It’s a blunder Hood readily admits to.
“I apologize publicly that I only started him three years,” he said.
Still, Ellis gave his high school coach his very best in the three years as a Blue Devil standout, accumulating 1,710 career points and 989 rebounds before graduating in 1979. He then went on to have a stellar career at the University of Tennessee, where he was a two-time Southeastern Conference Player of the Year in 1982 and ’83.
Thirty-four years later, Hood still has deep admiration for the Marietta native and 17-year NBA veteran.
So does Tennessee, which won’t allow anyone else to wear Ellis’ No. 14 jersey. The school announced last week that the number will be retired during one of the Volunteers’ home games next season.
“I’m taken back by it, really,” the 52-year-old Ellis said. “It’s a great honor. I’m excited about it. I’m looking forward to that game next year and to get it done.”
Ellis will become the fourth Tennessee men’s basketball player to have his number retired, joining Bernard King (53), Allan Houston (20), and Ernie Grunfeld (22).
A two-time All-American under coach Don DeVoe, the 6-foot-7 Ellis improved constantly during his four-year stint with the Vols. He raised his scoring average from 7.1 points as a freshman team to 22.6 as a senior. He ended his Tennessee career third all time in scoring with 2,065 points, and he is now sixth on the all-time scoring list.
The turning point of Ellis’ Tennessee career came during his sophomore year, when his first NCAA tournament game turned out to be his most memorable one. He nailed the game-winning shot during overtime to beat Virginia Commonwealth 58-56 in the second round of the 1981 NCAA tournament.
It was then when Ellis believed he had potential to play at the next level.
“We had the ball and controlled it, and at the end of the game, the ball came to me and I hit the shot to win it,” Ellis said. “Back then, there was no shot clock.”
Ellis, who was drafted by the Dallas Mavericks in the summer of 1983, still holds the Tennessee record in field goal percentage in a season, when he shot .654 in 1981-82.
“Dale Ellis represents everything that’s great about being a Tennessee Volunteer,” current Vols coach Cuonzo Martin said in a release. “He performed at a championship level while he was here.”
Switching from a post player to a perimeter, Ellis went on to play 17 seasons for six different NBA teams. He was the NBA’s Most Improved Player in 1987 and became the first player in NBA history to make 1,000 3-pointers.
Ellis ended his professional career in 2000 and still ranks eighth in NBA history in 3-pointer made (1,719) and 26th in 3-point shooting percentage (.403).
It was a memorable career that all started in Marietta.
When Hood talks about Ellis’ high school days, he remembers one basketball pep rally in particular, when the small forward came on the floor in his school clothes and did a 360-degree dunk in front of the entire school.
“We’d do a little dunking thing every once a while and everyone was chanting, ‘We want Dale,’” Hood said. “Someone gave him a basketball and got him on the floor. He was wearing jeans and casual shoes and he did a 360. Everybody got excited. He was such great player.”
Ellis resides in Marietta and is the president of the Atlanta chapter of the National Basketball Retired Players Association. He and Hood, who retired from Marietta after the 2008-09 season, still keep in touch.