Knoxville, TN – The University of Tennessee plans to honor legendary men’s basketball player Dale Ellis by retiring his No. 14 jersey during a home game next season, the Tennessee athletics department announced Thursday.
Ellis – a two-time first-team All-American – will become the fourth player to be permanently honored in the Thompson-Boling Arena rafters. He joins Bernard King (No. 53), Ernie Grunfeld (No. 22) and Allan Houston (No. 20).
That trio previously had their “numbers” retired. Tennessee on Thursday announced that such honors moving forward will be recognized as retired “jerseys.” The school also announced new criteria to be eligible for such a distinction.
A native of Marietta, Ga., Ellis suited up for the Vols and head coach Don DeVoe from 1979-83. Ellis was twice named the SEC Player of the Year (1982 and 1983), and he was a three-time first-team All-SEC selection. As a junior in 1981-82, he led Tennessee to a 20-10 (13-5 SEC) record and the regular-season SEC Championship.
He returned to UT during breaks early in his NBA career to work toward his graduation requirements, earning his degree in Sociology in 1985.
“Dale Ellis represents everything that’s great about being a Tennessee Volunteer,” current UT head coach Cuonzo Martin said. “He performed at a championship level while he was here. He achieved the ultimate goal, which is to graduate. And he went on to have a very successful professional career.
“One of the most impressive things about Dale’s career on the basketball court is the fact that he was an All-American in college when there was no 3-point line, and then he went on to the NBA and developed into one of the greatest 3-point shooters in the history of the league.
“He is extremely deserving of this honor, and I thank him for being involved with our program, because he’s a great role model for our young men.”
Ellis raised his scoring average every season during his career on Rocky Top. The 6-7, 205-pound forward averaged 7.1 points as a freshman in 1979-80, and that average rose to 17.7 ppg, 21.2 ppg and finally 22.6 ppg during his senior campaign in 1982-83. His 2,065 total points ranked third in program history at the conclusion of his UT career, and he currently ranks sixth on the school’s all-time scoring list.
His 724 points as a senior set a UT single-season record (has since been surpassed). However, he remains Tennessee’s all-time leader in field-goal percentage for a single season (.654 in 1981-82) and a career (.595; min. 500 attempts).
Ellis’ standout career in Knoxville led to several other honors and recognitions, including: two selections to the SEC Tournament All-Tournament Team (1982 and 1983); honorable mention on the Lakeland Ledger’s 1986 25-Year All-SEC Team; and inclusion on the 1989 Clarion Ledger/Jackson Daily News SEC Team of the 1980s.
Close to two decades worth of NBA stardom highlighted Ellis’ outstanding professional basketball playing career after he left Rocky Top. He was picked by the Dallas Mavericks with the ninth overall selection in the 1983 NBA Draft, and he went on to play 19 seasons in the NBA for six different teams.
Though the 3-point line did not exist during Ellis’ collegiate career, he became one of the greatest 3-point shooters in the history of the NBA – in fact, he was the first player in the history of the league to make 1,000 3-point shots. In 1997-98, he led the league with a .464 shooting percentage from beyond the arc. He also won the Long Distance Shootout during the 1989 NBA All-Star Weekend in Houston. In the actual All-Star game that year, he scored 27 points on 12-of-16 shooting.
Ellis earned third-team All-NBA honors in 1988-89 after averaging 4.2 rebounds and a career-best 27.5 points per game (third in the league, behind only Michael Jordan [32.5 ppg] and Karl Malone [29.1 ppg]).
In 1986-87, he garnered the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award after averaging 24.9 ppg for the Seattle Supersonics.
During his 19 NBA seasons, he played six-plus years with Seattle and also spent time with Dallas, Milwaukee, San Antonio, Denver, Charlotte and Miami. His teams made 10 playoff appearances.
He ranks tied for eighth on the NBA’s all-time list for 3-pointers made (1,719) and tied for 25th in career 3-point shooting percentage (.403).
Upon retirement, Ellis traveled the world as an ambassador of the game. For 12 years, he visited places such as Asia, Europe and South America. He spent time in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kuwait visiting U.S. troops.
Ellis, 52-years-old and still in tremendous physical condition, now resides in his hometown of Marietta and serves as president of the Atlanta chapter of the National Basketball Retired Players Association (NBRPA).