A Dedication to Marquette

Bo+Ellis+jumps+for+a+rebound+during+a+game+against+DePaul+circa+1976-77.+Photo+courtesy+the+Department+of+Special+Collections+and+University+Archives%2C+Raynor+Memorial+Libraries%2C+Marquette+University.

Bo Ellis jumps for a rebound during a game against DePaul circa 1976-77. Photo courtesy the Department of Special Collections and University Archives, Raynor Memorial Libraries, Marquette University.

Few players have come through the Marquette men’s basketball program that have made an impact like that of former forward Bo Ellis. While the Chicago native averaged 14 points and nine rebounds in 119 games from 1973 to 1977, the things he did for both Marquette and his community went far beyond a 94 by 50-foot court.

In addition to his abilities on the court, Ellis is known for helping design a variety of Marquette basketball uniforms that were worn in the 1977 season. His passion for design had humble beginnings in the neighborhood where he attended high school.

“Because of my ability to draw, a lot of people were asking me to design different things for them. They would tell me what they wanted, and I would draw it up, and they would take it to the tailor and get them made up,” Ellis says. “So, that’s how I kinda got into it.”

Since Marquette did not have a fashion design program, Ellis attended Mount Mary College for one semester to pursue his passion for fashion and design. He says his time at Mount Mary taught him different forms of art aside from drawing, and how to better recognize patterns.

Using his art skills, Ellis drew up uniform designs inspired by pro uniforms and the uniforms the Golden Eagles had. What made his design schemes unique was the fact that they were made to look appealing even if not tucked in. Ellis says he would not tuck in his jersey when he played since it was uncomfortable. Marquette alum Danny Pudi highlighted this in his ESPN 30 for 30 film “Untucked.”

The untucked style made national headlines on April 4, 1977 when a photo of Butch Lee in the NCAA National Championship against North Carolina graced the cover of Sports Illustrated. Fans were well aware that the designs came from in-house.

“There was a lot of publicity around (the designs),” says journalism professor and O’Brien Fellowship director Dave Umhoefer, who grew up in La Crosse, WI and is an avid fan of Ellis. “It just kind of added to that feeling that McGuire was special, that he would let his players take over certain things on the team.”

Despite 43 years passing since those designs were highlighted back in 1977, the jerseys have resonated with the program ever since, and will continue for the generations to come.

“Marquette has been known to be ahead of the curve in so many respects, specifically relating to the uniforms,” current men’s basketball head coach Steve Wojciechowski says. “They’ve been fashioned forward, they’ve been at times non-traditional and it really is something that has captured the imagination of Marquette fans.”

Following his career with the Golden Eagles, Ellis would spend time in the NBA, playing with the Denver Nuggets from 1977-1980.

“What really prepared me (for the NBA) is (in) my years at Marquette, we always played with the Milwaukee Bucks,” Ellis says. “We would play against the Bucks all the time and either they would come down on campus to play with us, or we would go to their practice facility and play with them… That’s when I started to realize that I had a chance to be a pro and play, and that kind of prepared me.”

After his playing career ended in 1983, Ellis made the transition from player to coach, as an assistant coach for Collins Academy High School. Following the 1987-88 season, the 1977 NCAA Champion made his way back to Marquette, where he would serve as an assistant coach for 10 years.

“I had always dealt with kids and everything, so I was ready for the challenge at Marquette,” Ellis says. “I would tell people even back then, and tell them right now, today, ‘who could tell kids and parents more about Marquette basketball than me?’ I had experience, I had played it, I knew the culture… It was something that was really in the books for me to do.”

Wojciechowski says the experience former players bring back to the program as coaches is extremely beneficial to the current players on the roster.

“That perspective is really important,” Wojciechowski says. “They understand the passion of the Marquette community for men’s basketball and being able to relate to guys (on the team) now can be really impact.”

The dedication to Marquette that Ellis had as a player and a coach is what sticks with fans to this day.

“Bo Ellis in one word? I mean, I’ll give you several one words,” Umhoefer says. “He’s an icon. I think he was kind of a hardworking lunch bucket guy, played the game right, respected his teammates.”

The former forward not only made his mark on the court, but also in the community. Ellis serves as a Marquette ambassador and also teamed up with SKYGEN USA, a healthcare business in Menomonee Falls, Wis., to speak with kids about health equity as part of a community outreach partnership.

Ellis also worked with the Abe Saperstein Foundation during his college career when he would go back home in the summer. He, alongside professional NBA players like Artis Gilmore and Bob Love, would go out into the Chicago community to share their stories to young people, showing them that they could someday end up playing professionally or at the collegiate level. Ellis still is doing this type of work today. 

“The thing that counts most in life is what you do for others,” Ellis says. “If you don’t share what you know, then I feel that what you know is not valuable in life.”

This story was written by Nick Galle. He can be reached at nicholas.galle@marquette.edu and on Twitter @thenickgalle