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Lucas Elliott already stands at 6’8″ entering his sophomore year at Pusch Ridge High School (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)
LAS VEGAS, Nev. — Lucas Elliott knows of the pressure involved sharing the same last name with his uncle, the greatest basketball player the state of Arizona has produced and the best Wildcat in history.
Sean Elliott, to steal a Bill Walton phrase, is the golden standard when it comes to basketball in the state. The younger Elliott knows of the significance of his name as it relates to basketball in Arizona.
“Oh yeah, it’s already starting,” Lucas told me with a laugh recently during the AAU games in Las Vegas when asked if he is hearing fans bring up his uncle’s name when watching him play.
“What that’s doing is making me train really hard.”
Along with the Elliott name comes exposure, including recruiting interest from college basketball coaches, who now have Lucas on their radar although he is only a sophomore at Pusch Ridge High School.
NAU coach Jack Murphy, a former director of basketball operations at Arizona, offered Lucas a scholarship on Monday evening. Portland State was the first to offer him a scholarship July 8.
“I feel honored and grateful,” Lucas texted Andy Morales, my brother and AllSportsTucson.com’s high school editor, after receiving the offer from Murphy.
Receiving scholarship offers less than two years after starting competitive basketball is an indication of Lucas’ promise as a basketball player. He enters this school year with the prospect of playing at both the junior varsity and varsity level at Pusch Ridge.
He is doing one better than his uncle in that regard. Sean played for Cholla’s junior varsity team his entire sophomore season, averaging 16.5 points and 11 rebounds in the process, according to Arizona Republic reports.
“I’ll be what’s called a ‘swing player’ switching between JV and varsity,” Lucas said. “Whatever helps both teams, I’ll do what I have to.”
You can hear a little of Sean’s voice when Lucas talks. That’s not only because they sound similar. You can tell they were raised with the values of Lucas’ late grandmother Odimae Elliott, who was known around Tucson as a noble, hard-working, respectful and caring person. She embodied that do-what-it-takes mantra that impacted her family.
Lucas’ father Noel famously donated one of his kidneys to Sean in 1999. Sean became the first NBA player to return to the court after receiving an organ transplant. Lucas was born about two years after that. His mom, Kathy Van Diepen Elliott, is 6’3″ and a former standout Iowa high school player who averaged almost 30 points a game and went on to star at Nebraska-Omaha from 1985-89, the same years Sean became Arizona’s greatest under Lute Olson.
“I’ve been around basketball all of my life,” said Lucas, who just completed his first AAU season. “I started playing in the seventh grade but didn’t really become competitive in it until last year in the ninth grade.
“(Sean) has played a big part in my development so far. I talk to him a lot on the phone. He’s actually coming to Tucson in October. I hope to get some training sessions in with him.”
Because of Lucas’ height in relation to many players in Tucson, he is more of a post-up player than his uncle, who played facing the basket as a wing. In the AAU game I saw Lucas play with U15 AZ Power Tucson Red team in Las Vegas, he was stationed mostly around the basket to grab rebounds or receive passes from perimeter players. He is trying to improve on his ball-handling, passing ability and general court awareness.
During an unofficial visit to Arizona’s campus last school year, Lucas was measured with a 7’1″ wingspan. That kind of stretch allowed him to alter shots and block some more in the AAU games in Las Vegas.
“He’s super athletic,” said David Thomas, Lucas’ coach at Pusch Ridge and the coach for the U17 AZ Power Tucson Red team. “He’s just very raw. He will develop into something good.
“When he met with me after last season he told me that he really wanted to do this. He and I have formed a really close bond. He has not missed any voluntary workouts. That’s a huge upside for somebody who is 6’8″ and just starting out.”
Lucas was not always into basketball growing up. “My uncle tried to get me to try it (basketball) but I pushed it away,” Lucas told my brother in an article last month. ‘
“He got competitive toward December of last year,” Thomas said. “There was an attitude change. He wanted to be there.”
He wears that intensity on his face when he plays. You can tell he is dialed in and ready to improve and take on the challenge of carrying that “Elliott” name on the basketball court. While tackling that task, he honors the advice of his uncle, who played the game with purpose but also with fun.
“He just tells me he wants me to enjoy the game,” Lucas said. “He tells me that’s the key to unlocking your potential. If you’re not having fun, you’re not going to play to your potential.”
ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.