Former UMaine basketball star Emily Ellis never backed down

Former University of Maine women’s basketball standout Emily Ellis (right) looks on as new UM women’s basketball coach Richard Barron is congratulated by UM Athletic Director Steve Abbott last May. Ellis is being inducted into the Maine Sports Hall of Fame on Sunday.
Former University of Maine women’s basketball standout Emily Ellis (right) looks on as new UM women’s basketball coach Richard Barron is congratulated by UM Athletic Director Steve Abbott last May. Ellis is being inducted into the Maine Sports Hall of Fame on Sunday. Buy Photo
Posted May 14, 2012, at 3:03 p.m.
Last modified May 14, 2012, at 4:46 p.m.

Editor’s note: This story is one in a series profiling the 2012 Maine Sports Hall of Fame inductees.

BANGOR, Maine — When Emily Ellis played for the University of Maine women’s basketball team in the early 1980s, she played all out all the time, she said.

“The Northeasterns, the BUs [Boston University], Vermonts, New Hampshires, those teams, we had some serious rivals,” she said.

“We did not have any friends on those teams,” Ellis said.

If an opponent fell to the floor, she would not offer them a hand to help them up.

“They were the opponent,” Ellis said. “I had a killer mentality. I wasn’t going to give them an inch.”

Now none of that seems as important as it did then.

“When I look back, it’s not the wins and losses, it’s who was on the team” that she remembers most, said Ellis, the No. 6 scorer in UMaine women’s basketball history.

For her efforts and spirit, Ellis will be inducted into the Maine Sports Hall of Fame at the Bangor Civic Center on May 20.

The 37th MSHOF class also includes Walt Abbott, Phillip Coulombe, Ed Guiski, Matt Hancock, Dennis Libbey, Howard Vandersea and Dana Wilson.

Ellis’ first thought was that the time wasn’t right.

“I wasn’t thinking that I was old enough to go in,” she said with a laugh.

But induction is based not on age but on ability and contribution, and Ellis provided both.

A star at Mount View High School in Thorndike from 1977 to 1981, Ellis had to battle for everything she got at UMaine and took advantage of every opportunity that came her way.

“What happened back then, and would be illegal now [by NCAA regulations], was they held auditions. [The university] brought in 60 girls … to audition for two scholarships,” said Ellis. “I got one and Claire McCoy of Massachusetts got the other.”

That put Ellis on the team, but it didn’t put her on the floor. That came when Beth Hamilton suffered a knee injury and Ellis went in.

Eventually, Hamilton came back, but Ellis never gave her coaches a reason to take her out. She played as if her next appearance was based on her last performance.

“I never felt like the job wasn’t up for grabs,” said Ellis, who grew up in Brooks and now lives in Bangor.

She played most of her career from 1981 through ’85 as a 5-foot-10-inch center, and many of her opponents were taller or bigger or had longer arms.

“Sometimes it would take half an hour to get around the girls on some of those teams,” said Ellis, laughing.

But she gave as good as she got. She was the Black Bears’ top rebounder two of her four years and was never worse than fourth.

“My role was to stay on the blocks and get in there,” she said.

“We didn’t have the 3-point basket then, so the best way to score [percentage-wise] was layups,” Ellis said.

There were other badges as well for playing in the low post.

“The bruise count was higher, too,” she said with a laugh.

She thrived in her role.

“I figured how to do [the job] more effectively,” she said. “Either you have that instinct to score or you don’t. I tried any way I could to get open.”

Ellis, the captain her senior year, finished with 1,696 points and 623 rebounds for her career. Her No. 40 was the first retired number at UMaine for any sport, male or female.

She played pro ball in Finland and Austria before returning to Maine to teach and coach, became the general manager of Gold’s Gym in Bangor, then moved into her current career in real estate and owns Maine Team Realty.

She feels honored because of the people she’s being inducted with.

“That’s great company,” she said.

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