we had beaten Mentor by 16 points in the regular season. That still haunts me. The other game that haunts me is a sectional championship game when I was coaching when we were seeded number one at the Madison district and lost to Lake Catholic in the sectional championship game.”
During his high school years Ellis was a second-team All-NEC selection as a junior, then was named first team on the Star Beacon All-Ashtabula County and Coaches’ All-NEC squads. He was an all-district selection in addition to being honorable mention All-Ohio.
After graduation, Ellis was recruited by Bowling Green and Miami, both of whom wanted him to walk on and attempt to earn a scholarship. But he wanted to play right away, bringing his choices down to Hiram, Wittenberg and Allegheny.
The deciding factor was the presence of Geneva graduate Ernie Pasqualone, another ACBF Hall of Famer, at that time a senior at Hiram.
“I felt comfortable there and I liked the school,” Ellis said.
The future looked bright for Hiram at the time, with three senior starters returning to long-time coach Bill Hollinger’s team. But one of the three was seriously injured in a motorcycle accident. When the two others found out about it, they chose to transfer. One of those two, Kevin Williams, had led the Cleveland area in rebounding while in high school.
“We really stru,ggled my freshman and sophomore years,” Ellis said. “My junior and senior years we were around .500.”
Ellis started at shooting guard all four years, earning honorable-mention all-star status on the league team as a freshman and as a starter the other three years. His junior year, he injured his knee, but missed just four games thanks to a new (at the time) surgical procedure, arthroscopic surgery.
“I was one of the first they tried it on,” he said of the operation.
By the time he left Hiram, Ellis ranked as one of the top five scorers in school history, averaging 18 points a game as a senior.
“Now, I’m probably 12th or 13th,” he said.
With graduation came a succession of jobs, the first with another ACBF Hall of Famer, Harry Fails. Fails had contacted Koval, by now (or very soon to be) Ellis’ father-in-law. Fails needed a JV coach at Alliance High School and wondered if Gary Kreilach was interested in the job. Kreilach wasn’t, but Ellis, who would go on to spend two years there, was.
Then Ellis caught another break.
“When I was (at Alliance), I went down to Ohio University for a basketball camp,” Ellis said. “I got to know them and I got a job as a graduate assistant at OU, spent 1983 and 1984 there.”
Then it was on to Madison Plains High School for his first head coaching job in London, Ohio, as a special education teacher and head basketball coach.
“The program had won four games in the past five years,” Ellis said. “It was a struggle. The first yea, we won three games, the next year, 12. If not for another offer, I might still be there. But Allegheny College was looking for an assistant and called OU At the time, I wanted to get into college coaching. This was before I had kids. Under John Reynde, we had two great years in the top 10 of the NCAA Division 3. We were 22-8 and 24-6.”
After those two years, over at Hiram, Hollnger was retiring and the school called Ellis in to replace him. Hiram had begun a losing cycle. Ellis’s teams won six games his first year, eight the second and 11 the third.
The program was on the rebound, but Ellis, who by now had two young children, wasn’t happy. Though promised one, he never got a full-time assistant. Doing all of the recruiting was getting to him.
“We were getting better,” he said. “I had recruited five players that wound up in their hall of fame. My first recruiting class won 18 games the year after I left. I recruited Northeast Ohio, Columbus, Erie and Pittsburgh.”
Sick of recruiting, Ellis fled back to high school coaching, accepting a job at Hudson High School as head coach. In two years there, his teams went 16-6 and 13-8, but the stress caused him the previously mentioned fears for his health. He kept teaching at Hudson but worked under Close at Stow until summoned to Geneva, returning in 1999.
This time, stress was not a factor.
“I had great kids who worked extremely hard,” Ellis said. “We didn’t have the best athletes the first two years, so I used a controlled tempo. In my third year, we went 19-5 before losing in the district finals to Mentor.”
That season was probably Ellis’ best coaching job, considering the way the team looked before the season started. It was a squad without much size, speed or great athleticism, sort of a reflection of its coach.
“In the Euclid summer league and in shootouts, I don’t think we won a game,” he said. “I studied films and finally put in the Princeton offense. We had five guards basically. The offense was perfect. The kids worked hard on it and loved it.”
Ellis started Ron and Nick Carimi, Willie Landphair, Tom Davidson and Manny Zayas. Pat Olson, Lou Nicholson, Shaun Parker, Chris Sholtis , Scott Stuckert, Jake Whalen and Nick Brown also played. Both Carimis were good three-point shooters, as was Zayas and Nicholson off the bench. Landphair ran the team from the point. Davison did a bit of everything and, though only 6-foot-2, was a tough rebounder. The Eagles rolled to the NEC championship and all the way to the district finals. At the end of the season, Davidson was named the county and NEC Player of the Year.
Ellis stayed in the head coaching job for eight years, the longest stint of his career, going 94-58. He retired from that job to accept the post of athletic director, thinking that would give him more free time with his family. But he found the time requirements just as demanding.
“That’s why I got out of coaching,” he said. “I didn’t like it (the AD job). It wasn’t what I thought it was.”
Ellis is a good golfer (a two handicap), so when that position opened, he took the head boys job and left the AD job behind. He has been doing it for five years now and has led the Eagles to two league championships. He works at Hemlock Springs Golf Course in the summers.
While at Geneva, Ellis started dating Kim Koval, his coach’s daughter. The two continued a long-distance romance during college, with Brad at Hiram and Kim at Grove City. They married after college graduation, in 1981. Kim is now teaching second grade at Cork Elementary School, while Brad continues to teach at Geneva (Career Based Education).
The Ellises have three children: Elizabeth (26), now a fifth-grade teacher at Geneva-Platt R. Spencer Elementary School; Stephen (24), a sales representative for Mussan Sales, which deals in heating and cooling products; and Mike (19), a freshman at Baldwin-Wallace majoring in early childhood education and special education. Stephen was a standout in golf at Geneva.