Leigh Ellis is an Australian based in Toronto, Canada, and is the assistant producer for the hugely successful Canadian blog, The Basketball Jones at The Score Television Network. Leigh can often be seen and heard on TBJ videos and podcasts, interviewing players and breaking down the game. We recently caught up with Leigh to pick his brain on TBJ, the Raptors and more.
Tell us a bit about your background – how you got into the field / ended up in Canada / scored a gig with TBJ?
LE: Six years ago I came to Canada (Toronto) on a 1-year working holiday visa. A few weeks after arriving, I met a girl who has since become my wife. I was working for a bank but in September of 2008, I enrolled at the College of Sports Media. The following January, I got an internship at The Score. Later that year, I became full-time at The Score and worked as a Web Content Producer, focussing mainly on basketball, but also soccer, baseball, (ice) hockey, tennis, boxing & WWE.
Over the last 12 months or so, I started making a contribution to TBJ with videos like this one, and I helped out with a few other features and segments.
In November last year, I joined the guys on the “No Season Required” tour, and then in January of this year, I became the sixth full-time member of The Basketball Jones.
Describe your role at TBJ and The Score Television Network.
LE: I am an assistant producer. My primary role is to help prepare the daily show. In addition, I also interview NBA players to try to create viral videos. When we’re on the road, I shoot & pre-edit some of our videos. I also contribute to Friday’s “Overdose” audio only podcast.
What’s it like being a part of the TBJ team? You guys seem to have a heck of a lot of fun there.
LE: Remember when you were a kid at school and the teacher didn’t show up? Like that.
Being based in Toronto, do you regularly attend Raptors games?
LE: Before I started working at The Score and TBJ, I used to go to almost every Raptors home game (even games against the Bobcats), but since I now attend most home games to “work”, I don’t go as a “fan” as often.
With ice hockey being the premier sport in the country, how are the Raptors and the NBA in general viewed in Canada?
LE: Obviously, hockey is the dominant sport in this country, but basketball has a lot of fans. Unfortunately, the old Raptors aren’t too flash and haven’t been for a while. Their future isn’t horrible, but I don’t see Toronto seriously contending over the next few years.
Despite this, I think the Raptors will remain an NBA franchise for the foreseeable future. Of the few times when the Raptors have been good, the city really supports them and the atmosphere at games is incredible.
The Raptors have clearly suffered from incompetent decision making the last few years. On a scale of 1 to 10 – 10 being ‘give me the rope’ – how badly do Raptor fans want to lynch GM Bryan Colangelo?
LE: Raptors fans = 10. Me, closer to a 2 or 3.
Colangelo might have redeemed himself by drafting Jonas Valanciunas. Initially, the move was met with widespread angst and derision, but Valanciunas’ performance with BC Lietuvos Rytas and the Lithuanian National team last season has led Raptors fans to think that he might be the real deal.
Colangelo is a gambler and like all gamblers, he rarely finishes even, he’s either up big or down big. He’s made some questionable moves (Kapono’s contract, Triano as Head Coach and extending Bargnani when he did) but he always backs himself.
His strength is his ability to wheel-and-deal. When he swiped Hedo Turkoglu from literally under the noses of the Portland Trail Blazers and turned it into a sign-and-trade (with Orlando & Dallas), it also garnered the Raptors Devean George (who was then traded for Marco Belinelli) and Antoine Wright, it was a monumental move.
In the end, none of these moves really had any significant impact on the Raptors on-court success, but at the time, Turkoglu was the most highly coveted FA on the market and BC managed to convince him to come to Toronto. Sure, Colangelo overpaid to get him, but he still got the job done and that’s what counts.
It’s not Colangelo’s fault that Turkoglu was a fat, lazy spud. Turkoglu has never been a superb athlete and I’m sure BC was wary of that, but still, he had to get his man and he did.
Whenever I’ve spoken to Colangelo, he always sounds like he’s in complete control and he is excellent at getting the message that he wants to get across.
Exactly how good he is at evaluating talent is the biggest question mark with him.
When Colangelo drafted Andrea Bargnani first overall in 2006, given the information he had at the time, it made sense. While Brandon Roy was clearly the best player to come out of that draft, many teams were put off by the critical medical reports on Roy’s knees, which, as we now know, have sadly proven to be accurate.
My biggest criticism of Colangelo is his refusal to give up on Bargnani. Bargnani is not a franchise guy. He has shown little if any improvement in his ability to consistently play defence and rebound. He’s one-dimensional and very inconsistent. He’s shown flashes of excelling, but overall, Bargnani isn’t going to lead the Raptors to an NBA Championship.
Time will tell, but in the eyes of Raptors fans at least, how Valanciunas peforms with the Raptors over the next few seasons will likely epitomize Colangelo’s tenure in Toronto.
Check out some of Leigh’s recent work
You attended the 2012 NBA All-Star weekend in Orlando. How did you enjoy the experience?
LE: In one word: Amazing. The first NBA game I ever saw was the 1987 All-Star Game. It was on a grainy old VCR tape and it had been dubbed about a million times and watched a million more, but it was when I fell in love with the game. So, to actually attend an All-Star Game 25 years later was incredible.
We all know that some crazy shit goes down at All-Star weekend, so do you have any stories that you would like to share?
LE: I wish I had rockstar-like stories to tell, but in all honesty, it was so much work that it left little time to party. I didn’t get to bed until 3am on the Sunday morning (after All-Star Saturday night) but that’s because we didn’t finish shooting until about 2am). We did get to meet Grantland’s Bill Simmons, which was pretty cool.
What’s the most memorable NBA game you’ve seen in person?
LE: Game three between the Raptors and the Magic from the 2008 playoffs. I went with a friend and we came out sweating afterwards. It was like a soccer crowd in that every basket the Raptors scored, the crowd roared and rose together. Also, every time Dwight Howard went to the free throw line, the whole crowd chanted “HOW-WARD” and it definitely rattled him. It was an awesome atmosphere. Unfortunately, it was the only playoff game the Raptors won in that series and also it was also the last time they won in the post season.
Which player has been the best/worst interview so far?
LE: Best interviews: Marcin Gortat, DeAndre Jordan, Jason Terry & Walt Frazier. Biggest names: Shaq, Kobe & Derek Jeter. Worst: A few fit this category. It’s hit and miss in the locker room. I don’t usually stick with it for long if a player isn’t giving me anything.
During the NBA lockout the TBJ crew (including yourself) did the ‘No Season Required’ tour, where you travelled around the US visiting some NBA cities. How was that experience, and what memories stand out?
As for stories, there are plenty, however I have to invoke the “what goes on tour, stays on tour” code. Sorry, fellas.
How closely do you follow the Aussie lads, Andrew Bogut and Patty Mills? And, what’s your thoughts on the Bogut trade to Golden State, and Mills signing in San Antonio?
LE: I follow the Aussie guys pretty closely. I’ve spoken to both Bogut and Mills when they’ve come through Toronto and both are great guys who are representing Australia well.
I think it was time for a change for Bogut as much as anything. I even said that on “The Overdose” on January 27 this year. Warriors coach Mark Jackson’s main priority this season was to secure a legit big man. He tried signing DeAndre Jordan and had to settle for Kwame Brown so I think he’d be thrilled to have Bogut.
Patty had a solid season in Portland last year but considering what’s going on there at the moment, I don’t think he could have landed in a better situation than with San Antonio. I think the Spurs are probably the best organization in the league. They seem to avoid the chaos that engulfs every other team at some point. I think Mills could forge a long NBA career as a back up point guard.
Who is your tip for the NBA title this year, and why?
LE: I love how open it is this season. You could make a case for OKC, Chicago, Miami, San Antonio & even Boston. The condensed season hasn’t really affected the older teams (San An & Boston) like I thought it would have.
I’m going with OKC over Chicago in six. They have two superstars (Durant & Westbrook), two stars (Harden & Ibaka) and the best garbage man in the business in Nick Collison. The biggest question mark is their coach, Scott Brooks. He’s had some horrible play calls out of timeouts and to me that is their biggest issue to overcome. If they flame out early in the playoffs – which is possible considering the Grizzlies & Spurs form – I think Presti will look to replace Brooks next season.
Thanks for your time Leigh.