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"Fiery" 2024 signee Elijah Elliott ready to bring the heat to FAU

Lawrence Elliott sometimes needed the full toolkit to win the war of wills when teaching his stubborn son the finer points of basketball. One time, when young Elijah argued with him about the proper hand position for shooting, Lawrence stopped lecturing. He said OK, and gave him the space to learn for himself the hard way.

Tamyah Heastie definitely did not use psychology to end a more urgent stalemate with her son a year ago. FAU fans who welcome Elljah Elliott as part of the 2024 recruiting class should be grateful that instead, she just said uh-uh and put her foot down. On the gas pedal.

Near the end of his junior season at Orlando Oak Ridge High School, Elliott wanted to quit basketball. He wasn’t getting college offers, so what was the use? He was serious. He even told his coaches. “My mom wouldn’t let it happen,” Elliott said.

She told him to grab his shoes and go get in the car, and she drove him to the gym. From there it more or less went like this:

“She dropped me off. She said, ‘You’re practicing.’ And she drove away.”

Elliott (seated right above, creative by Rick Henderson) rethought his decision. Instead of quitting, he lost himself again in the hard work he loves and finished the high school season. In 12 months since then, he’s switched schools twice, moving to Kansas and then back to Orlando. He’s grown—physically, mentally and as a ballplayer. He’s enhanced his reputation as a defender who won’t back down even when guarding the country’s top five-stars. And he’s become more optimistic than ever about his basketball future—especially since the day Dusty May invited him to join the Owls.

Tamyah obviously did more in that crucial period than just chauffeur her son.

“She told me, ‘You’ve worked way too hard, you’ve come too far, you’ve done too much (to quit),’ ” Elliott said.

“I didn’t have any offers. I didn’t even think I’d be playing at the next level. My mom just told me to stay down, keep working. Trust the process. When that happened, I just put my head down and I worked, I worked, I worked, I worked. Everything just started working itself out. To this day I thank my mom for it. I love the game. It was a tough time, but that turned a gear for me. It made me want it more. It made me want to work for it more.”

Elijah Elliott is loquacious and engaging. He could pop on a headset this Saturday, wedge in next to Ken LaVicka and Damon Arnette at the scorer’s table, and if listeners didn’t know better they’d guess the new guy with the pleasant, made-for-radio voice was just an added broadcaster.

But no, Elliott is a point-guard—a 6-foot-3, 183-pound immediate-impact defender and a perfect complement for two other guards May has signed for next season. And when the ref whistles the ball in play, that amiable personality? Where did that guy go?

“He’s fiery,” May said. “He’s competitive. He’s aggressive—fiery, energetic, a player who plays with a lot of emotion. He’s got a big, big upside. He’s already a difference-maker on the defensive end. Offensively, he’s a pass-first point guard who gets to his spots and can create offense for his teammates.”

He’s averaging 18.5 points, six assists and four rebounds this season. But not for Oak Ridge. Not even for Sunrise Christian in Wichita, Kan., the basketball factory prep school that wooed him away near the end of last summer. He’s finishing his high school career back in Orlando at Sun Coast Academy, another sports-based, residential school. He was a starter on the basketball team at Sunrise, but transferred at the semester break after realizing the fit wasn’t right.

“The people at Sunrise speak highly of him. He speaks highly of them,” said Gary Clemons, Elliott’s coach this semester at Sun Coast. “I think it was a positive experience overall. When it came down to it, it wasn’t what he expected.”

Elliott signed with FAU last Nov. 8. The Owls had recruited him since before he left Oak Ridge, with assistant coach Kyle Church his main initial contact. May first watched him in person at an Oak Ridge open gym before Elliott’s junior year.

“I fell in love with him the very first time I saw him play,” May said.

Elliott was a less-polished shooter then. But that day, with May watching, he played and shot out of his mind.

He was aware that other college coaches were in the gym as well, but especially May. “A few came in and came out,” he said. “Coach May was the only one that stayed in there and watched the whole time, and talked to me a little bit.”

May had to learn more. After the workout, he asked the Oak Ridge coach, Florida high school and AAU legend Steve Reece, whether Elliott was having a normal day.

May remembers Reece’s response: “He kinda looked at me and paused and said, ‘Naw, he was unbelievable today. But he’s really getting better quickly. He’s really put in the work. He looks like he could be somebody who could be a good fit for you guys.”

That was good enough for May. He had seen the future. When Elliott began excelling in AAU games in front of other college coaches and finally began landing offers, May knew it was time to move.

“They offered me right after the second (spring) EYBL session,” Elliott said.

“It was a great day. I remember the whole day. I was in my room laying down, watching TV.  My mom just came to me to tell me Dusty had called and offered. I remember smiling and jumping up and down the next 10 minutes.  I couldn’t sit down. I was calling family in the Miami area. It was a big moment for me and my family. It really brought joy to me.

“That was the offer I was waiting for.”

Family is important to Elliott—his father, his mother and his sister. Though Sanai is two years older, Elliott called her “my twin, my best friend.”

He credits both parents for his development as a person and basketball player, though they’ve approached it from different angles. He said his father has been his mentor, “always the guy in my corner.” His mother, he said, has been “my backbone.”

Lawrence Elliott probably was better in high school at baseball than at basketball, but he knows the game and has been imparting that knowledge since Elijah was young—with his own methods, but always with the best of intentions.

“He’s super hard on me, very hard on me. Everybody knows that about him,” Elijah said. “But he has a method to his madness, and I can’t do anything but thank him for it. … There were times I’d be so mad at my dad because he’d be on me so much and I never understood it. As I’ve gotten older, I can see he’s always put me on the right path.”

His favorite example is their back-and-forth over where to place his left hand on the ball as he shoots. “I’m like, I'm fine the way I’m shooting it,” Elliott said. “He’s like, all right—he’s fine with me about it for a while. Then I saw my shot wasn’t improving.” He made the correction. It made a difference.

“I’ve always been hard-headed, always wanting to do things my way,” Elliott said. “I had to learn my way’s not always going to work and he’s always brought the best out of me. Once I started to buy into what he was telling me, everything changed.”

Tamyah knows doesn’t know basketball like Lawrence. Her expertise is elsewhere.

“She keeps me humble,” Elliott said. “She makes sure my head is straight. She taught me to be confident in myself but always be humble at the same time because you never know what can happen. Life can change in a blink. She’s preparing me for hard situations, to put your trust in God.”

Thanks to the basketball reset after she worked her magic last year, Elliott’s game took off as the EYBL season was beginning. Playing in the Florida Rebels coached by Reece and Clemons, he was defending top players from around the country. “I feel like anytime there’s a really good player on an opposing team … it’s on me to take on that challenge to shut down the best player and make it my job to help the team.” He said. “I always, always do that.”

He’d discovered the summer before that playing defense was the best way to get playing time on teams stacked with more advanced offensive talent. But now he was earning college looks by showing no fear, even against the likes of Rutgers commit Dylan Harper, a probable college one-and-done who had 3 inches and 15 pounds on him. And the offers started coming: Western Kentucky, Murray State, Rice, Kansas State, Ohio, Akron, Drake, Louisiana Tech, Georgia Southern, Appalachian State.

When he accepted FAU’s offer in early July, neither he nor his parents knew they’d soon be facing another tough decision on his future education. Three weeks before school began at Oak Ridge, he noticed a DM. It was from the coaches at Sunrise, who also liked what they saw in the summer. They wanted to meet with him on Zoom about enrolling there.

Sunrise is a prep school powerhouse with a list of basketball alumni who made a name for themselves in college and beyond, most recently 2023 NBA first-round pick Gradey Dick. Elliott was flattered, but …

“At first I didn’t want to go all the way to Kansas my senior year, I don’t see the point in that,” he said. “And then we got on the Zoom (with the coaches)—me, my mom and my dad—and they told us about the program and what they could do for me as a player. We put some thought into it.

“My dad said, you don’t want to have regrets. Go up there, get better, see if you like it, try something new, make yourself a little uncomfortable and get ready for the next level.”

After consulting with FAU, off he went on his new school and basketball adventure. By the end of the semester, he was ready to come back.

“We didn’t have the best season and all, while I was there, but I feel I learned a lot,” he said. “The reason I left is I felt it wasn’t the best fit for me. I tried to make it work those three months, but it was something in me (saying) I don’t feel like being here. And I didn’t want to be a disservice to the team being there knowing I’m not fully in it.”

The team chemistry wasn’t just-right and he missed home. It also didn’t help that he was playing slightly out of position. Sunrise used him as a wing in a three-guard offense, playing mostly off the ball. He acknowledges point guards aren’t ball-dominant in May’s offense but felt he was missing the opportunity to develop skills more relevant to his future.

After again consulting with FAU, Elliott joined the Sun Coast program, a newly opened branch location of West Coast prep school powerhouse SoCal Academy. Its coach, Clemons, has trained Elliott with the Florida Rebels since Elijah switched to that team after eighth grade. Though his team was several games into the season, Clemons was more than willing to give Elliott the on-ball role he wanted. Now he gets more time playing off pick-and-rolls, attacking traps and reading drop coverages, all necessities for quicker acclimation at FAU.

“I think at Sunrise, he was more in the corner waiting for the ball,” Clemons said. “He’s more ball-dominant here, so it’s helping him develop more at point guard. I don’t think we can do any more (to develop Elliott) than Sunrise was doing except put the ball in his hands more.”

Elliott isn’t minimizing the benefits he gained much from at Sunrise. The coaches there demanded he learn to be more vocal, just as May expects him to be. And thanks to a high-level strength program, he added 20 pounds and doubled his bench press—which he said allows him now to guard multiple positions.

But his results at Sun Coast have confirmed for him the right move was coming back.

"Honestly, I’d say my offense has taken a big jump,” he said. “I’ve been working on my shot a lot, it’s looking really good, feeling really good. I’m taking more shots that I’ll be seeing at the next level—more mid-ranges because you’re not always going to get to the basket. Touch shots and floaters. 'Coach Gary' is really letting me work on my game, learning how to get to my spots. … The game is starting to slow down a bit more for me.”

He’ll bring all that to FAU—a broad skill set with a defined specialty—just like the other two guards in his recruit class. Wing Ty Robinson of the Hot Springs, Arkansas, area is a rugged, creative shotmaker. Combo guard Lorenzo Cason of Lakeland is a scorer and finisher who can make plays for himself and others. And Elijah Elliott is a classic point guard with intangibles.

“Point guards … have the ability to make the game easier for everyone,” May said. “But most important was his competitive spirit and intensity.”

Elijah Elliott indeed has the potential to be a driving force, just like his parents. Especially his mom.

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