Ellison is in a place it hasn’t been in a long time.
The Eagles, after dropping Duncanville 63-56 in the Region I-6A quarterfinals in Waco on Monday, have reached the regional semifinals for the first time since 2003-04 and the first time in head coach Alberto Jones Jr.’s nine years at the helm.
Jones has led Ellison to the regional quarterfinals twice — in 2012-13 and 2010-11 — and while he is ecstatic the Eagles were able to get over the hump with its admirable feat this season, he and his team are hungry for more.
“It feels good,” Jones said. “The kids have worked hard — just put in a lot of work. So it does feel good, but we’re not satisfied yet.
“We’re glad we’ve gotten here, but this is just another step toward our ultimate goal.”
Tonight, Ellison (28-7) will face Arlington Bowie, a team that has reached this point three times since the 2009-10 season, tonight at 8 p.m. at the Wilkerson-Greines Activity Center in Fort Worth.
While the Volunteers (26-9) will be a tall task, the Eagles have already climbed quite a mountain. They defeated DeSoto and Plano West, the last two state champions, in the first two rounds and topped a high-powered Duncanville club in the third.
Jones credits Ellison’s success this season to each individual player on the roster for accepting their roles and running with them.
“It’s a joy to coach a team like this,” Jones said. “In a few of the past years, that was one of the problems. We just couldn’t get the guys to buy into their roles.
“We tell them they don’t have to necessarily like it, but they have to buy into it. I think this year’s group bought into it and, because they actually bought into it, they started liking it.
“They’re all just doing what they’ve got to do to help us win games.”
Jones said 6-foot-1-inch senior wing Travian Wright and 6-foot-7 post Ronald Williams are prime examples of that.
The two didn’t light up the scorebook in the first two playoff games, but played outstanding defense and took advantage of their opportunities. Against Duncanville, however, both scored 12 points in the Eagles’ triumph.
“Everybody is just doing what they do and stepping up when we need them to,” Jones said.
Offensively, 5-10 senior point guard Dajuan Jones and 6-4 junior wing Casey Armour have scored in double digits in each of the first three rounds of the postseason.
Six-foot senior guard Mike Aranda exploded with 20 points against West at area, proving once again that Ellison possesses a litany of players who can put up points in bunches on any given night.
But, while scoring might be the hot topic on most occasions, it has been the Eagles’ defense that has set the tone in the playoffs. They held DeSoto and West to just 40 and 41 points, respectively, and limited Duncanville — who averaged 64 points per game this season — to 56.
Coach Jones knows Ellison has plenty of talent to excel in all phases of the game, but felt the Eagles’ willingness to battle has been most impressive.
“We always preach about being tough mentally,” Jones said. “I don’t think we were tough mentally earlier in the year, and we’ve just kept preaching and preaching it throughout the year. I don’t know when it happened, but I told our coaches the other day, ‘This group is pretty tough mentally.’”
And the support of the Ellison community has been invaluable.
“The Ellison family has been great,” Jones said. “The school, the community and the parents have been behind us. The ex-players have been coming to the games and shooting me a text or even calling some of the kids, so the community support has been terrific.”
Everyone involved with the Eagles wants to see them reach the state tournament for the first time since 1992-93, but their main concern is getting a win tonight and taking it game by game.