Marquette’s Wally Ellenson no longer in men’s hoops program, will remain on scholarship w/track and field. Brother Henry left after one year
— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN) April 21, 2016
It was possibly the poorest kept secret in in recent #mubb history but Wally Ellenson is no longer a part of the Marquette basketball program. There was a lot of evidence leading up to today’s announcement, most of which was detailed yesterday here at Paint Touches. The 6”6 redshirt junior will stay at Marquette on a full track scholarship, where he is a standout athlete and Olympic hopeful. The departure brings Marquette down to 12 scholarship players for the 16-17 season. The Marquette faithful are understandably split about how to feel about this departure. I’ll try my best to break down the pros and cons of this recent roster move.
Why this is bad for Marquette:
The main issue with this departure is a matter of perception. While we are unlikely to ever hear the unfiltered story from either side, there is certainly enough to speculate that Wally’s departure was not of his own choosing. Now this in and of itself is not a bad thing. Fans of the sport might be uncomfortable admitting this, but players get cut from athletic teams all the time. Scholarships for most schools are only 1 year and they are a limited resource. Coaches make cuts in order to strengthen their program. What makes the Wally situation unique is who he is related to.
Whether fair or not, there has been a belief amongst some fans…mostly of a certain program 90 miles west of Milwaukee…that Wally, a bottom of the rotation player for Minnesota, was only recruited as a transfer by Wojo and Co. in order to secure a commitment from Wally’s much more talented younger brother. While not accurate, this perception creates a story where Wally was brought in as a catspaw to attract Henry, and now that Henry has left for the NBA, is being discarded. This story has the potential to be used by other coaches when recruiting against Marquette in the future. There is also the possibility that this could damage Wojo’s relationship with high school basketball coaches in Wisconsin. Given that over half of last year’s roster was from the Cheesehead state, this could have a very negative impact on future recruiting. On the other hand, having all those players from the state might counter that possibility if all those players have positive Marquette experiences.
The most likely piece of fallout to occur is within the Ellenson family itself. We have already seen Mama Ellenson’s reaction to the announcement:
Smoke and Mirrors https://t.co/zF5EXhJ6qd
— Holly Ellenson (@HollyJElle) April 21, 2016
That, combined with the mass Ellenson unfollowing of Wojo and MUBB on twitter seems to indicate that the two sides are currently not on speaking terms. Now the Ellensons and Wojo would hardly be the first family and coach pair to not leave on the best of terms. But the youngest male Ellenson is no ordinary recruit. Henry will be Marquette’s first lottery pick in the modern era. Being on good terms with a budding NBA star who you helped develop can be a huge boon to a coach. If the two sides remain divided we might be unlikely to see Henry make any campus appearances while Wojo is coach. On another angle, this might prevent Ella Ellenson, a highly regarded women’s basketball recruit, from following her brothers’ path.
The last consideration is how this might affect the current players on the Marquette squad. Players tend to bond very closely and they could view this as a betrayal.
Why this is good for Marquette:
Marquette needs a PF on the roster next season. The coaches know it, the fans know it, and the players know it. The roster as it stands currently contains exactly two bigs, Luke Fischer and Matt Heldt, neither of whom can play the PF position. Marquette had issues this season with rebounding and interior defense, and that was with Henry roaming the paint. With 13 scholarship players in tow, someone had to be let go in order to address this pressing need. Big East Coast Bias did a good job breaking down the candidate in this article a few days ago. From a program perspective, Wally is by far the best option to be “pole-axed.” He only has one year of eligibility left, and was likely to be a back of the rotation player at best. Wally’s departure allows Wojo to pick up a player at a position they desperately need. They can fill it either by bringing in a grad transfer like LG Gill, who could make a huge impact in his one year. Or they could get a four year player like Kalif Young who might not make an immediate impact, but would still play more than Wally, and address the need for a big in 2017-2018. Fans might not like the idea of a player getting cut for another, but assuming Marquette is able to land either Gill, Young, or another PF, than the Marquette program is in a lot better place than it was before. Gill or Young combined with all the experience returning for Marquette is likely to be enough for a return to the NCAA tournament.
Where do we go from here?
All the potential for negatives are based in perception and assumptions. The potential for positives are realities. Marquette needed a scholarship for a PF, it now has that. The media might pick up the story of Wally being used as bait and then cut, but without statements from the Ellensons or Marquette the story won’t last. Coaches could use it to negatively recruit but any experienced recruiter could deflect that easily. It’s also possible that this could rub certain coaches associated with the Ellensons the wrong way, but it would be very specific coaches from programs that honestly don’t produce a ton of talent. The Ellensons and Wojo may keep their relationship or may not, only time will tell. But most fans, players, and stakeholders would trade that relationship if it means securing a piece that can get Marquette back to the NCAA tournament.
It certainly seems like that the final piece is on its way. Both LG Gill and Kalif Young are set to visit the last weekend in April. Young is especially promising, given that he has cancelled his official visits to Providence and Alabama, but has kept it with Marquette. Trading Wally Ellenson for Kalif Young would be a win for the program.
It also helps, in my mind, that Wally has been given a full scholarship in track. This allows Marquette to make this move without disrupting Wally’s academic career. He can earn his Marquette degree without having to pay a cent for it. He just won’t be playing basketball. Which to be perfectly honest, isn’t much different from what he was going to be doing with a basketball scholarship.