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From JV to walk-on, Caleb Ellis recounts his journey with UNC basketball

Sophomore guard Caleb Ellis (4) drives to the rim and finishes with contact against Pfeiffer University on Thursday, Jan. 27, 2020. 

Sophomore guard Caleb Ellis (4) drives to the rim and finishes with contact against Pfeiffer University on Thursday, Jan. 27, 2020. 

After high school, Caleb Ellis didn’t expect to play competitive basketball again. He was focused on his studies and pursuing a degree in finance at UNC-Charlotte, but he always hoped for something bigger.

It wasn't just his dream to go to school at UNC-Chapel Hill, but his mother’s, as well. She had attended dental school there, and Ellis says he was her last hope for a family member to attend her alma mater.

Not only did he do just that, but he found a place that felt like home when he transferred to Chapel Hill following his only year at UNC-Charlotte. He said it was an easy transition for him when he settled in with many of his friends from high school who already attended UNC.

Before Ellis even stepped foot on campus, he'd heard about Chapel Hill’s junior varsity basketball program through a friend. He hadn’t thought about it much until he heard a group discussing tryouts while he was shooting around at a gym on campus.

He signed up for tryouts and found himself in a pool of over 100 other students looking to make the team. The tryouts went on for a few days, and by the end of it, he had secured himself a spot.

Jump to two years later, and Ellis, a 6-foot-5 guard, had been called up to the main team. He hardly remembers the moment he was so shocked.

“We were in the weight room and Roy (Williams) came in,” Ellis said. “He called everybody together for a quick meeting and kind of took me to the side where he was standing, and told me that the coaches had been talking. He saw that I had been working hard the last couple years, and they wanted to offer me a spot on the team. I don’t remember exactly what happened after that.”

He recalls all of his teammates jumping up and down and having a great time as they celebrated the moment.

Now, after two seasons on the varsity team and a degree in hand, Ellis looks back on his time with the basketball team with no regrets.

“Being a part of Carolina basketball was never about how much playing time I got, for me,” he said. “I was just thankful to be a part of that program and have the opportunity to put that jersey on, go to practice every day, do workouts with those guys and cheer them on every night.”

He may not have ever been a significant contributor on the court, but he still feels blessed to be in the position that he was after so many years of hard work.

“If there is one thing I’d say to remember me for,” Ellis said, “it’s just how thankful I was and how humbled I was to have the chance to do something that so many people wish they could do.”

There’s a lot that he will miss about his time as a North Carolina basketball player, and he'll never forget a single moment of it. Ellis came a long way since being a first-year at UNC-Charlotte.

“I’m definitely going to miss putting on that jersey and going out there with those guys,” he said. “It will be hard not being able to that the next few years. There’s nothing like running out of that tunnel in the Dean Smith Center with thousands of fans cheering you on. I got chills every time, and if I did it 100 more times, I’d still get chills.”


@DTHSports |

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