'Just keep building.' Resilient Boogie Ellis isn't ready to close his USC career yet

The mention barely registers for Boogie Ellis. Senior day? USC’s fifth-year guard already did the pomp and circumstance a year ago when he was presented with a framed jersey at USC’s last home game. Even though this weekend’s games against Arizona State and Arizona actually will be Ellis’ final games in front of the home crowd, he doesn’t expect sweeping emotions.

He knows it’s just the beginning.

“It marks another journey, another chapter of my life,” Ellis said.

He’s finally healthy after a troublesome hamstring injury, and it feels like Ellis’ swan song at USC is only beginning. He is averaging 19 points in the last four games, including a season-high 30 against Colorado on Feb. 17, entering the final weekend of the regular season, starting Thursday with Arizona State at 8 p.m.

Even with the late-season surge, Ellis’ final college chapter has been far from a fairy tale ending. From an early sprained ankle, a minor hip contusion and the hamstring injury that robbed him of any explosion for almost two months, Ellis has battled injury demons while USC (12-17, 6-12 Pac-12) has fallen well short of lofty preseason expectations.

The player who holds the program record for points scored in Galen Center did not return for a fifth year of college just to languish in 11th place in the conference standings. But now the Memphis transfer can only hope to make the most of it.

“A lot of things in life don’t go the way you planned,” Ellis said. “But at the end of the day, you just gotta keep moving forward, just gotta make the best out of every situation.”

Ellis was fourth in the Pac-12 in scoring last season at 17.7 points per game, going from American Athletic Conference co-sixth man of the year with Memphis in 2021 to first-team All-Pac-12. It seemed likely he would jump to the NBA. Instead he returned to lead a team that was relying on freshmen and understudies to step into starring roles around him. His job quickly became much more than draining threes.

Ellis always has been one to lead by example. This season the soft-spoken San Diego native was forced to speak up and try to steer a team that’s difficult to lead, coach Andy Enfield recognized.

Ellis has challenged the team’s collective pride during news conferences. He makes a point to encourage teammates during timeouts. He pulls them aside to explain key reads during games.

“Boogie’s impact is so much bigger than just the offense and so much bigger than his behavior on the floor,” sophomore Vincent Iwuchukwu said after Ellis led USC to its first win over UCLA in Pauley Pavilion since 2019 with 24 points on Feb. 24. “We couldn’t ask for a better captain. His impact is always felt on the team.”

Ellis is back to making the impact he’s known for. He is 12 for 27 (44.4%) from three-point range in the last four games after a 25.6% shooting slump during his previous six. He needs seven more threes to move into fifth place on the program’s career list. Enfield also lauds the 6-foot-3 guard’s improvement as a decision maker and defender averaging three assists, 1.3 steals and 3.6 rebounds per game.

“Very proud of him,” Enfield said. “He’s come a long way as a player since he came here.”

With Ellis’ resurgence, the Trojans are showing flashes of the team that was picked second in the Pac-12 preseason poll. Since getting embarrassed in a 31-point loss to Stanford, they’ve won three of their last five games. The losses in double overtime to Colorado and on the road against No. 18 Washington State came by a combined six points.

USC still needs an incredible run in the Pac-12 tournament to extend its postseason streak to four consecutive NCAA tournaments, but Ellis is in no rush to close this chapter.

“We’re supposed to be playing like this in March,” he said. “We just gotta take one game at a time, continue to keep playing the way we’re playing and just keep building to how we’re going to win out at the tournament.”

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