There was a concerted effort on the part of Maka Ellis’ family to make sure his freshman year at Sierra Vista was stress-free.
Essentially the idea was: Have fun, and we’ll worry about the recruiting stuff later.
That’s no longer the case.
“It’s time to turn it up now,” Ellis said Thursday.
Ellis was the top scorer among freshmen in Southern Nevada last season and proved to be one of the area’s top boys basketball prospects in the class of 2018.
This week, the 6-foot-4-inch point guard ramped up his development as he joined Simply Fundamental’s 17-and-under team at the Las Vegas Fab 48 tournament.
“Me and my dad used to take things real slow and not even play in all the live tournaments,” Ellis said. “After my freshman year, that’s when we decided now we want to get myself out there. I want to get my name out there, be able to go against the best and be able to get better while doing it.”
Ellis, whose first name means “eyes” in Hawaiian, played baseball for much of his youth before following in the footsteps of his father, Ed, a former basketball player at Hawaii-Hilo.
Ellis showed an array of offensive moves last season with Sierra Vista, including a deadly midrange teardrop he likes to float over taller defenders.
He averaged 18.8 points, 3.6 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.2 steals last season and helped the Mountain Lions (14-13) reach the Division I-A Southern Region tournament.
Ellis scored in double figures in all but two games and posted a season-high 29 points in a 65-62 victory over Spring Valley on Jan. 6 on the way to first-team All-Sunset League honors.
“I feel I accomplished what needed to be done for my role,” Ellis said. “I stepped in my freshman year, and I had to step into the role of being a leader right off the bat. I definitely had to adjust to it, but I was up for the challenge, and it made me a better all-around basketball player.”
Ellis spent much of his time on the travel circuit this summer playing for the California-based Top Gun 16U team but switched to Simply Fundamental for the Fab 48 tournament.
Playing almost exclusively at point guard, Ellis notched 14 points, four rebounds and one steal in a 69-45 victory over Michigan Playmakers on Thursday morning in the opening game of pool play in the Diamond Division.
He followed up with eight points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals in a 55-43 win against Colorado Next Level Premier on Thursday night at Sierra Vista.
“The transition from 16-under to 17-under, playing up two years instead of one year, is huge. The speed of the game is way different, much faster,” said Ellis, 16.
“I”m not really the most athletic person on the court, so I like to use basic fundamentals to be able to get around my defender, be able to get easy buckets and get the ball to my teammates.”
Ellis has scholarship offers from New Mexico State and Utah State and is drawing interest from Boise State, Cal, Harvard, Notre Dame, UC Irvine, UCLA and Washington State.
He said the step up in competition this week at the Fab 48 will benefit his development in the long run.
“I definitely think I got better,” Ellis said. “My confidence grew tremendously. Playing 16-under was very fun, but playing 17-under overall made me a better basketball player.”