Coastal Carolina men’s basketball coach Cliff Ellis was a friend of Jim Valvano, and he’ll be carrying on the former North Carolina State coach’s legacy of raising money and awareness for cancer research on Saturday when he again dons sneakers for his team’s 3:30 p.m. game against Little Rock at the HTC Center.
Ellis is joining other basketball coaches across the country by wearing sneakers – including CCU women’s coach Jaida Williams – and a special Coaches vs. Cancer tie in a game this week, which is the 25th annual Coaches vs. Cancer Suits & Sneakers Week.
Valvano died from cancer in 1993 after giving an impassioned speech at ESPN’s ESPY Awards, and ever since the American Cancer Society and National Association of Basketball Coaches have joined forces for an initiative that is credited with raising more than $100 million for the fight against cancer.
Ellis said the sneakers and tie will be signed and auctioned off to raise money for the American Cancer Society. A donation booth will also be set up at Saturday’s game.
“When you look back at the years and look at where we’ve come with cancer, it has made a huge, huge difference,” Ellis said. “Jimmy has been a major vehicle for the entire country to get involved. It used to be you’d hear the big ‘C’ word and you’d throw your hands up and want to give up. That’s not true in this day, and I think Jimmy has had a lot to do with that, and all the coaches that have taken it on.
“It’s a cool idea and it has worked.”
As part of a related Sun Belt Fights Cancer (SunBeltFightsCancer.org) initiative, the Coaches vs. Cancer 3-Point Challenge encourages fans to pledge a dollar amount for every 3-pointer made in February by their team through 3PointChallenge.org.
Coastal Carolina finally shot the ball well from long distance, and it allowed the Chants to end a six-game losing streak Saturday at Troy, which returned much of the team that won the 2017 Sun Belt Conference tournament.
The Chants hit 8 of 14 three-point attempts (57 percent), including 5 of 6 in the second half to spur a comeback from a 13-point deficit with just over 13 minutes to play in a 74-73 win. They were coming off another dismal shooting performance in a 60-57 loss to South Alabama, hitting just 33 percent from the field and 16 percent from three-point range (4 of 25), including just 1 of 17 in the second half.
“If we shoot the ball well and don’t turn it over we can play with anybody, but I think a lot of people can say that,” Ellis said.
The Chants (8-13, 2-6 Sun Belt) hope to carry the shooting and momentum from the second half comeback into games Thursday against Arkansas State and Saturday vs. Little Rock at the HTC Center. In the second half Saturday, CCU held Troy to 30 points, 33 percent shooting and just eight field goals.
“I think our defense has to carry us, and I thought our defense got some turnovers and got some rebounds that allowed us to push it and get some things on the offensive end that got us moving and did some good things for us,” Ellis said. “Saturday was like South Carolina, Wake Forest, a lot of those games where we were right there and had a chance to win it, we just haven’t been doing it. … We won a game in which we had to climb a little bit of a mountain.”
Four Chants average double figures, led by junior forward Zac Cuthbertson’s 16 points per game. Jaylen Shaw averages 15.2 points, Demario Beck 11 and Artur Labinowicz 10.4.
The CCU women (11-8, 5-3) split their two games last week, falling to South Alabama 68-62 and nearly hitting the century mark in points in a 97-92 win over Troy for their first conference road victory this season. D.J. Williams had 43 points in the two games, including a career-high 29 vs. South Alabama.
South Alabama senior center Chyna Ellis made history last Thursday against Coastal Carolina en route to earning Sun Belt Conference Women’s Basketball Player of the Week honors.
Ellis had quite the night, recording her program’s first triple-double in 29 years with 12 points, 10 rebounds and a career-high 10 blocked shots to set the Sun Belt career blocks record with 286, surpassing Denver’s Kaetlyn Murdoch. Ellis became one of only 16 players in Division I to record a triple-double this season.
CCU’s men were also victimized by the conference’s men’s player of the week, as South Alabama sophomore forward Josh Ajayi averaged 21.0 points and 11.5 rebounds in two games, including 18 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks against the Chants.