Former Marquette star Bo Ellis devotes life to helping youth

Former Marquette star has overcome many challenges
2007-08-26T00:00:00Z Former Marquette star Bo Ellis devotes life to helping youthMIKE NIETO
August 26, 2007 12:00 am  • 

He and his teammates were on top of the basketball world that rainy Monday night in Georgia in 1977.

Maurice "Bo" Ellis was hanging from the rim after Marquette won its only NCAA championship by beating North Carolina 67-59. It was a fairy tale finish as the team's charismatic coach, the late Al McGuire, had announced in December of 1976 that he would retire at season's end.

Tears flowed from McGuire's eyes at the Omni. As he would say, it was "seashells and balloons," which was one of McGuire's phrases. It meant life is chock full of joy and satisfaction.

A preseason photo had the Marquette players all dressed up and standing around a 1934 Packard. Their game uniforms -- which Ellis helped design -- were spiffy, too, with the jerseys hanging outside the shorts.

For Ellis, now a South Holland resident, the euphoric feeling was a fleeting one. Since then, the three-time All-American has endured a great deal of personal tragedy.

In July of 2003, he and wife Cynthia lost their 24-year-old daughter Nikki, a 2000 Marquette grad and former student manager for the Golden Eagles women's basketball team. Nikki, who was about to enter Marquette's law school, died of complications from an enlarged liver, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

The Ellises' younger daughter, Christina, has cerebral palsy and is a student at South Suburban College.

Ellis was an assistant coach at Marquette on two occasions -- the last being in 2004-05 -- with a stint as head coach at Chicago State in between. Ellis admits that while basketball under McGuire prepared him for many of life's challenges, there was nothing that could prepare him for what happens when a parent loses a child.

"I have my good days and my bad days," Ellis said. "I can't really explain when you lose your child. I had an older brother who died when I was in high school, and I remember coming home and my mom was in the dining room and was crying. She said, 'No parent should have to bury her child.'"

Ellis, who recently became a part-time scout for the Milwaukee Bucks, said he is constantly reminded of Nikki wherever he goes.

"I'd see a girl, her glasses, maybe the way she wore her hair (and) that reminded me of Nikki," he said. "Many of her friends would come up to me and talk. It was tough ... basketball is not as important as it used to be."

Former Marquette coach Hank Raymonds, an assistant when Ellis played, is impressed by the way the former standout has handled adversity.

"The way he has taken care of his family, along with the problems he has had, that shows what a man Bo is," Raymonds said. "He comes back here. He is very, very loyal. I can't say enough about Bo."

Ellis was a first-round pick of the Washington Bullets in 1977 and was traded to the Denver Nuggets, where he played three seasons. An All-American at Parker High School on Chicago's South Side, he has devoted himself to helping today's kids.

He works for the Chicago Public Schools in sports administration and is stadium director for Lane Stadium on the city's North Side. He is also the supervisor for boys and girls high school bowling and elementary school track and field. Ellis conducts camps for coaches during the school year.

"They need me," Ellis said. "I am a product of the park district. I needed it when I was a youth and you have to give back.

"The parks, Hamilton Park on 72nd, that's where I played, and not just basketball -- (there was) gymnastics, everything. The park was a big part of my life."

Ellis also speaks on behalf of several charities and helps raise funds for his alma mater. He's made various trips back to Milwaukee.

"It gives me a chance to tell my story, about what I have gone through," Ellis said. "Marquette was good to me."

He wants to start a golf outing in Nikki's name, with the proceeds to help fund scholarships for nonrevenue sports.

"Bo is loyal and he is the kind of person you point to that is successful after basketball," Raymonds said. "I can't say enough about what he has done for Marquette.

"You know, we wouldn't have won anything without him."

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