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March 30, 2012

Cloninger: Who knows with Ellington?



"Do what they say,
Say what you mean,
One thing leads to another."
------------------------ THE FIXX

I have every reason in the world to call Bruce Ellington a liar.

But I won't. Because I don't believe that he deliberately lied to me. What I think he did was he told me what he believed at the time, and then he changed his mind.

And he kept changing his mind.

It's easy for me to take it personally when somebody tells me something, I write it, and then it turns out to be untrue. The saying in this business is that we're only as good as the information we're given, and despite another old saying - if your mother tells you she loves you, check it out - there was no other way to check out what Ellington has said, and said again, at times.

He told me directly after the 2011 SEC tournament that he wasn't playing football. I still have the recording. You don't get a more accurate source than directly from the person in question.

He issued a statement through USC on March 12 saying he was concentrating solely on basketball. Again, you don't get a more accurate source.

So why have both of them turned out to be as wrong as wrong can be?

Because Ellington, I think, is suffering from what we all have suffered from at one time or another - he's trying to please everybody instead of pleasing himself.

At this point, after another round of flipping back and forth between basketball and football, I felt the same amount of sorrow for Ellington as the amount of frustration I feel because I have to keep writing the same story. He's 20 years old, an outstanding athlete who is good at two sports and could be great at one, and I honestly think he doesn't know what to do.

What he does know is that everybody and their brother, sister, second cousin and next-door neighbor has an opinion on what he "should" do, and all of those people are painfully loud at expressing it.

"He needs to play basketball." "He needs to play football." "He can be the star on the court." "He can be a star on the field." "His pro potential is better if he plays (fill-in-the-blank)."

Ellington chose basketball out of high school, something he declared even after the highest of highs - on the field, grass stains on his jersey, minutes after leading Berkeley High School to the state football championship. But then the whispers started.

USC's football players cheerfully admitted after the fact that they had recruited Ellington to play football, to come be part of that team as well. Once he joined, coach Steve Spurrier joined the chorus, talking about what an impact Ellington could make as a "Wildcat" quarterback.

Didn't happen. Early in the 2011 season, Ellington's only touches in that formation were in third-and-long situations, or while backed up in his own territory. Then Connor Shaw took over at quarterback, giving the Gamecocks a natural runner who could also throw, and Ellington was relegated to being a spare part of a great team - although he had two outstanding moments.

This year, the chances for him to make an impact appear slimmer. Shaw's still there. USC has a bevy of receivers just like Ellington - small, quick and able to run the end-around. If he doesn't break in at kick return - something he was average at last season - where's he going to play?

But I don't believe Ellington's looking at the logistics of that - he just wants to play. At 20 years old, what did you listen to? The logic? Or your friends?

Logic says that Ellington's best chance to make an impact at USC is in basketball. He would play, he would start, and he would probably be the leading scorer. Logic also says that no matter which sport Ellington tries to go pro in, it's going to be a longshot. There's only one Darren Sproles in the NFL. And go ask Devan Downey, twice the scorer that Ellington is, how easy it is to sell NBA teams on being 5-foot-9.

But friends' words and opinions of outsiders trump logic.

They'll argue having fun. They'll argue being part of a team that wins far more than it loses. They'll be just like every other recruiter that's ever resided on the planet - cooing promises of greatness in Ellington's ear and never mentioning that maybe, just maybe, it won't work out.

What may be never known is how Ellington truly feels. I believe we'll never know if he's really happy playing both, or one, or chucking everything and being Bruce Ellington, Normal College Student. It just seems like he's extending himself far too much trying to do what everybody but himself feels like he should do, instead of doing what he wants to do.

If he's happy trying to make other people happy, he's only going to be disappointed.

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