With only 3:26 left in the fourth quarter of a recent game against top-ranked and undefeated Spingarn High, H.D. Woodson High's Freddie McCoy rebounded one of Spingarn's misses.
He spotted Henry Ellis open on the flank and threw him a perfect outlet pass. The only object that stood in the way of a dunk was Spingarn's 6-foot-6 Anthony Duckett.
Ellis gained momentum with each step. Because his dunking reputation has preceeded him around the league, the pro-Spingarn crowd began to moan in anticipation of a typically spectacular dunk. Ellis and Duckett met above the rim as Duckett tried to block the ball and, in the process, fouled Ellis, who at 6 feet 3, had his elbows above the rim.
This was one of many crowd-pleasing confrontations in which Ellis has been involved, earning him a reputation as one of the most exciting players in the Interhigh the last three years. He not only dunks when he has the chance but he sees a purpose for his dunks.
"When our team is down, I try to pick them up emotionally with a dunk," said Ellis, a soft-spoken, 195-pound senior swingman. "It gets us pumped up and psyched. The fans look for it, so I try to give it to them. When I am on a fast break all by myself, I try to do something spectacular, which usually results in a memorable dunk."
Ellis' style of play resembles that of Chicago Bulls' star rookie Michael Jordan, and as a result, at home games, when Ellis has the ball in a position to create a spectacular play, the crowd begins to chant "Baby Jordan."
"Even though people say I play like Michael Jordan, I also try to develop my moves after other NBA players that I admire, such as Bernard King and Gus Williams," said Ellis, a three-year starter preparing for the Interhigh tournament after helping Woodson to a 13-7 regular season league record and 18-9 overall entering this week.
Dunking a basketball is nothing new to Ellis, who first dunked at age 14. "I was 6 feet tall at the time and couldn't believe it myself, that I could actually dunk," he said. "In the ninth grade, I played point guard on a big team for Fletcher Johnson Junior High School. In a game, I drove the base line and, the next thing I knew, I was dunking the ball."
But dunking isn't the only part of his game, though it sometimes overshadows his other skills. "We look to Henry for his passing, rebounding, ball-handling, and his court savvy and leadership", H.D. Woodson's coach, Rudy Peters, said. "He knows and sees entire the floor, while averaging 4.5 assists per game. He also shoots and rebounds well for his size."
Ellis has excellent stamina, averaging 30 minutes a game while guarding opponents' best offensive guards or forwards.
"The only complaint or weakness that I have with Henry is that he sometimes drifts out of the flow of the game and stops shooting," Peters said. "Up until the beginning of this year, he wasn't quite sure of himself or his abilities, but has really come into his own since then.
"He handles the ball under pressure and shoots free throws very well (75 to 80 percent) and more importantly, he wants the ball, Peters continued."
"When the game is tight," said Ellis, "I can take my man either outside or inside to try to score or get fouled. But I'd rather shoot from the free throw line. It's easier."
Although he plays under control, Ellis is capable of a big offensive game. Five times this season, he has scored more than 30 points, including a season-high 40 against Cardozo. "That game was a shootout between Earl Moore of Cardozo and I," Ellis said. "My range is about 20 feet but, when my jumper is on, I can feel the rhythm."
Ellis, who averages 20.0 points a game this year, can score in a variety of ways because opposing teams find it difficult to match up with him. "Sometimes I just point to the hoop and teammates Rodney Wilson or Tim Chase will throw it up, sometimes too high, and I just have to go and get it. We also do that on a back door, off of a pick, but other teams are beginning to catch on to that."
But Peters would rather Ellis go down low and post up smaller defenders and take advantage of his quickness and leaping capabilities.
Even with all of his scoring ability, Ellis loves to play point guard and on many occasions would come out to the top of the key to run the offense. "Our team has a lot of offensive weapons," he said, "and I don't have to score a lot of points. I am a capable passer and I like to get the ball to my teammates so that we can utilize their talents also."
Maryland, Virginia, Villanova, Arizona State, San Diego State and Nebraska are among the top schools pursuing him.
"He has some nice offensive moves playing the wing position" said Bernard Tomlin, a basketball scout from Duquesne. "He's effective in the low post as well as at the top of the key. But it seems as if the team can get him the ball better when he comes out to the top of the key."
As a sophomore, he averaged 16 points a game and led the team in scoring. He averaged 13.5 points as a junior. "He shows strong leadership ability on and off the court," Peters said.
"When things are down, I just try to show a positive attitude and set an example for the younger players, not only on the court but in school also," added Ellis, an honor roll student last semester. And he hopes to take that attitude to the college courts.