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Octavius Ellis And The Thug Athlete Narrative

It didn't happen in the blink of an eye, but from start to finish, the play that got Octavius Ellis ejected from last night's game took about as much time as it takes for you to send a signal to your brain saying that you would like to drink that cup of coffee on your desk; and for your nervous system to complete the task. In that period of time Ellis changed, forever, how he is going to be viewed by the public.

Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

To a certain subset of people Octavius Ellis is now, and forever will be, a violent offender in basketball shorts. To sample but three of thousands of examples of the genus.

There is narrative about Octavius Ellis that can be strung together very easily, without much effort beyond a semi thorough google search, about him. The narrative is variation on a theme that has been around forever. The only reason Octavius even has a shot to play college basketball is that he is sensationally talented. The old joke about how Pol Pot / Hitler / Stalin would be recruited if they stood 6'10" could run fast and jump high rings essentially true. To people that want to build this narrative there is no real shortage of ammunition.

Tay was involved in the Crosstown Punchout as a freshman, and he will have a hard time living down this image, as much as he will this vine. About six months after the brawl with Xavier several UC players were involved in a nightclub altercation. Though no charges were filed, Ellis was booted from the team. Two years later Ellis is back with the Bearcats, getting ejected from games this year. Then losing his cool in the worst possible way, on the biggest stage.

Knowing just those facts I can see how the narrative of Ellis as a pampered thug who has been given every possible opportunity to succeed. Given every chance, he has taken none of them, and continues to act out in the worst possible ways. I get all that, I do, but there is more to the Octavius Ellis than "Pampered thug basketball player". That it is (mostly) white dudes building that narrative isn't even particularly relevant, because seemingly no one really knows the Octavius Ellis story.

For Ellis, life has been a long, hard journey since his mother, Traceye Ellis-Rudd, was shot in the face and killed by his stepfather, Kevin Rudd, on April 23, 2003.

Ellis and his two sisters, Sedondra and Nissa, were home during their mother's murder. Then just 10 years old, Ellis threw rocks at Rudd as Rudd ran away from their Whitehaven home.

How well adjusted would you be if you had your world ripped to pieces in front of your face? How under control would you be as an adult if you were in the house where your mom was killed by the only father figure in your life? Not well, is the answer to those questions. For those who think that they would be perfectly fine as an adult after experiencing that...well, you're full of shit.

Our personalities and temperaments as adults are all shaped by what we experience as children. They aren't called "formative years" for nothing. that phrase perfectly describes the process of a person forming their personality.  There is nothing more detrimental to that process than trauma early in a person's life. Lesser trauma's, for example a parent forgetting to pick up  a child at school, can have hugely detrimental effects to a child's development in life. Little things like that can have sizable ramifications when they become an adult, a fear of abandonment for example. Being in the house, hearing your mother's murder, that's a trauma that registers on a completely different scale. This isn't some new age bullshit either. This is brain chemistry, this is scientifically verifiable fact.

Knowing that is what bothers me so much about people being dismissive of Octavius's anger issues, like it is some made up term of art. If you watch Octavius Ellis in a press conference setting, or see him interact with his teammates and coaches you wouldn't immediately jump to the conclusion that Octavius is an angry guy. For the most part he isn't, he is a good-natured guy that is quick to smile and slow to laugh. But that anger is, understandably so, not far below the surface for Octavius Ellis. He has gone through a lot of therapy, and put in a ton of work to keep it below the surface. But like all of us, he has triggers, triggers that opposing players have gone out of their way to pull this season. Most have been unsuccessful, some have been.

There is no excuse for what Octavius did last night, there is no place for that in this game, and he knows that. But the rush to judgement by people who don't know him, and don't know his story, or how development works is a little too much to bear for me. 99 percent of the time Octavius Ellis is in control of his anger, but the most recent 1 percent happened on national television on one of the biggest sporting days of the year. We don't see all the times during a day when the Octavius of old would have lost his temper only for him to check it, but we did see the one time he lost control, and that's unfortunate. Octavius could let that define him, most people would, but knowing what we know about Octavius Ellis he doesn't seem like the kind of guy to give into that, he has come too far and grown too much to let this incident stop him in his tracks.