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Ellis, Lincoln’s Robin, has regained his swagger

He is known simply by one word: Buddha, a nickname that has followed him around for years. He is part of the ensemble that supports Lance Stephenson at Lincoln, a secondary scorer that has enabled the Coney Island dynamo to achieve so much success over the last several seasons.

But Darwin Ellis is much more than a catchy nickname and supplementary piece.

“He’s the heart,” assistant coach Kenny Pretlow said, “of the team.”

Stephenson, the face of New York City high-school basketball the last four years, would become the fist player to ever win four city championships if the Railsplitters prevail Saturday over John F. Kennedy at Madison Square Garden. He wouldn’t be the only one. Ellis would be a part of history, too.

The two share a special bond, having gone to elementary school together and teaming in summer league tournaments dating back to when they were basically toddlers.

“That’s Batman and Robin,” Morton said. “You see Lance, you see Buddha.”

This wasn’t the easiest of seasons for Ellis. There was pressure to win that fourth consecutive title, not to mention a daunting non-league schedule that tested Lincoln’s mettle. Ellis struggled mightily against the nation’s top competition while playing much of the year with a broken left pinkie finger that greatly hindered his lethal jump shot.

He put up a few donuts, uncharacteristic for a player who averaged 12 points per game as a junior. The pinkie got into his head, Ellis admitted. He couldn’t help but to think about it upon ever release. There were games he didn’t even look to shoot.

“I was in baby mode,” the 5-foot-9 guard said.

In late January, though, Ellis got his confidence back. It began in shooting sessions with Morton, the intense coach. Ellis would shoot and Morton would talk, telling him to picture success.

“Every time you shoot,” Morton told him, “think its money.”

Stephenson was in his ear, too, encouraging and prodding his longtime friend. After another tough non-league loss, to then-No. 18 ranked LeFlore (Ala.) on Jan. 19, the star senior pulled Ellis aside.

“We can’t win without you,” he said.

Ellis has picked it up since. There was the home win over Boys & Girls Feb. 5 when he hit four consecutive 3-pointers, a victory that signaled Lincoln’s turnaround. He has gotten only better this postseason, averaging 9.4 assists along with 12 points per game.  

The sideways hop has returned – think an undersized Sammy Sosa after hitting a homerun. But even more than regaining his shooting form, Ellis has become the Railsplitters’ leader in tandem with Stephenson. Morton credits Ellis’ work habits in practice; he is always pushing teammates.

“He doesn’t like to lose, just like me,” Stephenson said. “That’s why we got that bond together. He’s gonna do whatever it takes to win.”

He has developed into a playmaker, as prone to finding an open teammate as knocking down a backbreaking jumper. He is defending the best perimeter threat on the opposition, too.

As Pretlow says, “the best thing is Buddha’s going to college.”  He has committed to St. Francis College in Brooklyn, a Northeast Conference school on the rise.

That is for the future. Ellis is focused on this weekend, when he and Stephenson can write their names into the New York City record books. Every day in school, Ellis said, Stephenson barks out “history, history, history.”

And he isn’t talking about the class.

“I can’t wait to get there and win,” Ellis said. “I’ll just kiss the Garden floor. … That’s a prediction for me.”

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