Ellis focused on building the character of young Prosper players

Peyton Jefferson,
The Prosper Press
Prosper High School head basketball coach Jonathan Ellis yells from the sidelines during the team's regional semi-final game in 2019 against Midlothian High School at the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland.

Prosper High School basketball coach Jonathan Ellis grew up playing the traditional sports - baseball, football and soccer. He enjoyed them, as most little boys do, but things changed when he entered third grade.

He picked up a basketball. In the first half of the first game he played, he scored eight points. The excitement led him to run up to his father during halftime and give him a hug - to which his father responded, “What are you doing? Get back to the game!”

Ellis has been in love with basketball ever since.

Ellis attended Plano Senior High School, which split its students between two buildings: ninth and tenth graders went to Vines High School, and students moved to Plano Senior for eleventh and twelfth grade.

After playing for the freshman and sophomore team at Vines, Ellis made varsity his junior year - one of three juniors to do so that year.

The varsity basketball team was successful during his two years in the program, going twice to the UIL regional tournament. His senior year, the team fell one game short of going to the state tournament.

After graduating, Ellis accepted a basketball offer at East Texas State University (now Texas A&M - Commerce).

However, after spending the summer in Commerce, he decided to leave basketball behind and further his academic career at Baylor University, where he graduated with a double major in finance and real estate and a minor in corporate communications.

Ellis was driven toward a career in commercial real estate. However, following his graduation in 2001, the terrorist attacks occurred on Sept. 11, 2001 and the national economy fell apart.

To make ends meet, he took a job as the freshman basketball coach at McKinney High School.

“My very first day of school, I loved it,” Ellis said. “I was teaching Algebra I to freshman, and I got to go to basketball. I will never forget driving home that first day, and I was like, `My wife's going to kill me when I tell her that I want to do this for the rest of my life.’”

Ellis coached at the school for two years before moving to Melissa High School (a 2A school at the time) to be its head basketball coach. From there, he became head coach at Creekview High School in Carrollton, where he coached for five years at the 5A level.

“It was getting to the point where, now that I had established a resume and gotten to know a lot of people in the Metroplex, I wanted to look for what I envisioned as being the next Plano Senior High,” where he had experienced what he called a “community feel” as a student there.

He discovered an opening at Prosper High School.

“I called a few people about it, and I honestly was told to not apply. I was told that they are a big football school, that they are a big baseball school,” he recalled. “I drove up there and I saw the beautiful new school. I had seen pictures of the beautiful arena. I said, 'I'm going to apply and see where this goes.'”

Ellis was offered the job a few days later and has been in the position for the past eight years.

When he arrived at Prosper, the basketball team had not been to playoffs in a few years, and the school had just been bumped up into the 4A classification.

His first year coaching, the team went 13-18, at one point losing 10 games in a row. It finished last in district. However, that year it won two of its last four games.

Instead of breaking off into different Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) teams to work individually as usual, Ellis decided to create the summer Prosper High School AAU team, where the athletes would practice playing together, against varying teams, over the long break.

The next season, the Prosper team won 20 games and finished in second place in district. The team won its first playoff game in five years.

“Eight years ago, my goal was just for people to know that Prosper High School had a basketball team - and not just a basketball team, but a very competitive team that is going to play the correct and right way,” Ellis said.

“First most, is building character. Character meets competition. Once you build good young men that have strong character, when that competition comes, then they will be able to find the ways to do that. That is really what happened. We kept building that.

“We would lose, and we would lose, and we would barely lose. Then, all of a sudden, when we tasted winning, the winning took over and helped push us along. But again, the community is the number one deal.”

Ellis has several strategies to help build character and community within his team. Each Wednesday, the coaches lead their athletes through character-building lessons.

“It is not so much the fact that, `Yes, we have a message and we want to get that message across to our guys,' but it is that they have to ... take ownership of the lesson,” he explained.

In addition, Ellis emphasizes the “student” in student-athlete, so coaches have weekly grade check-ins with their players.

“We want the kids to understand that is what is actually going to lead them in the future,” Ellis said.

With Rock Hill High School opening this year, Prosper will undergo some adjustments.

The varsity basketball team is losing five graduating seniors: three players who are transferring to Rock Hill, and one who will be transferring to a private school. There will be three returning varsity players.

“I have been very blessed with the growth of Prosper,” Ellis said. “It has been a great eight years. The last seven years, we have made the playoffs every year. We have won 20 or more games every year. Now we are onto the new challenge” with the opening of Rock Hill.

“My assistants and I are real excited about that new challenge ahead of us. I think our ultimate goal right now is to go back and revisit, and just try to slowly build,” he said. “We are going to put some challenges in front of (the players). We will have some mistakes; we will learn from them and, hopefully, that will help us have a successful season.”

Jonathan Ellis, third from left, poses for a photo with his family following his 300th career win, when Prosper's basketball team beat McKinney 67-56, on Feb. 14.