• Warriors' Ellis already had perspective before Katrina hit his hometown
OAKLAND -- Monta Ellis knew he was embarking on an adventure of a lifetime. He just assumed it would begin after he left his hometown.
Ellis, the Warriors' first of two second-round draft picks in June, rose in the predawn darkness on the morning of Aug. 29 to catch a 5:30 a.m. flight from Jackson, Miss., to the Bay Area. Even though it was windy and raining, he and his mother, Rosa, didn't comprehend the ferocity of the storm until they saw the city lights go dark on their way to the airport.
By the time they returned to their neighborhood after learning that flights had been grounded, what had begun as an inconvenience was quickly developing into the storm of the century. It was raining sideways, and the wind was howling. A fallen tree blocked the road.
The start of his NBA career and Hurricane Katrina were about to collide.
"About 7 that morning it got real ugly," Ellis said. "That's when the wind started blowing and knocking trees down and the power out."
The experience would've given Ellis a healthy dose of perspective had he needed it. He grew up in the toughest section of Jackson, where gang members loitered on the corners and driving a new car meant you must be a drug dealer.
He idolized his brother Antwain, who many believed also was destined for the NBA after he led Lanier High School to a state title. Watching Antwain choose the street life over basketball only made Ellis more determined to succeed.
He would nail trash cans and milk crates to poles and shoot baskets.
"I could've went the same route he went, but I saw what happened to him and how it hurt my mother and how it changed her," Ellis said. "When I first started to play basketball she said, 'Don't let people do to you what they did to your brother.' So when people came to me like they came to my brother, I heard my mother's voice in my ear and I stayed to myself."
Ellis told his story after a workout at the Warriors practice facility last week. Next to him was an NBA preview magazine in which one NBA scout calls Ellis the "steal of the draft." Another scout said there are five or six point guards in the NBA right now "who can't play with that kid."
The Warriors hope Ellis, 19, can make the leap from high school to the NBA and eventually live up to the high praise. There's no big hurry since the Warriors already employ veteran point guards Baron Davis and Derek Fisher.
Ellis, who's 6-foot-3 and 175 pounds, still looks like a high school kid, but don't let the skinny arms and legs fool you. He impressed the coaching staff with his toughness as well as his 15.8 points-per-game average during the Las Vegas summer league.
He still has a lot to learn, which should come as no surprise considering he was walking the halls of Lanier High at this time last year.
"He feels like he belongs out there," Warriors assistant coach Mario Elie said. "He has no fear going to the basket. When he came out (of summer league games), the energy level of our team really went down."
Ellis planned to come to Oakland early to begin preparing for the great unknown. Instead he found himself holed up in his house with his mother, his brothers and a few flickering candles as the storm raged outside.
"Hurricanes always came around us but never hit Jackson," Rosa said. "That's why nobody was prepared. We didn't have generators or ice or water."
Ellis and his extended family all live in Jackson, which is 150 miles northwest of Biloxi and suffered widespread damage. Roads were closed. Dozens of buildings were damaged, and most of the 195,000 residents were without water and electricity for several days.
"It got so bad that the wind was knocking buildings completely off the map," Ellis said, the awe still apparent in his voice. "There was a brick car-care clinic and it took the whole thing and left nothing but the drink machine."
Ellis and his family gathered at his aunt's house when the storm blew over and were relieved to find that everyone was safe. Another aunt lived in one of the few neighborhoods that still had water and electricity, so that became the family gathering place, especially at meal times, for the next several days.
He thought the worst was over when he heard a splintering sound followed by an ear-splitting crash while visiting his grandparents the next day. A tree limb had fallen on the house. His grandfather was hospitalized with minor injuries.
But that's not the worst part. His grandfather has a brother who lives in New Orleans whom he has been unable to reach since the hurricane.
Despite it all, Ellis maintains perspective.
"We were blessed because it didn't hit us like it hit Gulfport and New Orleans," he said. "Imagine how they feel."
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