Steve Wojciechowski and a basketball family led Henry Ellenson to Marquette

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Basketball is the driving force of the Ellenson family. John and Holly Ellenson were both college basketball players. They now have four kids: three sons playing college basketball and a daughter, Ella, who is junior in high school and is drawing high-major college interest in their hometown of Rice Lake, Wisconsin.

Monday night was special for the Ellenson family as Wally, a junior transfer from Minnesota, and Henry, a highly-regarded freshman, made their debut at Marquette against middle brother, Ellwood, and NAIA Valley City State.

The 98-57 exhibition win for the Golden Eagles will, in all likelihood, be the last time all three Ellenson brothers share the court at the same time.

“With all the brothers playing here tonight,” Henry told reporters after the game, “it’s definitely a day I’ll never forget.”

Henry is Marquette’s first McDonald’s All-American since 1982. Head coach Steve Wojciechowski knew that family mattered to the Ellensons when he started recruiting him. Wally’s addition, and Monday’s exhibition, were all a part of his plan to accelerate the Golden Eagles’ return to relevance.

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After a long and successful stint as an assistant coach at Duke, Wojciechowski took the head coaching job at Marquette on April 1, 2014. The first-time head coach almost immediately set his sights north to in-state big man Henry Ellenson.

Traveling 300-plus miles from Milwaukee to Rice Lake, Wisconsin, Wojciechowski first watched Henry Ellenson play in an open gym at Rice Lake High School that spring. As a consensus top-100 national prospect and the younger brother of two college basketball players, Wojciechowski knew Ellenson was talented and had the bloodlines but what he saw in the open gym still caught him off-guard.

“I watched Henry work out at 5:30 in the morning before school started. And he’s in there at 6-foot-11, doing ball-handling drills, and working himself out with the help of his sister. That kind of drive for a young player is not normal,” Wojciechowski recalled to NBCSports.com.

“Coach got to see me work out and he got to see my sister (Ella) work out that day,” Ellenson said with a laugh. “I think he got a sense of how my family is.”

Watching the open gym, the man commonly known in basketball circles as Coach Wojo, knew that he would be handling everything Ellenson on his own. Most head coaches delegate recruiting calls and responsibilities to assistant coaches. Wojciechowski made it a point to be the lead recruiter of Henry and his tight-knit family.

Henry describes his family as a “big basketball family” and the four Ellenson children come from parents who both played college hoops. John Ellenson played at Marquette and Wisconsin before playing for one year overseas while Holly Ellenson played college basketball at Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

Holly eventually became the girls basketball coach and a physical education teacher at Rice Lake High School. Four days after Henry was born, he was brought to his first basketball game, as Holly coached a road game 48 hours after leaving the hospital.

With a spare set of keys to the local high school gym, the three Ellenson boys were constantly playing basketball while growing up. As the youngest of the three brothers, Henry had to use his skill to match up with his more physically imposing older brothers until he hit his growth spurt. The 6-foot-6 Wally started his career at Minnesota as a dual-sport athlete also competing in high jump and 6-foot-8 Ellwood began his basketball career at Division II Bemidji State. As his older brothers left the house, Henry eventually grew to 6-foot-10 by the middle of high school.

With an ability to hit 3-pointers or handle the ball in the open floor like a guard, Henry elevated to a national recruit and he was eventually selected for the gold-medal winning USA Basketball U17 FIBA World Championship team last summer.

Blueblood college basketball programs like Duke, Kentucky, North Carolina and UCLA came calling, but Henry was most impressed that the head coach of the in-state school kept aggressively pursuing him without the aid of assistant coaches.

“Coach [Wojo] was the only head coach that called me every time and that made a big impression on me,” Henry said.

The recruiting of the Ellenson family turned up another level once Wally transferred into the Marquette men’s basketball program from Minnesota.

Having his older brother commit to Marquette certainly helped in recruiting, but Henry was most sold on his future coach’s vision of how he would use the versatile big man. Henry sees himself as a basketball player and he doesn’t like to label his game by a position on the floor. UCLA tried to sell Henry on being the next Kevin Love and other schools also compared him to past elite big men. Wojciechowski just wanted Henry to be himself and play his game.

“The playing style was huge,” Henry said of his reasons for picking the Golden Eagles. “I get to play all over the floor. I can handle a bit and shoot. I get a lot of freedom that I wouldn’t get in some other places.”

Marquette fans are hoping that kind of freedom allows Henry to have a huge season in what could be his only campaign in college basketball. Ellenson enters the Big East program with a substantial amount of local buzz.

Henry is also anxious to show off his skills on a national level after missing the spring senior all-star game circuit. A broken fifth metacarpal in his left, non-shooting, hand suffered in a state semifinal win for Rice Lake caused Henry to miss the Wisconsin state championship game as well as prestigious events like the McDonald’s All-American Game, Jordan Brand Classic and Nike Hoop Summit.

Without its star big man, Rice Lake lost in the state championship game and Ellenson had to sit on the sidelines and watch the next few weeks while his five-star peers locked horns in front of national recruiting analysts and NBA scouts.

“It was tough to sit out and watch knowing what I can do out there,” Ellenson said.

Once he recovered from the hand injury towards the end of spring, Henry worked hard to prepare for the college basketball season. Marquette saw a glimpse of what Henry was capable of during their overseas exhibition trip to Italy this August. In the first three games of a 4-0 exhibition trip, Ellenson averaged 23.6 points and 8 rebounds per game. He was also dominant in the exhibition win over Ellwood and Valley City State, as Henry had a double-double by halftime and finished with 16 points, 17 rebounds, five assists and two blocks in 27 minutes of action.

Wojciechowski has also been pleasantly surprised to see how open his new star has been to coaching and taking criticism since Henry joined the program.

“Until you get a player on a day-to-day basis, you don’t know how they’ll respond to coaching. Can you tell him the truth, even if the truth is hard?” Wojciechowski said. “Henry embraces that. He’s a guy, like most great players, who wants to be told how he can get better. And I admire that about him.”

Marquette is certainly hoping Henry and a talented freshman class can be as good as advertised. The program is trying to make the NCAA tournament after last season’s injury-riddled campaign. Henry being paired with 6-foot-10 big man Luke Fischer will be a tough combination for any team to stop.

“We can feed off of each other,” Ellenson said of Fischer. “Most teams don’t have two guys that size, but if they do, I can step out and open up some space for him inside.”

It will also be a fun season at Marquette for Henry because he gets to play with Wally, who sat out last basketball season due to NCAA transfer restrictions.

Now back with Wally for the first time since high school, Henry gets to team up with the elbow-throwing older sibling who used to beat him up during games of one-on-one-on-one. Henry is the star basketball player now, but Wally has aspirations of being an Olympic athlete in the high jump after starting his outdoor track career as a three-time, first-team All-American at both Minnesota and Marquette.

Basketball has always been the bond between the Ellenson brothers and the Golden Eagles are hoping to use their competitive fire as a key ingredient for this season. Although only a true freshman, Henry is going to be the focus of attention for opponent’s scouting reports and he’ll be asked to be a team leader this season.

“We’re going to need him to set an example as the team’s best player,” Wojciechowski said. “When you’re that good, you have to be a leader and I think he’ll embrace those challenges.”

Tennessee center Tamari Key out for season with blood clots

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee senior center Tamari Key will miss the rest of this season because of blood clots in her lungs, coach Kellie Harper said.

Doctors found the issue during testing. Key is expected to make a full recovery after treatment from University of Tennessee doctors, Harper said, adding that her sole concern is Key getting the medical care she needs to heal and return to full strength.

Key missed the first game of her career in a win Tuesday night over Chattanooga after playing her first 99.

“This is much bigger than basketball. We are so grateful that this medical condition was caught,” Harper said in a statement. “Our entire program will be right beside Tamari during this process and welcomes prayers and positive thoughts from Lady Vol Nation and beyond.”

The Lady Vols opened the season ranked fifth but currently are 5-5.

The 6-foot-6 Key from Cary, North Carolina, currently is Tennessee’s third-leading scorer averaging 8.4 points a game and averaged 4.2 rebounds per game. She started all 34 games as the Lady Vols reached their first Sweet 16 since 2016 last season and set the school record with 119 blocked shots.

Key had 18 blocks this season and 295 for her career, five away from becoming the eighth woman to reach that mark in Southeastern Conference history.

No. 7 Tennessee beats Eastern Kentucky, win streak hits 7

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tyreke Key scored 10 of the first 12 points of the second half and finished with 17, and No. 7 Tennessee overcame a sluggish first half and beat Eastern Kentucky 84-49 on Wednesday night.

“Tyreke is handling the ball now,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “That’s all new to him. He keeps getting better.”

The Volunteers (8-1) struggled in the first half but still built an 11-point lead over Eastern Kentucky (4-5) on the way to their seventh straight victory.

Key led Tennessee in scoring before leaving with a cramp in his right leg with 6:15 left in the game. Julian Phillips had 16 points and 10 rebounds, and Zakai Zeigler and Uros Plavsic added 13 points apiece. Olivier Nkamhoua scored 10.

“I’m still settling in,” said Key, a transfer from Indiana State who didn’t play last year while recovering from an injury. “This is a new role. I’m taking steps every day and keep learning.”

Eastern Kentucky, which came into the game averaging 83.5 points, was held well below that total due to 17% (6 for 35) shooting from long range and 22% (15 for 68) overall. Leland Walker led the Colonels with 13 points.

It was the seventh time this season Tennessee has held its opponent to 50 or fewer points.

“(Tennessee) is the best defensive team in the country,” Eastern Kentucky coach A.W. Hamilton said. “I think they’re the best team in the country.”

At one point in the first half, Tennessee was shooting 20% and still leading by 10 points. The teams combined to shoot 4 of 32 from 3-point range in the first 20 minutes. The Vols, who shot 24% (8 of 34), led 32-21 at the break.

“If we can’t make shots, can you find a way to win the game?” Barnes said. “When the shot’s not going in, find a way to play. The first thing we talk about is our defense.”

Tennessee shot 41 free throws. Phillips, a true freshman, was 7 of 10.

“(Phillips) has learned the pace of the game,” Barnes said. “I’m not sure there’s been a more effective freshman in the country (this season).”

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Since its early season slip against Colorado, Tennessee has had a steady ascent in the rankings. The Vols’ next two games – neutral site (Brooklyn) against No, 13 Maryland (Dec. 11) and at No. 10 Arizona (Dec. 17) – will go a long way toward justifying the No. 7 ranking.

BIG PICTURE

Eastern Kentucky: The Colonels’ run-and-gun style of offense had them averaging 83.5 points through their first eight games. They ran into a defensive buzz saw in Tennessee, which was yielding just over 51 points.

Tennessee: Santiago Vescovi sat out his second straight game with a shoulder problem. He is expected to be ready to play Sunday against Maryland. . The Vols have won seven in a row since their loss to Colorado.

UP NEXT

Eastern Kentucky: The Colonels host Boyce College on Saturday.

Tennessee: Take on No. 13 Maryland on Sunday at the Hall of Fame Invitational in New York.

Hoggard scores career-high 23, Michigan State snaps 2-game skid

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A.J. Hoggard scored a career-high 23 points, Joey Hauser had 12 points and 15 rebounds and Michigan State beat Penn State 67-58 on Wednesday night to snap a two-game losing streak.

Michigan State (6-4, 1-1 Big Ten) avoided going .500 or worse after 10 games for the first time in 18 seasons.

Hoggard blocked an open layup with less than a minute to play and Hauser grabbed the rebound before being fouled and making two free throws at the other end for a 66-58 lead.

Hoggard, Hauser and Tyson Walker combined for 31 of Michigan State’s 32 second-half points.

The Michigan State defense allowed only one made field goal in the final five minutes. Penn State was just 1 of 9 from 3-point range in the second half after 7 of 18 before halftime.

Walker scored 10 of his 14 points in the second half for Michigan State. Hoggard, who entered third in the conference in assists at 6.3, had six rebounds, two assists and one key block.

Hoggard gave Michigan State 35-33 lead – its first since 4-2 – after back-to-back three-point plays with 59.3 seconds left in the first half. It was tied at 35-all at the break.

Seth Lundy scored 16 points and Jalen Pickett had 13 points, 17 rebounds and eight assists for Penn State (6-3, 0-1)

Michigan State hosts Brown on Saturday. Penn State, which hadn’t played since a double-overtime loss to Clemson on Nov. 29, plays at No. 17 Illinois on Saturday.

No. 7 Virginia Tech posts 9th straight win, beats Boston College 73-58

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BOSTON — Reigning Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year Elizabeth Kitley had 22 points and 12 rebounds, and Cayla King scored 16 on Wednesday night to lead No. 7 Virginia Tech to a 73-58 victory over Boston College, the Hokies’ ninth straight win.

Taylor Soule, one of two BC transfers on the roster for Virginia Tech (9-0, 1-0 ACC), added nine points and five rebounds. Soule scored more than 1,500 points and grabbed almost 700 rebounds in four seasons at BC, earning All-ACC honors three times.

Andrea Daley scored 15 points and Maria Gakdeng scored 14 for BC (7-4, 0-1). They each grabbed six rebounds.

Virginia Tech scored 17 of the game’s first 21 points and led by as many as 19 in the third quarter before BC cut the deficit to 10 in the fourth. Leading 64-54 with under three minutes left and the shot clock expiring, Kayana Traylor hit a 3-pointer for the Hokies.

Gakdeng missed two free throws for BC, and then Kitley scored from inside to make it a 15-point game.

Clara Ford, who also played four years in Chestnut Hill, pitched in 2 points in 2 minutes against her former team.

BIG PICTURE

At No. 7, the Hokies have the highest ranking in the program’s history. With the victory over BC, a 10th straight win against North Carolina-Asheville on Sunday would leave Virginia Tech in position to move up even higher should a top five team falter.

UP NEXT

Virginia Tech: Hosts North Carolina-Asheville on Sunday.

Boston College: Hosts Albany on Saturday.

Michigan’s Jaelin Llewellyn out for season with knee injury

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan point guard Jaelin Llewellyn is out for the rest of the season with an injured left knee and is expected to have surgery next month.

Wolverines coach Juwan Howard made the announcement three days after Llewellyn was hurt in a loss to Kentucky in London.

Llewellyn transferred to Michigan from Princeton last spring and that seemed to lead to Frankie Collins transferring to Arizona State after a solid freshman season for the Wolverines.

Llewellyn averaged seven points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists in eight games at Michigan. He was an All-Ivy League player last season and averaged nearly 16 points over three seasons at Princeton.