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The Phonz is back.
LaPhonso Ellis, a fan favorite throughout the six seasons he played in Denver from 1992-98, is the latest addition to the Nuggets’ television broadcast team. Ellis debuted alongside Altitude Sports play-by-play voice Chris Marlowe and color analyst Scott Hastings in Wednesday’s regular-season opener against the Clippers and will be on the call for both of Saturday’s and Sunday’s matchups against the Suns and Warriors.
BSN Denver caught up with Ellis to discuss how he wound up back in Denver and what some of his early impressions of the team are.
BSN Denver: How’d the opportunity to call Nuggets games come about?
LaPhonso Ellis: “I’ve known (executive vice president and general manager of Altitude Sports) Kenny Miller for many, many years. Kenny worked on the staff with Lou Personett during my day and reached out to me and asked if I’d be interested in doing some game for the Nuggs, and it’s the franchise I fell in love with in 1992 and with the community that supported us for the six years that I was here. There are so many people left here at the organization, from our security guy, all the way up to (vice president of basketball administration) Lisa Johnson in the front office. Everyone’s been so abominating. In many ways, it’s like coming home to extended family. It’s like a homecoming.”
BSN: Was it an easy decision to say yes?
Ellis: “Yeah. My wife and I are in a new phase of life. We’re first-year empty nesters. I just signed a three-year contract extension with ESPN for men’s college basketball, and I generally don’t have any responsibilities in October. Usually, the national champion is named by the second of April so it gives me a big window in October, a big window of uninterrupted time in April to work. I do a smattering of SEC, Big 10, ACC during the non-conference season, but once the conference season begins I’m almost exclusively the ACC. They tend to put me where Notre Dame is. So we’ll just try to figure out during the season where I have holes in my schedule and be able to fill in.”
BSN: How natural of a transition is it from calling college games to Nuggets games?
Ellis: “The most challenging part of it is as a national analyst for ESPN, I’m 100 percent impartial. It’s a little different working for a regional network who owns the team because now it’s more of a “we” or “us” kind of deal. So being able to on the fly manage my normal consciousness, thought process of how I’m calling the game is a little bit different and challenging. It’s fun at the same time too because I get to root on the air for my home team and I can be impartial when I’m working for ESPN.”
BSN: What was it like calling your first Nuggets game on opening night against the Clippers?
Ellis: “It was great! Scott was my veteran when I was a rookie, so Scott and I used to drive down together on gamedays. Scott introduced me to country music and all of that so it’s great. It’s interesting after 25 years to have that kind of chemistry on the floor together to actually take that chemistry that’s 25 years old and have it on the television broadcast. Marlowe is just an absolute pro to work with too and so it’s really a lot of fun working with those guys.”
BSN: How much have you enjoyed being around the team as of late?
Ellis: “It’s been cool. With what I do in college basketball, I know Malik Beasley, I know so many of the young guys that are out there. So to walk into the gym, having called their games and have familiarity with them, and they have familiarity with me, has been really cool. I did probably four or five of Malik’s games when he was a freshman at Florida State so to have that connection with those young guys is fun too.”
BSN: What are some of your first impressions of this group?
Ellis: “They’ve been my team since I left. I left in 1999 and I continued to root for the team and the one thing that I knew coming in, that I was concerned about for our team going forward, is how good will we be defensively? I came into practice on Tuesday and got a chance to see for a 60-minute practice. We took 40 of those minutes, and it was exclusively all defense, rotations, communications, etc. And to know that we got nine consecutive stops against Chicago in our last preseason game and then to come in and practice 40 minutes of defense and to actually take that out on the floor and in closing time when we needed to get several stops, and I think we had a 19-6 run from the 3:30 mark to the end of the game, that’s really cool. We know we can score. Can we guard and do it consistently? And we did that against Chicago, did that on Tuesday in practice and took that into our game on Wednesday. I thought it was really cool.”
BSN: What’s the biggest difference in today’s game compared to when you played?
Ellis: “In our day, it was a luxury for your power forward or your center to be able to knock down a 15-18 foot jump shot. Obviously, it’s more valuable now to have your fours and your fives be able to knock down the three because it opens up the floor. So I would say that in some ways the fours and fives are a bit more skilled than in my generation but in some ways too we had a better understanding of the game overall. Except for when you run into freak guys like Nikola Jokic, who has an understanding of the game beyond his years.”