Ellis links UMaine women’s basketball past, future

New University of Maine women's basketball coach Richard Barron laughs with UM Athletic Director Steve Abbott (left), UM President Robert Kennedy (center) and UM Hall of Fame basketball player Emily Ellis during Tuesday's press conference introducing Barron at Memorial Gym in Orono. Serving on the search committee gave Ellis the opportunity to  help revive the relationship between former Black Bear players and the UM athletic department.
John Clarke Russ/BDN
New University of Maine women's basketball coach Richard Barron laughs with UM Athletic Director Steve Abbott (left), UM President Robert Kennedy (center) and UM Hall of Fame basketball player Emily Ellis during Tuesday's press conference introducing Barron at Memorial Gym in Orono. Serving on the search committee gave Ellis the opportunity to help revive the relationship between former Black Bear players and the UM athletic department.
Posted May 12, 2011, at 4:34 p.m.
Last modified May 12, 2011, at 8:31 p.m.

It’s impossible not to notice the impact of sports on Emily Ellis long after a career that included professional stints in Finland and Austria after being the first University of Maine women’s basketball player to have her uniform number retired.

Her Bangor real estate firm reflects lessons learned from those experiences, with its name “Maine Team Realty” and its motto “Shooting for the Stars.”

She’s avidly followed her two children as they’ve played sports at Bangor High School, and no doubt still hits the court running when she can.

“Basketball has been a big part of my life, and it always will be,” said Ellis, a Brooks native and All-Maine first-team choice after leading Mount View of Thorndike to the 1981 Eastern Maine Class B title. “It helped formulate how I think about a lot of things and has a lot to do with what I’m doing with my life.”

One frustrating part of her relationship with basketball has been witnessing the decline of her collegiate alma mater from America East champion to league cellar dweller.

“It’s tough because you want to see the program be successful,” said Ellis. “For me, I always look at it from the player’s perspective. You want the girls to have a great college experience, but it was hard to watch them struggle.”

The recent firing Cindy Blodgett as the Black Bears’ coach also marked a sad moment for the program’s original phenom.

“Cindy’s really the queen of basketball not only at the University of Maine, but the whole state of Maine,” Ellis said. “But she was really in a tough position. I was rooting for her, especially from having been at the other point of it at the beginning of the program’s success.”

So when UMaine athletic director Steve Abbott offered Ellis the opportunity to help establish a new foundation for the program in the aftermath of the firing she jumped at the chance to serve on the selection committee for Blodgett’s successor.

And for Ellis that task represents more than merely determining that Richard Barron is the best fit to guide the women’s basketball team back to respectability. It’s also been about helping to revive the relationship between former Black Bear players — particularly those from the pre-Blodgett the player era — and a UMaine athletic department some feel has drifted away from them over time.

“I was interested in getting back into what was going on at the university,” she said. “I know a lot of alumni would like to be part of what is going on, and as former players we all should be giving back. You should take care of those who come after you, and you should be looking at the big picture, but it hasn’t really been like that.

“It wasn’t that we were shunned, but there has not been that big bear hug waiting for us.”

So perhaps it was more than symbolic Tuesday when Ellis represented the search committee in introducing Barron to a press conference gathering that included multiple generations of former Black Bears ranging from Ashley Underwood and Amy Vachon to Ellis, Kissy Walker, Lauree Gott and Kelly Nobert LaFountain.

“Everyone was there for the same reason,” said Ellis. “There’s a camaraderie that comes with being part of a team, and we want the team to do well because we’ve been part of it.”

So let the team building — and the program rebuilding — begin.

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