Four outstanding high school products have each signed a national letter-of-intent to continue their basketball playing careers at the University of Louisville, ranking this Cardinal group among the nation’s top recruiting classes.
The list of impressive signees includes El Ellis, a 6-3, 175-pound guard from Durham, N.C. and Tallahassee (Fla.) Community College; Mike James, a 6-6, 195-pound guard/forward from Oak Ridge High School in Orlando, Fla.; Bobby Pettiford, a 6-1, 175-pound guard from Durham, N.C. and South Granville High School in Creedmore, N.C.; Eric Van der Heijden, a 6-8, 205-pound guard/forward from Millbrook High School in Raleigh, N.C.
Louisville’s class is ranked among the top 20 in the nation, ranking 18th by Rivals.com and 20th by 247sports.com. All four individuals are ranked among the nation’s top 200 prospects.
“We are excited to announce the signing of five young men to the Louisville basketball program,” said UofL Head Coach Chris Mack. “We feel this class is a versatile and athletic group that will be able to impact our program. My assistant coaches did an excellent job identifying the type of student-athletes we want in our program and are fortunate to add today.”
Ellis averaged 14.3 points, 4.5 assists and 3.9 rebounds as a freshman last season at Tallahassee Community College, connecting on 40.3 percent of his three-point goals (52-of-129) and 84.5 percent of his free throws.
“El is an extremely gifted scorer who has the ability to play both on and off the ball,” said Mack. “Coming from the junior college ranks, he has competed against older competition throughout his time. He is quick, shifty and has the ability to shoot the three. El is coached by Louisville St. Xavier alum Zach Settembre, who has done a great job developing El during his two years at Tallahassee Community College.”
Ellis is the top junior college prospect in the nation in the 247Sports.com composite rankings. After leading his team to a 27-6 record in 2019-20, Ellis earned NJCAA second-team All-America honors and became Tallahassee’s first All-American since 2001. He was named the Panhandle Conference Player of the Year, just the fourth freshman since 1997 to attain that honor.
“El brings a unique sense of hunger to the court every time he steps between the lines,” said Tallahassee coach Zach Settembre. “His humility allows him to accept constructive criticism and embrace hard coaching. While he has always scored the ball at a high rate, his commitment to studying film has helped him evolve into a true collegiate-level point guard with excellent court awareness. His defense is improving rapidly, and his work ethic will allow him to continue to improve as he makes the leap to the highest level of college basketball.
Before moving to junior college, Ellis scored 2,382 career points at Quality Education Academy in Winston-Salem, N.C. He averaged 16.7 points, 4.7 assists and 1.2 steals as a senior.
His father Elbert Ellis, Jr. was a football and track athlete at the University of Pittsburgh before playing with the Carolina Panthers and Green Bay Packers.
James averaged 18.5 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.3 assists as a junior last season in helping Oak Ridge achieve a 21-9 record while reaching the Class 7A state semifinals, earning first team all-state honors.
“Mike is a worker,” said Mack. “Every coach who’s had the pleasure of coaching Mike raves about his work ethic. If he has a six a.m. workout, Mike is there at 5:45 a.m. with his laces tied every time. As a player, he continues to evolve. He has a quick first step and has continued to become a better shooter during high school. We feel Mike can be a lockdown defender in time, given his athleticism, size and approach to work.”
A first team all-state selection and Orlando Sentinel All-Area team member, James is ranked No. 74 nationally by Rivals.com and 86th by 247Sports.com.
“Mike is a great kid that works hard on and off the court,” said Oak Ridge coach Steve Reece. “He will bring toughness and will impose his will every time he steps on the court, whether it’s in practice or the game. The University of Louisville is not just getting a good player, but also a great student and community leader.”
James was a 7A State All-Tournament Team selection when he scored 27 of his team’s 55 points in the state semifinals before colliding with another player at the end of regulation (8-12 FG, 4-6 3FG, 7-8 FT). He missed the overtime period when his team fell.
James chose to attend Louisville after also including Alabama, Arkansas, NC State and Texas A&M among his final choices.
Pettiford averaged 21.8 points, 7.4 assists, 6.0 rebounds and 2.9 steals as a junior last season in helping South Granville to a 30-1 record, the NCHSAA Class 2A state semifinals, earning first team all-state honors.
“Bobby Pettiford is an explosive athlete,” said Mack. “His ability to get into the lane will make the game easier for his teammates. Bobby plays with no fear and a lot of toughness. It never hurts to add that to your program. Bobby will no doubt bring an energy to the KFC Yum! Center during his time here.”
Honored on the MaxPreps 2019-20 Junior All-America honorable mention team, he is ranked No. 94 nationally by 247Sports.com. No. 96 in the ESPN 100, and is 134th by Rivals.com. He is the first player in South Granville history to sign with an NCAA Division I program.
“Bobby is a special player,” said South Granville coach Jake Wohlfeil. “Beyond his impressive physical talents – his speed, explosiveness, ball-handling ability, and creating for others – he provides toughness, unselfishness, leadership and a will to win. Bobby will provide a high level of excitement and an energetic style of play with plenty of highlights for the Cardinals.”
A first team 2A North Carolina Basketball Coaches Association All-State selection and District 6 player of the year, Pettiford led South Granville to its most successful season in program history in 2019-20, earning a perfect 26-0 record in the regular season and conference tournament. His 7.4 assists per game ranked among the top 50 for high school players.
Pettiford became South Granville’s all-time leading scorer as a junior last season and has amassed 1,627 career points, 513 assists and 251 steals in three seasons. As a sophomore, Pettiford was the Northern Carolina 1A/2A Conference player of the year when he averaged 19.4 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.3 steals as a sophomore.
Pettiford had included among his collegiate choices Providence, Ole Miss, Virginia Tech and East Carolina among others before choosing the Cardinals.
Eric Van der Heijden
Van der Heijden averaged 12.1 points, 5.6 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.5 steals as a junior last season in helping Millbrook earn a 23-4 record, falling in overtime in the third round of the 4A state playoffs. He connected on 45 percent of his three-pointers and made 75 percent of his free throws.
“The first thing that sets Eric apart is his ability to shoot the ball from deep,” said Mack. “We want to continually add players to our roster that help create space on the floor because of that special ability. Eric also has tremendous vision and understands the game of basketball. Both of his parents played professionally, which I’m sure has helped in his development. His size and skill level make Eric very unique.”
A first-team all-conference and third-team all-district selection, Van der Heijden is ranked No. 193 nationally in the 247Sports.com national composite rankings. On seven occasions, van der Heijden dished out six or more assists. He produced a triple-double on Feb. 14 against Broughton with 16 points, 10 rebounds and a career-high 10 assists.
“Eric jumps off the page as a top recruit in the country as he possesses guard skills within his 6-8 frame,” said Millbrook coach Chris Davis. “His court vision, ability to defend the post and three-point shooting prowess has allowed him to play all five positions while in high school.”
Van der Heijden comes from a basketball family. His brother Jake is currently a sophomore on the Bucknell University basketball team. His father Allard played professional basketball in The Netherlands and his mother Kim played college basketball at UMass Lowell and later played professionally. His uncle, Bill Brigham, played at George Washington.
He transferred to Millbrook after his sophomore season at Ravenscroft, where he played with his brother as Ravenscroft won its fourth straight conference championship.
Van der Heijden had also considered Cincinnati, Clemson, Iowa, Maryland, Marquette, Texas, Wake Forest and others before signing with the Cardinals.
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